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News in the continent

It is now time for a round up on IT in the region. Sometimes, I wish I could write about some of these successful initiatives happening in Malawi, but if not, perhaps we can learn and be motivated by the success stories of our neighbours.

Zambia is in the news for a number of reasons. Samsung and Airtel Zambia have partnered to launch a fourth solar powered internet school in Zambia, despite power grid limitations. The school takes the form of a 40-feet mobile shipping container which contains desks, internet-enabled solar powered notebooks, computers, Wi-fi cameras and a large electronic screen for teaching.

Airtel Zambia is providing internet connectivity to the school as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR). “The development of solar powered internet schools in rural areas is, therefore, key to the effective implementation of the curriculum on information and communication technology (ICT) in Zambia,” said Dr Wanchinga, Minister of General Education.

Samsung says that 50,000 students in the rural region have already benefitted from solar powered internet schools. I do recall Skyband Corporation proposing this very idea way back in 2006 for Malawi, perhaps it was an idea before its time for Malawi. Perhaps ideas like this is why Zambia’s ICT sector grew by 40.2 percent in 2016, accounting for 1.2 percent of the nation’s total GDP in 2016, according to recently released figures.

More on solar later, but on the down side, the increase in cybercrime in the country is estimated at 23 percent in the last two years. Over the Easter Holiday, for example, both Barclays Bank Zambia and the Zambia National Commercial Bank reported the theft of millions by cyber criminals via ATMs.

New technology does need new risk assessments (and a sensitisation and education of client users) to ensure a reduction in such crime. In Nigeria, the Lagos listed telecoms infrastructure company IHS is planning a massive expansion of its tower infrastructure. It currently owns 3,000 towers in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Sudan and South Sudan and besides looks at acquisitions in six new countries in the next two years, and ownership of over 20,000 sites in Africa in the next four years.

The exciting thing is that 1oth of the company’s sites in Nigeria now use a hybrid of solar and generator power, and solar-only sites are planned in rural areas with low consumption to reduce diesel and running costs. Sticking with solar and Nigeria, an Indian technology company called VNL plans to revolutionise the telecommunications sector in Nigeria with the introduction of that country’s first solar powered network called ‘WorldGSM’.

VNL specialises in developing low-cost solar-powered GSM and broadband systems and is seeking to unlock the 48 percent of Nigerians in rural areas that as yet do not have access to mobile and internet services. Imagine this in Malawi with a 54 percent mobile penetration rate.

Online campaigners for change, represented by Avaaz and others have launched international campaigns to change this. Based on the view that the United Nations (UN) considers internet shutdowns as a violation of the international human rights law, they are seeking international and African Union (AU) action to censure Cameroon.

It is sad that technology that seeks to advance the development of a country and its people is used as a political weapon to suppress dissent and the free exchange of information. The negative impact on the economy cannot be underestimated. Let us hope this is soon rectified.

Teri Sequeira is the CEO for SyncIT Solutions Ltd –established in 2003.

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