Connecting rural communities

Mobile phones have become the fastest means of connecting people,  but Malawians in remote areas are being left behind in terms of  access to network.

In rural parts of the country, transmitters are few and far apart, leaving vast communities unreached.

The unmet need creates a digital divide that tilts in favour of urban communities, where telecommunication network is reliable. The excluded areas are cut-off from vital messages and electronic money transfers credited with making life easy for mobile phones users.

Malawians in rural parts of Mwanza are hit hard by inequalities caused by poor network.

Botomani, Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi (C) and Chinese
representative unveil a plaque in Mwanza

Rural connectivity

To ensure equal access to phone network, government has embarked on rural connectivity project. Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani commissioned the initiative at Lipenga Village in Senior Chief Kanduku on July 23.

“The Last Mile Rural Connectivity Project is transformational,” he said. “As such, every Malawian will be connected to the telecommunication network regardless of where they live or work.”

Botomani expects the project to make telephone services accessible even in hard-to-reach areas as government plans to construct 136 transmitters in all the 28 districts.

In his words, access to information and communication technologies for all will help accelerate meaningful and sustainable development.

“If citizens are motivated by information, they commit themselves to achieve success as a unit. Unless people are the driving force of their own development, no amount of investment or provision of technology will bring about any lasting improvement in their living standards,” he explains.

Sobhuza Ngwenya, head of marketing at Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM), says the mobile phone company will use the towers to expand its network coverage nationwide.

He explained: “Network coverage of our company is expected to grow. As a service provider, we are also one of the beneficiaries of the project.

“Since the project targets rural communities, people in hard-to-reach areas will be able to buy airtime, make financial transactions through Mpamba and contribute to the growth of the company’s business.”

Reliable services

Government has contracted Huawei to implement the programme funded by the Government of China. The Chinese company is working together with Botomani’s ministry.

Once completed, the Last Mile Rural Connectivity Project is expected to transform lives of the people in the areas to get reliable telecommunication services.

Kanduku is optimistic that the project will boost trade and service delivery in the area.

“Following the commissioning of the tower in this area, local farmers will find it easier to communicate with prospective buyers of their crop produce than was the case in the past when there was no network in many rural parts of the border district,” said Kanduku.

Inkosi Kanduku says patients in the hilly community used to encounter  untold hardship to get an ambulance from Mwanza District Hospital.

The project will lessen communication problems faced by rural Malawians in Mwanza and similar districts.

Bad experience

Thomson Mapulesi, from Tchereni Village, is excited with the initiative to close communication gaps in zero-network zones. Mapulesi said he lost a brother in neighbouring Mozambique three months ago, but his relatives failed to convey the funeral message to him because his phone was out of reach.

“It was a bad experience,” he says.  “Despite several attempts by village elders, I only learnt about the death of my brother two days after burial. I received a call the time I reached Mwanza Boma, where network is better,” he recalls.

Mapulesi says it is incredible his area now enjoys uninterrupted phone network.

“What I experienced should not happen to someone else,” he says.

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