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Technology, 2019 elections

With Marshal Mdeza:

In about a month, Malawians will elect political office bearers. It is campaign time and my tech ears are tilted like those of a hare; and I have heard nothing so far.

We live in a country where internet services are extremely expensive. It would be unfair to say that as I country we have not developed technologically; we have to some extent; the problem is that we have technologies that are isolated; there is no political will to converge such efforts into one direction to enjoy economies of scale.

Ours is a situation where two towers for two telecommunications companies are located at one locality, practically doing the same job. Each bank has its own mobile banking app yet all the banks work under one umbrella, the Bankers Association of Malawi.

While such implementation strategy offers competition, it turns out to be expensive for the consumer; the consumer pays many times over for the same function. Are you surprised then that we cough so much for our internet?

But we have a whole ministry of communication and technology? You might be wondering. Let me submit to you that I don’t think so?

Usually, we have had a minister of communication; not communication as is in telecommunication but as a government spokesperson; a spin doctor for the government. In simple language, that ministry has nothing to do with technology.

Kenya has a ministry of technology and watch how much that country has achieved in terms of technology. In Kenya, farmers use USSD apps to improve farming methods. In this way one agricultural field worker covers a very big area because technology replicates the field worker.

Malawi’s history is not very different from South Korea. Just like Malawi, South Korea was fundamentally an agricultural sector-based economy while north Korea was industrial. Actually, South Korea’s case was much more pitiable; colonised a few times; was once a colony of Japan.

The political leadership made a decision to become a tech powerhouse. Today, they have Samsung, LG, Hynix and Hyundai amongst others. Samsung is not just a manufacturer of tech products; like Hynix, it is a semiconductor and component manufacturer.

Companies like Apple are customers of Samsung; Apple buys displays, memory and storage for the iPhone from Samsung. Yet Samsung and Apple are competitors on premium smartphones.

Just like Malawi, South Korea currency, the Won, at one point lost value, from over 100 to 900 to the dollar before hitting the lowest ebb of 2,000 to the dollar before bouncing back to 900.

South Korea went into IMF restructuring programme but instead of clapping hands for being rescued by IMF loans, the Koreans used this to their advantage; they restricted imports and stimulated exports of tech products to take advantage of the weak currency. Today, South Korea is no go zone for IMF.

We do not have to turn into South Korea overnight, we can start from somewhere. Our labour is cheap here. Why is the iPhone assembled in China? Because labour is cheap. About 80 percent of Samsung production facilities are outside South Korea. Actually; China today is more expensive to manufacture than Vietnam. That is why your Samsung S10 was most probably manufactured in Vietnam.

There is hope. I heard one politician promising that his government will establish factories where the youth will manufacture batteries and displays for mobile phones. It is attainable. Who said that our technical colleges should all be about tailoring, brick-laying and carpentry?

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