Click of a button: How Malawi can tap from India’s digital strides

Most countries in the world, Malawi inclusive, are grappling with challenges such as rapid population growth and urbanisation, which have seen them struggling to make optimal use of the available limited resources to ensure there is noticeable social service delivery. Well, for India, which has the highest population in the world at 1.4 billion, digital…

Most countries in the world, Malawi inclusive, are grappling with challenges such as rapid population growth and urbanisation, which have seen them struggling to make optimal use of the available limited resources to ensure there is noticeable social service delivery.

Well, for India, which has the highest population in the world at 1.4 billion, digital transformation has made life easier.

In an interface with 30 African Journalists in New Delhi, who were on a week-long familiarisation tour of that country, India’s Foreign Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said technological advancement is the way to go if countries are to progress.

“It did not matter whether one is rich or poor, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi simply made sure that everyone has a bank account and a digital ID so that whenever the government wants to extend help, say distribution of items such as foodstuffs, then it really reaches the intended beneficiary,” Jaishankar said matter-of-factly.

He added that through use of electronic IDs, it is easy for the Indian government to identify labour for a particular project (both on temporary and permanent basis).

This quickly took me back to our local scenario where Malawians have to physically present themselves and while away the hours at regional labour offices, hoping that they would be fortunate enough to get hired.

This is particularly true for those with artisanal skills.

Well, not for our friends over there, as most are busy working as labourers fixing the roads or tending to the lush gardens in and around the cities; but that is not to say that everyone has something to do in order to earn their keep as there still are some who are begging for alms on India’s streets.

Hang on; we are talking about digital progress and nothing else.

Though lagging behind, Malawi’s efforts towards digital transformation have lately been gathering pace as noticed through initiatives such as the financial inclusion campaign (championed by local banks) and promotion mobile money services.

But believe me; there is still a long way to go. And why? You may ask.

Well, there is still a lot of digital fraud, especially involving mobile money, happening around here at home and that is cause for worry.

During an interaction with India’s captains of industry, I asked the Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Shailesh Pathak how insulated the digital systems that side are and he wasted little time in demonstrating with an example.

“See, it’s that simple…all I have to do, for example, to transfer money to someone is simply by scanning our barcodes and before you know it, the money is in your account,” Pathak said.

Just like that, no memorisation of account numbers or risking having the fraudsters stumble upon the details when stored in one’s phone.

It goes without saying that many Malawians have fallen victim to mobile money traps set by fraudsters, parting ways with huge sums of money that they could have otherwise put to good use.

Pathak nonetheless emphasised that the best way to beat fraudsters at their own game is to always stay one step ahead of them.

And then there are also those that have taken pole position in designing the actual gadgets and electronic products that have helped facilitate the digital expansion drive.

To appreciate how this has worked out, we were taken around some of the companies and universities in India that are making product prototypes as well as imparting knowledge and skills in students.

These included T-Hub, a company incubation entity that houses some business start-ups, T-Works which houses both a foundry and a workshop for woodwork.

What attracted my attention at T-Hub was the story of a young girl who found a way to make pots out of groundnuts husks and so determined she was, such that she made her way to T-Hub where they helped her come up with an improved design of her product and soon it was snapped up by a company and she gets to enjoy her dues as she had patented her product.

This simply goes to show that with some encouragement and deliberate injection of incentives, it is also possible for sons and daughters of Malawi, who are gifted when it comes to technological innovations, to scale heights and most importantly, have their works or products patented.

This was also recently resounded by Malawi University of Science and Technology Vice Chancellor Address Malata in an interview with The Daily Times.

“We should be able to sell products as a country because countries that have made progress such as South Korea invested so much in innovation.

“We should give young people opportunities to come up with ideas, develop those ideas and sell them on the market and create jobs,” Malata said.

Indeed it was quite amazing to note how, slowly, India has quickly embraced 3D technology to fast-track some of the processes used to produce electronic devices, which used to be tedious when done using manual tools.

They have, of course, not entirely discarded the manual mac

hines but digital technology has added an advantage to how they can do the work easily.

A total of 30 journalists drawn from 15 African countries made the familiarisation tour to India and most of them were very optimistic that their countries might learn a thing or two from the Asian country.

The excursion took them to Agra city where they visited Taj Mahal mausoleum, Hyderabad, where they experienced movie making at Ramoji Film City, learnt some of the studies at University of Hyderabad, how vaccines are made at Bharat Biotech which was founded by Dr Krishna Ella, supported by his wife Suchitra.

Coincidentally, Bharat Biotech is one of the companies that are collaborating with Malawi through organisations such as the John Hopkins in exploring the possibility of having a Malaria vaccine.

It also developed India’s first indigenous vaccine for Covid-19.

One could see that through it all, technological advancement played a huge role.

With a good Digital Public Infrastructure that includes Digital ID System, Unified Payments Interface (Fast Payments System) and DigiLocker (Digital Document Wallet), India found a way to leverage technology for its economic boost.

Surely, Malawi equally stands to benefit a lot through promotion of advance technology.