Zimbabweans are good at talking the talk but are a bit lacking when it comes to walking the walk. We’ve had discussions for years about things that need to be accomplished, only to see other countries quietly accomplish those tasks before us.
The Malawian government understands that it needs to get its citizens online. They have read the same reports that show that internet access fosters the development of a country. So, the government is doing something about it.
Digital Malawi Programme
They have the Digital Malawi Programme, which is intended to propel digital transformation throughout the country. Granted, Zimbabwe is a bit ahead on its digital transformation journey but it wouldn’t take much to overtake us.
According to DataReportal, only about 25% of Malawians used the internet at the start of 2023. You will recall that the same report said only 34.8% of Zimbabweans used the internet during the same period of time. Malawi is not too far off. However, both stats are not good.
As part of the Digital Malawi Programme, they launched a program to provide free internet in all public facilities, including schools, courts, police stations, prisons, hospitals, and markets.
So far, at least 500 public facilities have been connected to the internet under the program.
They say the program will help to bridge the digital divide and ensure that everyone has access to the internet, regardless of their income or location.
Why can’t we have something like this in Zimbabwe? Well, Malawi is implementing the programme in cooperation with the World Bank. Zimbabwe owes the World Bank and many other international creditors to the tune of $14.04 billion and has not received funding from the World Bank and other lenders for more than 20 years.
To be fair, Zimbabwe does have its Community Information Centres (CICs) which are public places where people can access computers, the internet, and other digital technologies.
The CIC in my neighbourhood has been closed for a while as they sort out their connectivity issues, I hope it’s not the same story at the other CICs.
Just this year, Potraz has been constructing 32 CICs which are at various stages of completion. When they are completed the country will have 202 CICs in total.
Potraz does acknowledge that the CICs are being underutilized. So, starting in 2024, Potraz will “embark on village-based mobile computer training to ensure citizens fully utilise CICs.”
Malawi is not content with free WiFi at public facilities. They want to expand the free internet program and lobby for further reductions in data charges by mobile phone companies.
This urgency would have you believe Malawi must have expensive internet to take this kind of initiative but you’d be wrong. It’s the opposite. According to Cable’s latest report, Malawi has the cheapest internet in Africa. Yet, they want it to be even cheaper.
According to the same Cable report, Zimbabwe has the most expensive internet in Africa, and even the world.
- Average price per GB in Malawi – $0.38
- Average price per GB in Zimbabwe – $43.75
Now, internet access is expensive in Zimbabwe but it’s not $43 per GB expensive. This is where I have a problem with the Cable reports. I don’t know if it’s the currency issue but they often get it wrong when it comes to our country. Which makes it hard to trust the other results they publish.
That said, internet access is much cheaper in Malawi but they are working to ensure it gets even cheaper. They have even already licensed Starlink in the country to cover all bases. They understand that getting fibre/4G to rural areas is too expensive and so are leaning on Starlink’s satellite internet to bridge that gap.