mchenga 1.sand; maziko ena onse npamchenga = all other foundations are on sand (see: hymn 362, Nyimbo za Mulungu); expression: walemba pamchenga (lit.: you have written in the sand) = you’ve wasted your time; expression: kugwetserana mu mchenga (lit.: throwing one another on the sand) = reconciliation;
We need to stop underestimating people. Don’t expect Africans to be content with boring old SMS and voice for long. Smartphones, droids and even iphones are much higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than we realize, especially if nobody around owns a computers, your schools suck, and the government controls the radio and newspaper. Africans have leapfrogged over landlines. They are now leaping over laptops.
(Desperate housewives, lonely on their isolated farms, also surprised the world by being the early adopters of the strange world of cranks and dials and operators that made up the original telephones of the 19th century)
Just got back from visiting family in beautiful Blantyre. It’s rainy season now and there are regular rain showers every other day. Everything is green and lush. The sun is hot. The air is moist. And the shopping centres and outdoor markets of Blantyre are busy with holiday shopping. And except for a couple of power cuts and short water supply intermissions, I had good access to Blantyre’s “Big Three” from my part of town.
In search of the best Internet connection in Blantyre
To connect with my MBA study group, I needed an internet connection. Here are some of my findings and observations regarding Internet for private use.
Internet service providers in Blantyre include:
Skyband – the pricing is on the high end; suitable for corporate customers.
First, I tried TNM, but unfortunately they did not have any USB dongles in stock at the Chichiri sales office.
Next I tried Globe’s MAX 4G service. This promised the best connection speeds, but unfortunately the reception in my part of Blantyre was less than optimal. Instead of 4 LEDs lighting up, I only got between 2 and 3. And even then, the router showed a high fluctuation in signals. I kept losing my Skype audio connection when the signal dropped. When I got a strong signal it was speedy. But – due to my geographic position – the signal strength was unpredictable. I contacted Globe support and they wanted to update the firmware of the router and stated that they were some problems with Skype, which they had resolved.
If you don’t need audio or video streaming and if coverage in your area is good, then Globe MAX 4G is a good and viable option. But check the signal strength beforehand. Following the signal fluctuations, I started speculating about the quality of the provided Globe router, the influence of the weather, etc. When I returned the router, Globe suggested installing an external antenna to boost the wifi signal. At the end of the day, I think your geographic position and proximity to the signal decides whether this solution will work for you or not.
MTL (Malawi Telecommunications Limited) offers a wireless broadband product called MTL Liberty. A friend in Namiwawa strongly recommended it. The company is also advertising a new fibre optic cable connection in all major newspapers. I walked into an MTL shop near FMB in Blantyre to find out more about the fibre optic cable connection. The MTL sales person said that this will indeed connect Malawi to the Seacom cable and improve the Internet backbone, but it was not yet connected. He advised me to go to the MTL headquarters for more information. I didn’t have time to follow up on this.
I went back to TNM; this time to the head office in Livingstone Towers. The sales consultant was very savvy and explained the various data bundling options very well. I found out that if I have a postpaid TNM sim card, I can easily add mobile data services. The consultant advised me to wait another week and buy a 3G USB dongle. He said the 3G USB modem will go on sale on 30th December 2009. TNM is currently testing 3G in parts of Blantyre.
Automatic software downloads
Coming from Switzerland and a flat rate setup where I don’t care how many MBs are downloaded in the background, to a price plan where every MB counts, I realized how dependent software has become on a high speed internet connection. I was unable to download the latest Symantec Norton anti-virus update on my mom’s laptop via Globe Wifi at Chichiri because Norton timed out after 6 MB. I tried 3 times before I gave up. Unfortunately iGetter didn’t help cos Norton connects directly from the app. All kinds of software from Adobe Reader to Mozilla Firefox want to connect and download updates at regular intervals. It’s OK if you’re using a flat rate but if every kB costs extra time and money…
Software companies should consider alternative options for developing countries. Cloud computing is not yet available everywhere.
My mom had to go to SDNP to get her legally purchased version of MS Office registered *online*. What a hassle.
Flat rates connections are not yet very widespread in Malawi and usually only corporate customers can afford them. Most of my friends have Internet at their workplace or on their mobile handset only.
I strongly recommend getting Opera. Opera Turbo loads web pages much faster and compresses images. Thank you to Appfrica for their excellent article pointing to resources and tools.
