F indings of a study conducted by University of Malawi’s Chancellor College researchers have recommended deepening of digital access to boost health outcomes, education and financial inclusion in the country.
The study findings have also suggested that improved access to digital technologies contribute directly about 2.5 percent to gross domestic product (GDP)—the broadest measure of economic activity.
The research, conducted to assess the effect of digital divide on citizens’ political participation in Malawi and is currently under review, was conducted by the college’s lecturers Gowokani Chijere-Chirwa, Laston Manja and Michael Chasukwa.
Reads in part the findings: “Access to digital services such as mobile phones and the Internet, including social media and e-mails, enhances information flow among citizens, thereby affecting their participation in political activities as well as having timely health messages such as on Covid-19.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Chijere-Chirwa bemoaned high cost of information and communication technology (ICT) services in the country, which he said puts digitalisation beyond people’s affordablity.
He said: “Imagine one gigabyte of standard data which is valid for a day costs K1 800, both at TNM and Airtel. The cost is an equivalent of 134 percent of the government’s daily minimum wage of K1 346.15 per day [K35 000 per month].
“These are catastrophic digital expenditures and one wonders how they can be used for browsing even Covid-19 messages.”
Reacting to the study findings, Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani said in an interview that government expects the rates currently being charged by players in the telecommunication industry to decline when the players start to fully benefit from Universal Access Fund.
But he bemoaned vandalism which he said affects players in the sector as they have to replace vandalised optic fibre cables more often.
In addition, Botomani said government has improved the ICT infrastructure by laying more than 1 386 kilometres of optic fibre covering all the 28 districts, adding that it has also improved connectivity through government wide area network.
ICT Association of Malawi president Bram Fudzulani, in an earlier interview said it is imperative for the country to reverse the status quo in the ICT sector when it comes to high cost of digital services.
A recent analysis by the World Bank titled ‘The Potential for Digital Technologies to Boost Growth in Malawi’ also decried punitive rates governing the ICT sector, a situation the Brettonwoods Institution said is adversely impacting mobile penetration.
According to the World Bank, entry-broadband packages cost only 5.2 percent of per capital Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Uganda, 2 percent in Kenya, yet the same costs 19 percent of per capita GDP in Malawi.