When Richard Munthali recently wanted to source information on Chancellor College (Chanco), a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), the college’s official website read: “Website is currently under maintenance. Check webmail or contact the registrar [by phone]”.
But website maintenance can also be done offsite before being deployed later; unless one is facing a cyber attack, normally called hacking.
So, when Munthali, a PhD student in bioinformatics at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa shared his predicament on social media, the comments revealed Malawi’s poor rating in ICT on the regional scale.
“It is like asking whether the Pope is Catholic, for it seems it has been like that for long. Actually, almost all Unima websites do not work most times,” read one of the comments.
From the look of it, such statements tend to signify why the country may be miles behind Kenya or Rwanda which have just rolled out free Wi-Fi Internet services to their citizens, allowing them to browse on the go even on their mobile phones.
Noting such challenges, two IT students Osborne Potani and Vitumbiko Vinkhumbo, trading as AppEase, decided to develop a credit loader, a mobile phone application aimed at lessening the burden of topping up credit into one’s mobile phone account.
“It is an Android-based application which means it will only be working on those gadgets with Android. Fortunately, most smartphones run on Android and that should benefit more subscribers,” says Chimwemwe Vinkhumbo, Vitumbiko’s young brother who is marketing the application.
Chimwemwe, 18, has just been selected to study information technology at The Polytechnic, another Unima constituent college.
The application, which Chimwemwe says is free, will require users to take a picture of the scratch card and load the units/credit direct into their phone. One is then expected to crop the picture selecting the part where the numbers are before clicking the convert button and dialling to complete the process.
“It works on both TNM and Airtel lines,” says Chimwemwe.
But does Malawi have use for such budding innovators in its technology sector?
From what the Tech-Fest, which M-Hub hosted at the American Embassy Library in Lilongwe, the country stands to benefit a lot if users are to remain in touch with the ever dynamic digital world around them.
For instance, the fest also unveiled some innovative IT products that included MyMalonda (Chichewa for my business), a classified advertising plus commerce-social web application by Noble Hara that allows users to sell items online. The innovation seems to be the local version of the famous e-Bay.
And then there was Bho!, a social web application found at http://www.malawibridge.com. Its developer, 20-year-old Innocent Bvalani, who is also the founder of Innobv8 (Innovate), described the app as a “Malawian WhatsApp”.
M-Hub chief executive officer Rachel Sibande believes the country is on the right track to prosperity as long as it prioritises an agenda to transform into a knowledge society.
Said Sibande: “We have interested and passionate young tech-developers who could spur the country on; which is a plus on its own. As M-Hub, we decided to host the Tech-Fest to give young and upcoming technology entrepreneurs a platform to present their ideas and projects to the world.
“We also wanted to initiate a favourable forum where the entrepreneurs can discuss their ideas with fellow entrepreneurs, the corporate world and the media. The apps presented will be improved according to the feedback the developers got from the participants at the Tech Fest.”
Meanwhile, the hub has said the developers who presented their projects at the Tech Fest will join other developers at the hub to be mentored in how they can enhance their projects, turn their ideas into business startups, taught skills development and they will also find the technology to support their projects.
“We will provide space for them to share experiences with fellow developers, connect them to the right people in the industry and work together in solving challenges,” she explains.
Sibande added that there are mentors at the hub who will guide the upcoming developers on how to turn their ideas into sustainable projects.
“The whole idea is to groom these techies in both the technology and business side of the industry,” she said.