Malawi is situated in the southern part of the East African Rift Valley, located between Mozambique in the east, Tanzania in the north and Zambia in the west. It has a surface area of over 118,000 square km, which consists of 28 administrative districts (Balaka, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Chitipa, Dedza, Dowa, Karonga, Kasungu, Likoma, Lilongwe, Machinga, Mangochi, Mchinji, Mulanje, Mwanza, Mzimba, Neno, Ntcheu, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Nsanje, Ntchisi, Phalombe, Rumphi, Salima, Thyolo, Zomba). The population is estimated to be in the region of 19.6 million (July 2018 CIA World FactBook) with an average yearly growth of around 3.3% and a GDP per Capita of 1,200 USD. Sixty two percent of the population are between 15 - 64 years of age, with a literacy rate of 79.4%. The economy is heavily based on agriculture, with a largely rural population of 80% mainly engaged in small holder farming. Lilongwe, the capital city, has a population of 1.03 million (2018). The official languages are English and Chichewa, with other local languages also in use.
Malawi is among the world's least developed countries. The Government depends heavily on outside aid to meet development needs and faces challenges in building and expanding the economy, improving education, health care, environmental protection, and becoming financially independent. The foreign policy is pro-Western and includes positive diplomatic relations with most countries and participation in several international organisations. Natural resources include limestone, arable land, hydropower, coal and bauxite.
In relation to Communications, according to 2017 figures (CIA World Factbook), there were 11,234 fixed phone lines in use compared with 7.1 million mobile phones and 1.78 million Internet users.
In terms of ICT Infrastructure there is a submarine and terrestrial broadband network, a fibre cable infrastructure connecting Malawi and Mozambique, an expanded fibre infrastructure inside the country and a high level of mobile penetration. The Malawi Internet eXchange point became operational on 04 December 2008 and was funded through start up equipment assistance from KTH, Sweden through the College of Medicine Project. Tele centres were set up using ITU funding through MACRA and MPC. There are now over 100 operational telecentres in Malawi. The last mile connectivity project is part of the Regional Communications Infrastructure Project (RCIP) and the University Access project is supported by the World Bank. To encourage the use of ICT, the Government of Malawi has waived tax on the import of computers and accessories.
There are fifteen institutions of Higher Education: 4 public Universities (University of Malawi, Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Malawi University of Science and Technology), 7 public Polytechnics and specialised Colleges and 4 private Colleges. Plans are underway to unbundle the University of Malawi so that the four constituent colleges of UNIMA become standalone universities.
The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) was established pursuant to Section 3 of the Communications Act, 1998 of the Laws of Malawi to regulate the country's communications sector. MACRA now draws its mandate from the Communications Act of 2016 to regulate and monitor the provision of communications services and ensure that, as far as it is practicable, reliable and affordable communications services are provided throughout Malawi. The Communications Act provide for the regulation of the provision of services in the electronic communications sector, posts, information society; for the establishment of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and the Malawi Posts Corporation; and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
MACRA implements ICT development Projects through project design, planning, monitoring and evaluation of ICT Projects in liaison with different stakeholders including, the Ministry of Information and Civic Education, rural communities, development partners (donors), and telecom operators. MACRA is responsible for the implementation of Universal Access Programs, which are aimed at addressing ICT access gap in the rural and remote areas of the country.
The Malawi's Vision 2020 statement policy sets the conceptual parameters for subsequent policy including National ICT policy (revised 2013) whose mission is to facilitate the creation of an enabling environment for efficient, effective, and sustainable utilization, exploitation, and development of ICTs in all sectors of the economy in order to attain an information-rich and knowledge-based society and economy. This policy has a dual focus. It aims at developing the ICT industry and sector and promoting the development and use of ICTs.
Given the benefits and opportunities offered by ICT, it is acknowledged that Malawi cannot effectively forge ahead with its development agenda without putting an appropriate framework of ICT in place to support and accelerate various national and sector initiatives and interventions at all levels of society. The ICT Policy was adopted in 2005 to develop the ICT sector and promote the development and use of ICTs focused on strategic ICT leadership, community access to ICTs and a responsive ICT legal and regulatory framework. It also includes a commitment to universal access, rural connectivity and liberalisation of the private sector involvement.
The ICT Policy aims to provide a direction as to how Malawi will turn the ICT potential into real benefits for its people. It also aims to put an appropriate institutional, regulatory and legal framework in place that should effectively support successful deployment and utilization of ICT in all sectors of national development.It is crucial that strong public-private partnerships exist in implementation of this policy. The Government will, therefore, continue to provide the right enabling environment for both public and private sector participation in the development, deployment and utilization of ICT in both urban and rural communities through initiatives such as Universal Access projects.It is hoped that the policy will bring about organized and systematic ICT development and reduce ad-hoc, fragmented and uncoordinated development and utilization of ICT.
