With poor incentives in promoting ICT services, Malawi has produced some female models in ICT, but where are we in promoting access to ICT? Our Reporter ALBERT SHARRA explores.
Given an opportunity in information and communication technology (ICT), some girls and women can perform miracles. Like many others, after her secondary school education, Chimwemwe Sumani, 25, did not make it straight to the university, a chapter that marks the end of a better future for most girls in Malawi.
But for Sumani, this was the beginning of tasking the brain to identify the best skill in her. Raised by a father who believes that he can fix anything, Sumani just adopted the passion. At the earliest stages of computer technology in Malawi, around 2000, she was already on her feet to know more about the device.
“I was curious about knowing a computer and I wanted to know how it works. This is what drove me into computing and software and hardware maintenance,” she says.
“In my bedroom,” she adds “was every tool for unscrewing bolts and nuts and I used to collect old computers and detach them. My parents observed my interest and they bought me a new computer which helped me to get a better understanding and later influenced me to open a shop offering computer services.”
In 2003, while waiting for the results of her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, Sumani joined Mac Maine School of Computing. She obtained a diploma in computer science and a diploma in information technology (IT). Later she joined the Polytechnic for further studies in ICT and Cisco networking.
Today, Sumani, an IT specialist at National Library Service (NLS) is a symbol of pride for Malawi in ICT. When she was joining NLS about eight years ago, much of the work was done manually especially the book lending system.
“I am happy that almost everything at NLS is computerised and one can now search a book on the Internet. It was my dream and it makes me proud,” says Sumani who has represented Malawi at several ICT meetings across the globe.
She is just one of the few females who have succeeded in ICT and as Malawi joins the world today in commemorating the international day of Girls in ICT at St Michael’s Girls in Mangochi, it is worth celebrating such success. However, such successes are mostly registered by those that had privileges to have access to computers. Local reports indicate that the majority of Malawians have no such access and as such the number of people who can operate a computer and apply other ICT technologies is minimal.
Says Sumani: “Researches have shown than very few girls and women have access to computers and many do not know how to operate a computer which is sad.”
Even Charles Nsaliwa, director general of Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) knows this. In an interview with The Nation in September last year, he said the teledenisty for conventional internet in Malawi stands at five percent. This means, one in every 20 people have access to internet.
The 2013 National ICT Policy gives some hope as it promotes strategies aimed at providing direction as to how Malawi can turn the ICT potential into real benefits for its people. But Malawi needs more than this because most of its people are computer illiterate. This calls for the need of strong ICT policies such as the one adopted by Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, who also reminded the world at the recent Geneva World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that access to ICT is a human right and should be treated as such.
In 1999, Rwanda adopted the Rwednet and the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) policies to promote access to ICT services.
Clara Mulonya, Macra communications officer, in an earlier interview hinted on the need for more projects that target girls and women, but said the government’s telecentre project, which is being implemented by her office, has created more opportunities for all and girls are responding well.
“We have over 100 telecentres planted across Malawi and thousands of people have access. Our target is the rural people and like boys, many girls are patronising the centres. We also provide computer lessons at times and help schools and centres get connected to the Internet,” she said.
In an e-mail response on Wednesday, Mulonya said the future of ICT in Malawi looks bright with the Connect a Constituency project, which is currently in 15 constituencies and the Regional Communication Infrastructure Programme, Malawi Project (RCIPMW) last mile connectivity presently connecting over 100 centres. She says this will soon change the face of access to ICT.
“These are projects that will achieve milestones because they are aimed at improving the quality, availability and affordability of broadband for both public and private users,” she says.
Lucky Sikwese, principal secretary in the Ministry of Information says government is on track on increasing access to ICT services. He said the national ICT policy is a powerful tool as it promotes universal access to ICT services.
“The policy has the telecentre project and it mainly targets the general public. We know that most females are behind in ICT services and have no access to computers. This is why we have introduced other projects that specifically targets girls.These are being done by Macra and they are distributing computers to selected schools,”he says, adding that they are also working on other projects aimed at increasing access to ICT services to everyone.
Sikwese adds that during the celebrations event in Mangochi, Macra will drill the girls at the school in computer and connect them to Internet.