In June 2017, the World Bank approved a $72.4 million credit to go toward the Digital Malawi Program Phase I: Malawi Digital Foundations Project, a program that aims to improve internet accessibility in Malawi.
In 2014, the rate of internet penetration in Malawi was less than six percent, one of the lowest figures for a country worldwide. This statistic is largely a financial issue: Cell phone service costs the average Malawian 56 percent of their income compared to the five percent it would cost someone in Kenya.
Internet services are taxed almost 20 percent, and an additional ten percent excise tax is added to text messages and data transfers in the country, as of May 2015. Low literacy and electrification rates and a gender divide make it even harder for Malawians to access information communication technology (ICT).
Despite its status as a “least developed country,” Malawi has seen significant economic growth in the last few years (almost six percent in 2014), and the ICT sector has contributed notably to the country’s GDP. If Malawi only had a local internet exchange point, the country would not have to pay to run data through service providers in Africa or Europe and could make service more affordable, in this way building the country’s ICT market.
The Digital Foundations Project will address this issue from four different angles. One program, entitled Digital Ecosystem, will aim to make Malawi a “more attractive and competitive place for digital investment and innovation” while working to expand ICT accessibility at the same time. The Digital Ecosystem will consist of ICT regulation, policy development and implementation and digital skills development.
Another goal of the Digital Foundations Project is to improve internet speed and affordability. Malawi does not just need wider ICT access; the country needs to also expand its reliable services. This fact is especially true in rural areas where only one percent of households have access to electricity, as well as in institutions of higher learning where high-speed internet connections are essential to learning and communicating with the world.
Importantly, the internet access the Malawi Digital Foundations Project aims to provide would serve as a source of empowerment for those Malawians living in poverty or rural areas, as it would provide Malawians with autonomy and control over their communication, education, and especially banking.
Already, more Malawians use mobile money than open formal bank accounts, and better internet would facilitate Malawians’ interactions with mobile money programs which currently run slowly due to their popularity.
– Caroline Meyers