Pages optimized for mobile internet and simple HTML load much faster than CMS-based web pages.
I was able to access the mobile version of chiperoni.ch at an acceptable speed. While other sites failed to display.
If you are targeting developing countries, please consider this in your web design.
Resize photos for lower bandwidth
Same for emails. My mom still connects using dial-up. Downloading 1.2 MB takes 20 to 30 minutes and many times the connection breaks. And she pays for the length of the dial-up connection. But, so many people from Europe forget to resize their photos for lower bandwidth. Please resize your photos before sending!
In Picasa 3 it’s really easy. Go to Tools > Options > Email and select a new size such as 640 pixel:
You can then email a photo from the Picasa interface.
As Malawi celebrates independence day tomorrow, here is a list of Malawi twitterers you might like to follow:
Vincent Kumwenda – currently at Muloza border, Mulanje; topics include Malawi news, world news, interesting Malawi web pages, and soccer. He also writes a blog.
Fred Bvalani – in Blantyre; tweets about mobile applications and phones, Oracle training in freezing cold Cape Town, Manchester United, movies, church, Escom power cuts, and Malawi news and websites. Check out his blog.
Soyapi Mumba – well-known Malawi blogger and twitterer, software developer, volunteer developer at Ushahidi, lives in Lilongwe. He writes about software development, interesting mobile and web applications, Malawi news. He is the programmer behind Owinna – a web app on Malawi football league fixtures and results, as well as the Premier league and other international championships. You can access this information through the website or SMS by texting FOLLOW owinna to +447624801423 or on Twitter.
Clement Nyirenda – blogs and twitters from Tokyo, where he is doing a PhD in computer science. He covers many IT and development topics related to Malawi. A good resource to learn about projects such as Seacom. He discusses entrepreneurial ventures and their effect on Malawi. Read his blog post on Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter stunt to raise awareness about malaria.
There are many more, which I might mention in a second blog post.
My family’s email account in Blantyre was blocked twice in the past week, due to well-meaning but over-sized Christmas and New Year email greetings. Attachments with over 2 MBs. The family is still on a phone line with a very slow connection rate. And downloading emails with a large attachment takes forever and a day. Luckily I can access their account via the web and move the large emails out of the way. But I thought I’d raise some awareness.
And point you to some resources describing how to resize photos.
Exporting lets you resize your photos while controlling the JPEG compression (image quality) introduced by your applied photo edits. The result is newly resized copies of your photos, saved to any location on your hard drive. During the export process, you can adjust both the ‘Image Size Options’ and the ‘Image Quality’ settings in the ‘Export to Folder’ screen.
Under ‘Image Size Options,’ select the ‘Resize to’ option and adjust the size slider. The number of pixels you select with this slider determines the length or height of your photo (whichever is longer). The other dimension is determined automatically to maintain the aspect ratio of the photo.
Select the desired image quality for your photo using the ‘Image Quality’ drop-down menu:
Automatic: Preserves the original image quality
Normal: Balances quality and size
Maximum: Preserves fine detail for large file sizes
Minimum: Yields some quality loss for small file sizes
Custom: Enables you to select your own value
Resize by emailing
If you’re sending photos by email, you may want to resize then in order to get under the attachment size limitation. To change the size of the photos you email from Picasa, please follow these steps:
Click the Tools menu.
Click the Email tab.
Under ‘Output Options,’ use the slider to set your desired pixel size when emailing multiple photos. Use the radio buttons to set the desired pixel size for emailing single photos.
Lazy workaround via Flickr
I sometimes use Flickr as a lazy workaround.
Upload or email photo to the Flickr stream.
Go to the photo page and select All Sizes.
Select Small or Medium and click Download the Small (or Medium) Size.
Always use JPEG.
There are tonnes of other ways to resize photos with free software, such as IrfanView or The Gimp.
Within MS Word:
Don’t change the viewable size within Word (e.g. dragging the corners of the photo). Word will store the image in its original size. Resize the photo before inserting it into Word.
Check the conversion settings.
Check the sizes of all files (Word, pdf, .jpeg) before sending them.
Be considerate and don’t send photos in their original size. Especially if you don’t know what type of connection the recipient is using.
It’s five minutes for you versus 30 minutes of expensive download time on a plain old telephone connection for them.