A lot of changes have taken place in the ICT sector since 2005 and this has prompted a revision of the ICT Policy to include Universal Access Issues and other associated standards to make recommendations for the adoption of the same. NCST was involved in the revision of the ICT Policy and the updated ICT Policy was published in September 2013. The ICT Policy together with the Malawi Digital Broadcasting Policy were both launched by the Vice President at the end of ICT Week which ran from the 3rd to 8th December 2013. The Government recognises ICT as a priority sector with the potential of turning around the economy. However, implementation of the ICT Policy may be affected by low levels of ICT literacy and awareness, dependency on imported goods and services, and competition for financial resources by other national priorities.
The Government of Malawi through the e-Government Department contracted consultants using UNDP funding to develop a National ICT Master Plan. This plan was approved by Government with the overall objective to implement the ICT policy. The plan was also used to develop the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III. The ICT Master Plan spans 2014 to 2031, an eighteen-year duration, which is split into four separate plans. The first plan is a three-year plan for the period 2014 to 2016 whilst subsequent three plans span a five-year period each. The plan has clustered the ten priority areas identified in the ICT Policy into four logical strategic pillars, namely, Innovation and Human Capital Development, ICT Industry Development and E-Business, ICT Infrastructure Development and eGovernment and Growth Sector Development.
The Digital Broadcasting Policy is a guide developed for the smooth transition from analogue to digital television broadcasting. It entails segmentation of broadcasting services into content production and signal distribution meaning that television broadcasters will be responsible for content production and at the same time there is need for a separate entity to be responsible for distribution of the television signals to the consumers / television viewers on behalf of the broadcasters. Malawi has managed to meet the deadline set by ITU whereby all member countries are supposed to migrate to digital from analogue by June 2015.
The Malawi Growth and Development Strategies (MGDs) were developed to provide a single reference document for policy makers in Government; the Private Sector; Civil Society Organizations; Donors and Cooperating Partners on socio-economic growth and development priorities. The first MGDs ran from 2006 to 2011, second one ran from 2011 to 2016 and third one runs from 2016 - 2021. MGDS III draws some lessons from the earlier strategies in order to chart a path that takes the country forward in terms of sustainable and inclusive growth. It aims at building a productive, competitive and resilient nation by consolidating achievements of the earlier strategies.
Within the MGDS, ICT and telecommunications fall under the theme of Transport and ICT infrastructure, whose goal is to develop a safe, affordable, reliable, equitable and sustainable transport and ICT infrastructure development. Key strategies for achieving this include: Promoting the participation of community broadcasting stations, private couriers and privately owned tele-communication service providers; Promoting community ICT and multipurpose information centres, improving broadcasting distribution, content and coverage; Creating a conducive environment to attract investment in ICT infrastructure and services, Intensifying ICT research education and training in all sectors; and Developing capacity to generate reliable and accurate local content among others.
Planning for the third MGDs (2016 - 2021) took into account the implementation of international, regional, and continental development frameworks, protocols and treaties such as Agenda 63, SDGs, Vienna Program of Action for easy implementation, monitoring and reporting. NCST spearheaded the drafting of the ICT Chapter.
The establishment of the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) was provided for in the Science and Technology Act (No. 16 of 2003) to advance science and technology issues in Malawi. The National Research Council of Malawi and the Department of Science and Technology were integrated to form NCST following a Cabinet Directive of 20th October 2008.
NCST principally provides advice to the Government and other stakeholders on all matters related to science and technology in order to achieve a science and technology-led development. It derives its authority from the Minister responsible for Science and Technology to ensure that it reaches out to the highest levels and all sectors of social and economic development in the country.
The Government sees the establishment of the Commission as a key strategy for enhancing the development and application of Science & Technology in its development endeavours in order to accelerate the socio-economic development of the nation and improve the quality of life of its people. NCST's mission is to regulate, support, promote and coordinate the development and application of Science, Technology and Innovation so as to create wealth and improve the quality of life.
There are a number of ICT-related challenges facing Malawi, which include:
- "Brain drain" in the ICT sector due to low remuneration (essentially, brain-drain takes place at two levels: from Malawi to other countries especially within the SADC region, and from the public sector to the private sector).
- Inadequate institutional capacity at national, sectoral, and organisational levels.
- Negative attitude towards technology change.
- Human and financial resource constraints to the development of the ICT sector such as ICT infrastructure, high cost of telecommunications, and unstable and unreliable power.
- Outdated laws that support ICT development, deployment, and utilisation.
- Proliferation of sub-standard ICT schools, syllabi, and service delivery.
- Underdeveloped research and development capacity in ICT
- Lack of a national research agenda to provide a road map for research activities