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‘Government should not really police the internet’

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Information, Communication and Technology have, undoubtedly, revolutionalised life. However, their wheels seem to be rolling slowly in Malawi, as evidenced by low penetration rate of ICT products. RICHARD CHIROMBO engages Bram Fudzulani, Information, Communication and Technology Association of Malawi (Ictam) vice-president on this and other issues. Excerpts:

Ictam used to be vibrant between 2008 and 2012 but then became less active in national affairs. What happened?

Ictam gets engaged in various ways through policy intervention to the well-being of its members and, in the years mentioned, Ictam was active in other quarters, only that the publicity aspect was very silent, and not as aggressive as we see now.

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Does this mean Ictam depends on individuals to keep its banner afloat?

The association previously had no permanent secretariat, which would ensure continuity of the affairs of the association regardless of the individual in office. Ictam now has offices for its secretariat, which oversee the running of the association with the help of members of the executive committee.

Sustainability has always been a challenge in managing and running local organisations. What measures have you put in place to remain relevant and sustain your activities in Malawi?

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When we talk about economic growth, it is a fact that ICT is a main driver of the economic growth and development of the country; we do not need to do anything in order for our sector to be relevant in Malawi. What we, as an association, are trying to do is to improve the sector through policy lobbying so that, at the end of the day, the lives of Malawians are transformed through the use and promotion of ICTs. There are a lot of ICT developments that the government has launched and it is our best interest to, where necessary, play an advisory role in these projects because, in the end, our interest is that those initiatives should benefit the end user, meaning Malawians.

How does Ictam ensure that principles of good governance are being adhered to in running its affairs?

Ictam is guided by a charter, which was recently revised and approved by the members to cater for changes in the sector as well as good governance principles.

The ICT sector is largely male dominated. Why are women reluctant to come forward and how are you addressing the challenge?

As highlighted earlier, the newly passed bylaws also recognised this gap and it was agreed that, as one way of promoting women in ICT and motivating girls in schools, we should introduce a working group within the executive branch of the association called ‘Women in ICT’ whose mandate is to work with those women in ICT and bring about awareness and encourage women to take leading roles in ICT services’ delivery. This working group is led by Dorothy Kusani.

What opportunities exist in the ICT sector in Malawi?

ICT presents so many opportunities not only from our country’s perspective but the world at large. Today, an African company can do business anywhere in the world with an internet connection, supporting countless jobs and opportunities for the African people. A mother in rural Africa can sell agro-products to a family in America, advancing broader economic development. A laboratory in Europe can conduct field-changing research on hardware made in Asia and software written in North America, and students in Australia and the Middle East can learn together through videoconferencing. And, more than ever, citizens across the globe are being empowered with information technologies to help make their governments more open and responsive. The coming in of the national fibre backbone, which the government recently launched— we are talking of the Digital Malawi Project currently underway— brings a lot of excitement and opportunities which, as a sector, we are looking forward to and, as a sector, we look forward to a future Malawi full of online services that will facilitate interactions between the public and private sectors.

What are the challenges?

We have a number of challenges. For example, awareness is low. Again, ICT illiteracy levels in Malawi are still rising, which is why we have a high number of cases of people being the victims of cyber-security in the form of mobile money theft, or identify theft through their social media accounts. Also [we lack] capacity to counter cyber-attacks at a national level. But we are progressively moving towards a digital Malawi and we need to be able to counter cyber-attacks targeted at the national infrastructure as well as citizens.

Recently, government spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi said the government would pounce on people who circulate nude pictures via social media. From an ICT point of view, is this possible?

This is possible yes, but a little difficult because [of, for example] how we currently administer our SIM cards. [People do not provide their identities when buying SIM cards] which makes it difficult to trace the real perpetrators.

What would you advise the government on this?

Technology has exacerbated another problem from the pre-digital era; that of human rights’ violations committed in the name of national security and counterterrorism but, I think, from the internet governance perspective, our advice would be that the government should not really police the internet but, rather, allow free speech while, at the same time, the citizens should also exercise caution by not violating other people’s human rights in the digital space.

You run the Innovation Forum. What is it all about?

This annual forum supports and promotes local innovations in the ICT sector. The forum brings together people from all sectors to promote and support both individual and corporate organisations that champion innovation in their line of business and service offering.

Why did you come up with Innovation Forum?

As an association, we saw a need in the country in that there were a lot of innovations but there was no platform where innovators would be supported and even recognised. [We have] the example of Kondesi, the young man who invented a radio station and was broadcasting in his community. We no longer hear of him these days. This platform would like to promote talent so that Malawi, as a nation, can start exporting these innovations to other countries. The benefits are enormous. We are looking at a future Malawi where most of the internet content shall be local and this local content shall come from the innovations that we are promoting today. If we want to connect the unconnected, we need to give them content and this platform is promoting young developers and innovators to think of how they can, actually, create content and also solve challenges that we face in our communities through the use of ICTs.

What activities are you remaining with as the year draws to a close?

The main activities we are left with are the media awards that are planned for late December when we would like to motivate our colleagues in the media and award those best ICT reporting journalists in various categories.

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