10 things that defined Malawi tech in 2016

The tech scene in Malawi is still in its infancy compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite lagging behind, 2016 showed some signs of movement in the right direction and giving the tech community and the country at large a glimmer of hope. Here are some 10 things that defined tech in Malawi. The list is not exhaustive; you can add your observations in the comments section below.

1. Ministry of ICT

On 22 April 2016 Malawi decided to rename the Ministry of Information and Civic Education to Ministry of ICT with the idea of focusing more on Information, Communication and Technology. According to a statement issued by the then Chief Secretary to Government, George Mkondiwa, the change reflected the direction the Malawi Government is taking in improving ICT in the country. This declaration excited the tech community because for a long time there was no dedicated ministry for ICT.

This ministry used to be called Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture before it was changed to Ministry of Information and Civic Education. Since it was renamed to Ministry of ICT, it has had 3 ministers namely, Hon. Patricia Kaliati, Hon. Malison Ndau and the incumbent, Hon Nicholas Dausi. However, besides the name change, the tech community is yet to start reaping from the existence of a full and dedicated ministry which ironically still acts as government’s mouthpiece.

2. Policy and Legislation

Two important bills related to technology were passed by the Malawi Parliament in 2016. The Communications Act of 1998 was repealed and replaced by the new Communications Act of 2016. The bill will greatly assist the Malawi government to boost internet and mobile networks availability across the country. Notable inclusions in the bill are penalties set out to network providers who may intentionally ignore to expand their network coverage to rural areas. The bill can be downloaded here.

On 4 July, Parliament also passed the Electronic Transaction bill which tackles Cyber Security and Electronic Commerce. This bill also leads to the establishment of the Malawi Computer Emergency Response Team (Malawi-CERT) which will spearhead the coordination in responding to ICT Security threats. It also spells out punishments and penalties for cyber crime, seeks to recognise and register online platforms.

3. ICT Association of Malawi

The just ended year saw the revival of the ICT Association of Malawi (ICTAM) an umbrella body of ICT Professionals in Malawi. An interim committee headed by Wisely Phiri was ushered into the office in February. They have since established a secretariat in Lilongwe, a website and managed to conduct several activities that brought together various players in the industry. Notable achievements include organising and hosting the ICT for Development Conference, ICT Innovations Awards to individuals and corporate companies, and also contributions to the Electronic Transaction bill through the Media and ICT committee of Parliament. They have also facilitated the setting up of engagement platforms for ICT Professionals in Malawi. ICTAM will conduct elections in the first quarter of 2017 to elect its office bearers.

4. Malawi’s first technology and innovation hub

This was mHub’s first full year in operation. Having come to the scene in 2015 with innovations and programs that support tech innovation, mHub continued to represent both on local and international scene.

In the year, mHub launched a citizen engagement platform, www.mzinda.com which is a place where citizens report on issues to do with service delivery and also engage with service providers and elected councillors. mHub also equipped over 400 youths in basic entrepreneurship and digital skills, developed 5 applications and also incubated 17 emerging entrepreneurs. The Lilongwe Pitch Night, a flagship program for mHub also registered successful stories in the year.

5. Malawi Virtual Landing Point

The headlines for May 6 newspapers and publications brought excitement to every tech enthusiast in Malawi and beyond. ‘Internet to fall by 75%’ was the headline for a Nyasa Times report. This followed the launch of the Malawi Virtual Landing Point, a link point for Malawi to the global optic fiber communication cable. Through the fiber optic cable, government claimed that the cost of internet services will drastically come down to enable as many Malawians access high speed internet at a very low cost. Nine months down the line, internet cost remains high and unaffordable to most Malawians.

6. MACRA Smart City Proposals

A peep into the future! The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) excited the tech world and hinted of a bright future where our cities will be controlled by technology. Through a call for public opinions (PDF), MACRA asked various stakeholders to submit proposals and opinions on an initiative they plan to pilot in Blantyre called Smart City.

“Smart Cities rely on, among others, a collection of smart ICT technologies and solutions that are applied to critical infrastructure components and services.

“The development of Smart Cities requires a multi stakeholder approach and MACRA intends to facilitate this initiative through City Councils, the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Civic Education, Ministry of Tourism, telecommunication operators and city communities in the country” read the statement from MACRA.

We just keep our fingers crossed to see what will come out of this.

7. 4G LTE Network

TNM Malawi launched their 4G LTE network in the country’s 4 major cities in June 2016. The network supports a maximum download speed of 100Mbps. TNM’s CEO was quoted as saying that the network will enhance the user’s experience at the same time reducing the cost of operation.

8. There is an app for that!

Apps galore! 2016 saw many mobile applications developed by local developers and some launched by local companies. From banks to telecommunication companies, the Malawian corporate world joined the mobile app revolution taking place around the world. Notable apps include the TNM Smart App, FDH Mobile, Constitution of Malawi, Lake of Stars App, Phwando App, Music from Malawi, (you can add more apps in the comment section).

9. Angle Dimension

Software development took a different dimension in the past year. Following the success of other Malawian owned IT companies like Sparc Systems, a group of IT professionals trading as Angle Dimension made big strides in establishing themselves as an innovative and professional ICT company in Malawi. They came with several innovations in the year including Aspect Financials 360 and a Filling Station management system called My Station PRO.

10. Lots of problems to solve.

The year just ended presented itself with a lot of challenges that can be solved by technology. From politics to religion, to sports to education, agriculture, justice, Malawi continues to be a potential candidate for a tech revolution. Innovations from the tech community can disrupt the way we do things in this poorest country in the world.

The future of Malawian tech looks bright! There is hope for a better Malawi driven by tech.