Harmonising Africa’s ICT policies is critical – Malawi Information Minister

Mark Botomani, the Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology of Malawi. / Net photo

Last week, leaders from the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) world from India and Africa met in Kigali to deliberate digital transformation and future collaborations.

Harmonisation of ICT policies and regulations in Africa was one of the topics that dominated the discussions.

With leaders keen on removing barriers to Africa’s digital transformation agenda, The New Times’ Julius Bizimungu spoke to Mark Botomani, the Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology of Malawi, on the influence harmonised policies on Africa’s digital future.

Below are excerpts:

Part of the conversation focused on harmonisation of ICT policies in Africa. How important is this?

We recognise that we are now in a global village and everything that happens across the continent or across countries, affects us in one way or another, including digital transformation.

What we have found out through the discussions we have had is that there is need to come together as countries and there is need to harmonise our legislations with regard to the transformation for the digital world.

Back home, we have made several strides. We have come up with (ICT) policies and regulations which have passed through parliament and some of them have already been approved.

Essentially, it means we are moving with others.

However, much as we may do it in Malawi, we may also lose out if we don’t work together. That brings in the issue of harmonisation. It is important as we are looking at expanding internet, expanding digital transformation, we also look at the policies that we have and be able to bring them together with what our other colleagues in Africa have to move forward together.

What policies and regulations should be harmonised?

In 2016, our parliament passed what is called the Financial Crimes and Cyber security Act, and the President assented to it, becoming a law. We are one of the few countries in the region to pass this important legislation, which curbs financial and cybercrimes.

We also have a Communications Act and last year we passed the Access to Information Bill. This shows there is a commitment on the part of the government to make sure that we open up (for the continent).

These have allowed us to invest in infrastructure development. For instance, we now have 11,000 km of optic fibre laid across different parts of the country and we are now setting up towers to allow citizens to access signal.

Those are the kind of policies and regulations we need to match to drive digital infrastructure, digital skills, cyber-security, digital finance as well as data privacy and protection across the continent.

Can harmonisation be achieved any time soon given that some countries don’t even have these policies in addition to having different levels of development, resources and aspirations?

Every country has its own way of doing things and we move at different paces. What we feel is crucial in Malawi may not be the same in another country. I wouldn’t therefore put a timeline to when the harmonisation would be achieved.

But I am aware that there are organisations on the continent doing a lot of work to push that, including the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to which Malawi is a member.

Member countries should therefore move at a pace which regional organisations like COMESA would want us to move. That would accelerate the process, and it is already clear that countries have understood this.

Countries have understood this because it makes it easier to move faster. For instance, if we want to investigate issues like financial crimes in my country, we may need to cross borders, and the process would be easier if we had harmonised rules in place.

Who should specifically take the lead to drive the process of harmonising legislations in Africa?

Definitely nations should lead. We have leaderships across the continent and we have seen countries like Rwanda doing great. What we need to do is to catch up with countries that have done a better job.

Platforms like the Smart Africa Alliance, in this sense, is also something that we see that are really important and beneficial and that is why we seek to join it. Perhaps we could be the latest member once decision-making bodies in my country agree on the way forward.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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