Malawi’s digitalisation transformation to help respond quickly and effectively to climate crises and health emergencies—World Bank

* Also to transform service delivery in social protection, financial inclusion, disaster response and lands management

* In increasing access to the internet and the inclusive use of digitally enabled services, it will also create employment opportunities

By Duncan Mlanjira

Digitalisation is a powerful tool for development in Malawi and the progress in this sector will transform service delivery in social protection, financial inclusion, disaster response and lands management.


This is attested by World Bank Country Director for Malawi, Nathan Belete in announcing the approval of the Inclusive Digitalization in Eastern and Southern Africa (IDEA) program, which is set to increase access to the internet and the inclusive use of digitally enabled services.

“It will also create employment opportunities and help respond quickly and effectively to climate crises and health emergencies,” Belete is quoted as saying on World Bank Malawi website.

Nathan Belete on a meeting with President Lazarus Chakwera

Emphasis is that with US$2.48 billion in funding from the International Development Association (IDA) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), IDEA aims to bring together 15 countries and Regional Economic Communities to tackle challenges such as limited internet coverage, inadequate data infrastructure, low usage due to high cost of data and devices, limited digital skills, cybersecurity risks and data protection.

“IDEA will contribute to sustainable economic growth through long-term cost savings, efficiency, and productivity gains, fueled by greater digital adoption by citizens, businesses, and governments across the region,” says the World Bank.

The programme is to be implemented in phases over eight years with Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Malawi participating in the first phase and additional countries and regional bodies are expected to join in the subsequent phases based on their eligibility and readiness.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) will spearhead the regional coordination of the IDEA programme and through the Digital Malawi Acceleration Project, it aims to increase access to, and inclusive use of, the internet and improve the government’s capacity to deliver digitally enabled services.

Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, COMESA secretary general

The World Bank Malawi further says an initial grant of US$70 million will be provided by IDA and is expected to be increased later to a total of US$150 million, which is predicted to mobilise an additional US$50 million in private sector financing.

Digital Malawi Acceleration Project will be implemented by the Public Private Partnership Commission and the Ministry of Information and Digitalisation.

Digital Malawi Acceleration Project is structured around three technical areas:

* Affordable broadband and secure data hosting component, which will focus on activities such as expanding broadband coverage in rural areas; closing connectivity gaps for government institutions; achieving universal school connectivity; addressing gaps in missing cross-border broadband links; and ensuring safe hosting of government data;

* Interoperable and secure data platforms, focus on activities such as the next generation digital ID and identity verification services, facilitation of data exchange, enabling e-services, and enhancing policy and regulatory frameworks; and

* High impact digital services and productive digital usage, to expand support to tech hubs to provide youth training in digital literacy, digital skills, digital entrepreneurship, and other activities. It will also support digitalisation in key sectors including social protection, financial inclusion, disaster recovery, and lands management.


Who will benefit?

“Enhanced internet access is expected to reach at least 7.5 million people in Malawi as the project is expected to benefit all households (especially low-income), climate-vulnerable populations, disadvantaged women and girls (especially in remote areas), digital entrepreneurs, and users of public facilities.

“The Malawian people will gain from the enhanced access to affordable, high-quality broadband, more affordable devices, enhanced data protection and cybersecurity, and e-services in key sectors and job opportunities created in sectors requiring higher skill levels.

“The government will benefit from the efficiencies gained from seamless data exchange, more secure data hosting, the ability to provide services digitally and from improved technical capacity of government personnel, including in emerging areas such as cyber-security,” says the statement.

It adds that COMESA will spearhead the regional coordination of the IDEA programme — mandated to support the creation of a common market and the enhancement of digital infrastructure, facilitating the transition towards a digital free trade area across most of countries IDEA will cover.

“COMESA will support the enabling environment for regional digital market development and integration and create a platform to inform and mobilize investments for regional digital infrastructure.

“Activities will include, for example, developing regionally harmonized regulatory and policy frameworks, guidelines, and standards to promote digital access and usage; build capacity and support institutional strengthening for participating countries in a sustainable manner; and increase the efficiency and impact of the program activities by leveraging regional synergies between countries.”

According to Director of E-Government in the Ministry of Information & Digitalisation, Paul Katema, further advantages of the IDEA programme through COMESA is the collaboration with other African Regional Economic Communities, emphasising that such partnership is vital for Malawi’s digital transformation.

Katema (left) and Secretary for Information & Digitalisation, Baldwin Chiyamwaka

“This partnership allows us to share best practices by,” he said. “Learning from the experiences and successes of neighbouring countries helps us implement effective digital strategies.

“It enhances regional connectivity as the collaborative efforts lead to the development of cross-border broadband links, ensuring seamless internet access across the region and it strengthens cybersecurity as joint initiatives and shared resources improve our collective cybersecurity posture — making our digital environment safer.

“It also leverages regional synergies as working with regional economic communities facilitates harmonised regulatory frameworks and policies, promoting a more integrated and efficient digital market.”

The IDEA funding is set to roll out Phase 2 of Digital Malawi Acceleration Project towards the country’s digital transformation after  some milestones achieved in the first phase.


In an earlier interview, Katema said the Digital Malawi Phase 1 served as a foundation for digitalisation and it has so far achieved significant milestones, that include:

* Connecting 500 government institutions, which were provided with internet and government internal network access to 500 institutions, improving efficiency and service delivery;

* Finalising the construction of the primary data centre in Lilongwe, which will enhance data management and storage capabilities;

* Installation of first free WiFi zones in Malawi, with over 39 sites currently operational, increasing public access to the internet;

* Developed the Data Protection Bill and other legislative frameworks to safeguard data privacy and security;

* Established a data exchange platform to facilitate seamless data sharing between government systems; and

* Finalising the government digital services portal to provide citizens with easy access to various government services online.


Asked what are the gaps limiting access to the internet that they will address in Phase 2, Katema said the project will address several gaps limiting internet access, that include:

* Connectivity Gaps – by ensuring that every constituency in Malawi has a free internet zone and connecting 2,000 secondary schools, to bring internet access to remote and underserved areas;

* Affordability – by purchasing internet capacity at wholesale rates and extending these benefits to public institutions and private sector businesses — to make internet services more affordable;

* Infrastructure – connecting government institutions from Chitipa to Nsanje will ensure reliable internet access across the country, improving public services.

On his part, Secretary for Information & Digitalisation, Baldwin Chiyamwaka said while the first phase of the Digital Malawi Acceleration Project has achieved significant milestones, “there is still a lot to be done but it is not the same as it was five years ago”.

“We’re looking at how the e-department is geared to accelerate digitalisation as catalyst of achieving the MW2063 agenda,” he said.