The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) says Malawi is yet to benefit from opportunities arising from e-commerce due to its limited information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and services.
In its Malawi Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessment publised on Tuesday, Unctad says despite some recent improvements such as extension of fibre-optic backbone and cross-border interconnections as well as launch of 4G network, affordability of Internet, coverage and quality of service and connectivity remain critical concerns for Malawians.
The assessment indicates that while the use of mobile phones in Malawi is widespread, particularly in urban areas and most populated districts, the overall telephone penetration, standing at 41.7 percent of mobile subscription per 100 people, remains below Africa’s average of 74.4 percent.
Fixed-broadband subscriptions, on the other hand, are less than 0.1 percent while 25.5 percent of the population has an active mobile-broadband subscription, “confirming that Malawi is mainly a mobile-only connected country”.
Reads the report: “While these values are in line with the rest of Africa as a whole, only about 14 percent of the Malawian population uses the Internet, according to ITU estimates.”
“Further investments are needed, but also regulatory barriers should be removed to enhance competition in ICT market.”
In his reaction to the assessment, Information and Communications Technology Association of Malawi (Ictam) president Bram Fudzulani blamed high tariffs in the industry for low digital adoption, but said the industry needs incentives and clear policies that can promote use and affordability.
He said: “If you look at Zambia at 53 percent of Internet penetration, it has over two million Facebook users while in Malawi, we only have about 500 000 Facebook users and this is a worrying scenario,” he said.
Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito said high cost of mobile appliances, tariffs and Internet charges have led to low adoption of digital services.
He said: “Government and mobile phone providers have not invested enough to bring in cheap technologies that could reach many Malawians who are in rural areas and there has been little effort to regulate the high tariffs and charges.”