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Technology exports are key to Malawi’s future - Malswitch executive

Malawi’s economic future lies in exporting technology; this was a message stressed by Dr Mathews Mtumbuka, Deputy General Manager, Malswitch, when speaking to a conference of accountants in Malawi. His speech is summarised here...

Malswitch Deputy General Manager Dr Mathews Mtumbuka believes that without oil reserves, and with limited mineral and little land, Malawi’s future lies in developing and exporting technology. His presentation “Harnessing the power of technology in business competitiveness” was delivered at a recent conference of the Society of Accountants in Malawi. His words are summarised in this report.

“Technology or, to be specific, industrial revolutions and the Digital Divide, are the essence of the gap between us in the developing world on the one hand and the developed world on the other,” Dr Mtumbuka commented. For him, “There are three major strategies that come to my mind on how technology can make our mother Malawi competitive. First is education and training...We must develop a technological mindset in our children from a very early stage. Education at all levels should have a curriculum that aggressively develops our future software and hardware engineers. We must deepen the level of scientific knowledge in schools and colleges...We must reward our scientific stars in primary and secondary as well as tertiary educational institutions.”

Dr Mtumbuka lamented the passing of previous educational competitions: “For instance, we had the Old Mutual Mathematics Olympiad for Form III students, which stretched the mathematical minds of the best of our young scholars but that is not longer there. We had the Secondary School Science Fair which greatly stretched the scientific understanding of our secondary students by encouraging them to explore science through competitive projects but that was stopped in 1996 and only started again this year but without any plan for its sustainability.”

There was a directness, almost a bluntness, in Dr Mtumbaka’s speech: “ We must, as a country, go back to our basics. In the absence of oil reserves, with limited minerals and with a very small land, the future of our nation remains in the hands of technology. We will only be competitive as a nation if we develop our technology from the grassroots.”

He continued with the second plank in his strategy: “The second strategy we need to develop a nation that is driven by technology is to invest in the fundamental building blocks of technological infrastructure...Yes, we have done this over the years – we have good systems at Malawi Telecoms Limited (MTL), Zain and TNM, TVM and radio stations, private networks and computer companies and more. But we have to do far more if this dream is to be realised...We need a fully computerised government system of operation. We need (the) Government to embrace technology on top of its agenda with a good action plan, budgetary support and genuine leaders championing the cause.”

In this respect, Dr Mtumbuka is encouraged firstly by the US$21,740,000 Regional Communications Infrastructure Project recently approved and supported by the World Bank, and secondly by Malawi’s incorporation into the international fibre-optic cable community.

Then there is Dr Mtumbuka’s third strategy area: the role of international technolgy as a means of gaining foreign exchange. “If we can not export any oil, if we can not export much (in the way of) minerals, we can generate and export a lot of technology. Western developed countries have stopped generating technology on their own because that way is too expensive for them” he stated. “At company level, drive your competitiveness by using technology to produce new and better products and services, to improve on the efficiency and effectiveness of your business processes and to develop a collaborative business culture.”

Malswitch, Dr Mtumbuka’s company, was already running several projects which were helping Malawi’s balance of payments: “We have recently jointly launched a fibre-optic service with ESCOM in order to be the first provider of fibre-optic technology in the country for wide area networks, well ahead of all our competitors...We have deployed TNM and Zain routers at our PABX so that whenever we dial out, the PABX should use a Zain loop for Zain calls and TNM for TNM as well as MTL for MTL, thereby eliminating the interconnection charges....We have recently launched a robust package of m-commerce solutions which members of the public can use to enquire about their water and electricity bills: they can even pay the bills by simply using text messages on their mobile handsets.”

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