Our last week in Malawi, and there is one final success story to report! It seems the internet connectivity will be coming this year to the development offices of the CCAP church (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) in Ekwendeni (just 15km north of Mzuzu). I am very excited. Some of the most effective aide offices in all of Malawi are based in Ekwendeni and run by the CCAP church there. Decent internet connectivity is only going to increase the productivity of people who are already doing some of the most effective development work in Malawi: fighting the spread of AIDS, opening clean water sources, treating sickness, and creating education and job opportunities for Malawians.
Over the past several months the ICT department of the Library has conducted an extensive analysis of Internet connectivity at Mzuzu University. Nkhaniyawo Nyirenda, of Mzuzu University, and Jon Saints, of The University of Arizona, will present the results of the analysis in order to educate and inform users of the Internet and influence future Internet policy decisions.
All members of staff and students and the general public are invited to attend.
Location: Mzuzu University Children’s Library
Date: November 24th 2006
Time: 1300 hours
I just read that the internet is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Most of us here in Africa are connecting via satellite or VSAT connections which are a fairly expensive way to transmit data (though costs are rapidly dropping). While I am finding sufficient knowledge on how to purchase VSATs, I have found very little discussion or collaboration online concerning how best to maintain VSAT internet connections.
Just yesterday I received an email from a friend here in Malawi describing the experience of another friend who “successfully” installed a VSAT connection for their NGO. The NGO found that the the installers from the company they hired to install the VSAT “haven't got a clue [how to install a VSAT]. It took them over 10 days to get it running - basically they installed it and it didn't work and they couldn't work out why.” After asking help from a local internet cafe owner the NGO found “the VSAT company had supplied the wrong kind of network cable (not a cross over one) - a fairly basic mistake and they haven't apologised or anything - so we're not really very impressed.”
Three days into our Malawi adventure and my head is full of questions. I think that I have pieced together a reasonable view of what the internet infrastructure looks like in Malawi through various meetings at the US embassy here in Lilongwe.
It seems that in Malawi, any government office, international organization or private company who wants to connect to the internet does so by buying their own VSAT satellites. Its essentially every person for themselves, as each organization takes their chunk of capital and builds their own personal pipeline.
Its as if a village of people wanted to travel to a distant city, instead of pooling resources to build a highway that would provide faster/more reliable/efficient transportation, the people each decided to carve their own individual narrow roads to the far away city. There is an unbelieved able amount of upkeep and investment costs associated with keeping these "individual roads" or fragmented internet oasises running.