Just a quick note to point to an interesting interview with an official of MTN Uganda at:
Appfrica: Interview With MTN’s Erik van Veen – Part 1
These points caught my eye:
(…) revenues per user, are very low in Africa by international standards, and require a low cost operating model if the Operator is to be profitable. If you look at East Africa, new customers joining the mobile category spend about $4 per month ”“ that is not a lot!
(…) I see Asian, especially operators from the sub-continent, playing a bigger role in Africa as they have been able to survive in cut-throat, highly competitive, low tariff environments in their home markets.
(…) And then you have to deal with the cost of doing business in Africa. Infrastructure and productivity remain major hurdles that add costs to the P&L. Our own success, relative to other companies in most African economies, has backfired on mobile operators in Africa, where governments see these as an easy source of tax income. In East Africa, excise tax (read luxury tax) has been institutionalized within the mindset of financial ministerial policy on tax. Uganda has the 2nd highest tax burden on mobile services in the world, Tanzania 3rd. Just think about it ”“ in Uganda we hand over nearly a third of the cost of every call to the government. What a shame!
It is a short sighted initiative that is impeding growth of the ICT industry.
Very interesting read!
Quick side notes:
There was a recent article that Malawi is considering to add (or has already added) a 10% tax on all airtime. I can’t find the Daily Times article online any more (note to myself: make a screenshot next time) See this Daily Times article. (Unfortunately this link is broken in the meantime.)
There’s also White African’s catch phrase to keep in mind.
I spent a couple of sunny, winter days in Malawi’s biggest city, visiting family and meeting friends.
I’ve started uploading some of my snapshots to Flickr. More to come as I sift thru the GBs of data.
Travel was uneventful, except for the fact that my luggage took 6 days to arrive in Blantyre. It started out with a harmless announcement by the SAA pilot that he would need to unload some cargo due to overloading. Overloading a plane is a safety issue, and I’d rather wait for my bags than crash into some mountain. Later during the flight, the pilot announced that 23 bags had been left behind. But no worries, the bags would be brought to Chileka on a later flight on the same day. This was the start of various misinformed messages.
The flights between Jo’burg and Blantyre are always fully booked and a lot of cargo is shipped by air.
Anyway, my bags finally arrived in good condition. The SAA staff at the Blantyre office were very polite and helpful. And I learnt that I’ll put my camera charger into my camera bag. Instead of my checked luggage.
Flying back was uneventful as well. Except for a small scare. During the security scan check at Chileka, my camera bag fell right through a defect rung in the conveyor belt onto the floor. Luckily the bag is well-padded and nothing happened to my cam.
Cam bag = already amortized.
Another Chileka detail, I’ll not forget so fast: several Blantyre kindergarden and school classes came out to the airport to watch the aeroplane land and take off. Just for fun. They sat on top of the observation deck’s wall, shouting “aeroplane” and stomping their feet on the iron sheet roof of the departure hall below.
Recurring news topics:
The attacks on foreigners in some South African townships had many Malawians worried about their relatives. Several dozen buses were sent to bring home fleeing Malawians. For generations Malawians have gone to South Africa to work there. And some have lived all their life in SA. From a linguistic perspective I wondered why the BBC and other media used the term “xenophobic attacks” instead of the “r” word.
The Zimbabwe election.
Internet in Blantyre:
Compared to last year, there are more WiFi hotspots. The costs are high, especially for private customers. The IT marketer in me kept discussing possible business ideas that improved connectivity could entail for Blantyre-based companies. E.g. outsourcing accounting services to Blantyre or working with a creative agency.
It was good to see BT. A mixture of peanut butter, BBC World Service, Chombe tea, nsima, boerewors, chiperoni, jumping dogs, waiting…
There’s a CNN TV report on the shortage of qualified medical personnel in Malawi. I zapped into it yesterday. It shows the dire situation at Mulanje District Hospital and in a rural dispensary. They interviewed a volunteer doctor from Uganda, a midwife who works in rural villages, a couple of Malawian doctors that are working in Manchester, UK:
According to the report, at one point in time there were more Malawian doctors in Manchester than in the whole of Malawi.
I’ve seen some hospital wards and I agree that the task is daunting. The wards are overfull. Patients and their guardians often lie on the floor in the corridors, under the beds.
