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When the chips are down

ICT comes to the rescue

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Gospel Kazako

If there is one thing that the Covid pandemic has successfully managed to achieve, then it is disrupting social and business lives.

Since the first case of Covid was reported in late 2019 in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the virus has spread like bushfire across the world resulting in travel restrictions, school closures, church restrictions, lockdowns and other measures.

The schools, the bars, the churches, the airports, the dance floors, the stadiums now stand deserted in the wake of Covid.

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But at such, a darkest hour, information and communications technology stand out to keep the wheels of the economy running.

Matthews Mtumbuka is Chief Executive Officer of Eastern and Southern Africa Research and Education Network, UbuntuNet Alliance, and recalls the 10 days stay at the Kamuzu Central Hospital Isolation Centre in mid-January this year after testing positive for coronavirus.

“An isolation centre is exactly that…a place where you are isolated from the world and friends and relatives,” Mtumbuka says.

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According to Mtumbuka, ICT tools were very important at the Covid isolation centre.

“The phone helps you to be in touch with your loved ones. They offer you the much needed hope and encouragement. Fighting Covid is mostly a mental battle. You need a regular dose of positivity and encouragement from the dear ones. And that comes via phone calls, SMSes and especially WhatsApp,” Mtumbuka says.

He adds that he was also able to follow what was happening across the world.

Just like Mtumbuka, Mwandida Phiri, a Lilongwe-based cross-border trader, also hails technology for easing life during the Covid era.

“Through technology, we are able to stay at home while remaining in business,” Phiri says.

Deep down in the City of Lilongwe, President Lazarus Chakwera, and fellow African leaders, were recently locked up in the 34thOrdinary Session of the African Unionfor Heads of State and Government, under the theme ‘Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want’.

Through the use of technology, Chakwera and fellow African leaders discussed a report on the progress of Africa’s response to Covid-19 Pandemic, with particular focus on the need to work collaboratively to secure and roll out Covid vaccines through the Coxax initiative and the AU’s Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT).

Again, thanks to technology, the African leaders also discussed the progress off institutional reforms of the African Union, which are critical for strengthening the Union’s functionality and capacity to facilitate the development of Africa.

Even Reserve Bank Governor, Wilson Banda, says embracing technology could be key in survival of businesses.

Speaking during the Financial Market Dealers Association (Fimda) Conference, Banda said, others have called the Covid pandemic a transformative crisis.

“Financial institutions, especially banks, should quickly adapt to this shift in consumer behaviour and scale-up digitisation of financial services. Add value to banking services by helping consumers, especially small businesses, to adopt digital finance,” Banda says.

ICT Association of Malawi President, Bram Fudzulani, says ICT continues to play a critical role in sustaining the world’s economy.

“We have seen how schools are using internet for online learning, health care services are using ICT in disseminating and collecting data. In financial sector we have seen through the reserve bank report how the introduction of 40 percent fee drop in online payments/ transactions promoted a huge increase in electronic payments in Malawi.

“There are a number of areas ICT is helping economies all around world and this is the time for government to look at our polices and possibly use the practical working experiences to repurpose our policies in a way that they speak to the needs of the people,” Fudzulani says.

Information Minister, Gospel Kazako, says the importance of ICT in the Covid era cannot be overemphasised, saying the Tonse Administration is recalibrating everything in the entire equation of matters ICT.

According to Kazako, there is need for a new culture, a solid new approach from the way government invests in ICT avenues and policies that drive the ICT agenda.

“There has been passive attention on ICT matters for a long time. We now have to prioritize this area having known that the future cannot be without ICT.

“We are aware of the need to fertilize the new matrix of determining the growth of national modern economies called GDP-B, which is the future of how economic growth and participation using digital means will be determined,” Kazako says.

He adds that the Ministry of Information will rollout short, medium and long term strategies to ensure Malawi is standing on sustainable ICT that will contribute to the country’s economic and social competitiveness and growth.

“The big lion in the room ensuring the majority of Malawians is able to access, afford and utilize ICT. There are just no two ways about that. We have no choice,”Kazako says.

And as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause untold misery across the world, it is difficult to imagine a world without ICT.

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