Increasing access to ICT


By Tikondane Vega

TECHNOLOGY—An example of a tower mobile companies are supposed to plant in rural areas

Clifford Sikelo, 28, from the peripherals of Thyolo, had never heard of the internet until several months ago when a relation in diaspora asked him to create an e-mail account for easy communication.

E-mail was peculiar to him. Even more strange was the thought of using a computer.


“This took me into a mission of learning,” Sikelo confesses. “I went to Goliati Telecentre where I was schooled about what this internet fuss is all about.”

Sikelo managed to visit a telecentre; thanks to governments’ goal of providing telecommunication services to all citizens, particularly those who live in rural areas.

Majority of Malawians, just like Sikelo, does not have access to new information technology and sometimes cannot access network to make calls, hence cut off from the global village.


The policy discussion in many countries globally, including Malawi, is to bring information and communications technology (ICT) and networks closer to rural masses because it appears to be an enabling tool for empowering the rural populace.

It is against this backdrop that government, through Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (Macra), is reaching out to rural masses with ICT services through community telecentres for the benefit of people like Sikelo.

Currently, Malawi has over 100 telecentres across the country.

“Remote as this part of Thyolo might seem, it is connected and in touch with the rest of the world; thanks to the presence of the telecentre.

“I am now able to connect with my relatives in different areas through internet,” Sikelo says.

He, however, bemoans lack of mobile phone network in the area.

“I am only connected with my relatives through e-mail because there is no phone network in my home village.

“This is another challenge to me since I can only make a call at the nearest trading centre where there is good network,” he says.

Sikelo only reflects the larger picture of the network problem in Malawi which appears to be a challenge for many people in rural areas.

Apparently, many mobile phone operators are not interested to invest in rural areas where profits are perceived to be low.

Macra Head of Universal Service Fund Emily Lungu concedes that ICT and network access in the country has concentrated in urban areas leaving out rural communities with little or without

Feature access at all.

Lungu observes that this situation will in the near future be history as Macra has set up Universal Service Fund (USF) to collect money from ICT players for the implementation of the project.

The USF Project is expected to roll out this year (2020) and will extend to the country’s rural areas so that people like Sikelo should be connected to the rest of the world fully.

“We intend to fully leverage on the benefits of ICT by implementing a number of universal ICT coverage projects.

“Universal Service Fund in Malawi was established two years ago and, so far, Macra has not utilised the funds in terms of projects,” Lungu says.

Meanwhile, she says, Macra has engaged a consultant to identify existing gaps so that when the project rolls out, it should fill the gaps.

“We have identified a consultant to do the gap analysis and once the study is complete, we will know the areas of intervention.

“Rural areas are indeed lagging in terms of access to ICT. You will find that you enjoy seamless 4G internet access in urban areas but as you exit the town, access is erratic or not available,” Lungu says.

She further explains that Macra has been setting up data instruments and guidelines on how the funds collected from the operators will be used.

Through the project, telecommunication operators like TNM and Airtel Malawi will be able to expand their network to rural areas regardless of whether they will make profit or not as Macra will compensate the shortfall.

“With the establishment of a USF as outlined in the amended Communications Act, Macra will work with operators to identify areas which they cannot afford to reach and then support the infrastructure through the fund,” Lungu says.

A survey by the National Statistical Office commissioned by Macra in 2016 on the use of ICT services established that internet penetration is low in rural areas due to operators targeting urban areas for higher returns.

The survey revealed that internet and network availability can enhance the lives of rural citizens, provide information about agricultural and off-farm activities, deliver public services and disseminate educational and health knowledge.

On September 25 2015 world leaders adopted 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations General Assembly.

The SDGs replaced the eight Millennium Development Goals that were adopted in 2000 with a 15-year lifespan.

In this respect, President Peter Mutharika commended the adoption of the goals as the only way out of the many challenges centred on extreme hunger and poverty.

He noted that the achievement of four Millennium Goals was a manifestation that the country can as well achieve the 17 SDGs.

“With respect to the new goals, we are going to end goal number one on poverty alleviation with specific targets; we know 80 per cent of people are in rural areas and these are the farmers who produce all the food we eat.

“So, we are going to make sure that they are able to realise income from their crop produce,” Mutharika said.

SDG 9 talks about building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.

One of the targets is that countries should significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet.

Perhaps the direction taken by the government of Malawi to introduce telecentres and USF so that Sikelo and others in rural areas can benefit is a right step that can also accelerate achievement of the SDGs to which Malawi is a signatory

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