Regular readers of Chiperoni know that I’ve been pointing to various blogs and articles on this topic from time to time. The dire conditions described in the report are realistic.
How to stop the brain drain? This is not an easy topic, cos every employee will – and needs – to look at their personal situation. Although this is not only about money, the salary plays an important role. Cos one salary needs to supports a lot of dependents. As one of the UK-based doctors says in the report, he can support more relatives with the better UK pay. I read somewhere that the amount of money transferred by Western Union back to Africa exceeds the foreign aid provided by the US and the EU (cf Africa: Sending Money Home) and is probably a lot more effective.
I’m against policies that bar qualified Malawians from working in the US or in Europe as suggested in the report. That’s not the way to go forward on this. The better way is to improve the work conditions in Malawi. I believe that many Malawians would consider returning if some of the surrounding conditions would improve. Cos all is not golden in Europe.
In the 70s and 80s, most of Malawi’s doctors were trained in the US and in Europe. They had a hard time adjusting to the conditions they found when they returned back home. Many stayed in the West. In the 90s, medical schools were set up to educate doctors within the country.
Factors that influence a personal decision to emigrate:
Work conditions (i.e. availability of modern equipment, labs and tests, qualification and number of co-workers, quality of management, further training, work load, working hours, holidays)
Corruption within the workplace and outside
Economic situation within the country
Infrastructure (e.g. frequent power cuts, water supply shortages, very bad roads, no or very expensive telecommunication services)
Crime rate (e.g. clever guys that steal telephone cables as they are installed and sell them for much less than they are worth, increase in burglary, armed robbery and mugging)
Availability of good schooling for your children esp. in remote hospitals
Changes in Malawi family tradition (e.g. the rules that quasi-dictate how and when you need to take of your family relatives encourage some to search for kms of distance)
I studied at the Malawi College of Accountancy in Blantyre and we often discussed the greener pastures of Botswana and beyond.
Some figures I found from 2005:
There are only 100 doctors and 2,000 nurses for Malawi’s 12 million people because many health care workers trained in the country now practice in developed countries, which pay higher salaries. Rich countries also provide better working conditions for doctors, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has added a “heavy burden” to health care on the continent, the Times reports. In addition, many health care workers in Malawi have become sick with HIV/AIDS or have died. Nearly 15% of Malawi’s adult population is HIV-positive. Some hospitals in Malawi have resorted to hiring retired medical workers to fill the gaps, according to the Times. Atta Gbary, the World Health Organization’s Africa adviser on human resources and health, said the shortage of medical workers in Malawi means that when donors offer funds “it is impossible to use them because the people are simply not there to work anymore.” According to Gbary, 23,000 medical workers leave Africa annually and there are only 800,000 medical workers working on the continent currently. Malawian Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba said the country should require its medical workers to serve several years in the country after completing their training. He also said that foreign governments that employ medical workers from Malawi should compensate the country for the cost of training new doctors and nurses. The United Nations estimates that it costs $100,000 to train a specialist doctor in Africa.
And from May 2007:
A shortage of health workers in Southern African countries is undermining access to antiretroviral drugs in the region, according to a Medecins Sans Frontieres report released on Thursday, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. According to the AP/Chronicle, the report focused on the conditions in South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho.
The report found that South Africa has 393 nurses and 74 physicians per 100,000 people; Lesotho has 63 nurses and five physicians per 100,000 people; Mozambique has 20 nurses and three physicians per 100,000 people; and Malawi has 56 nurses and two physicians per 100,000 people. According to the report, Africa has increased access to antiretroviral drugs among people living with HIV/AIDS from 100,000 people in 2003 to 1.3 million in 2006. However, the shortage of health workers is preventing further expansion of drug access programs, the report found.
As Victor rightly points out, the CNN report is very one-sided, esp. regarding the images and the way the sick are portrayed. There are many Malawi doctors and nurses that serve their country conscientiously against all odds.
and Lujeri Tea Estates in an interview with guardian.co.uk:
My favourite hotels are…
Locally run guesthouses. I stay in many around the world, but recently I was in the tea estates of Malawi and stayed at the Satemwa Guesthouse in Thyolo (00 265 1473 256; satemwa.com) and Lujeri Lodge (00 265 8 854 894). It was so beautiful just sitting out on the veranda of these old planters’ houses looking across to Mount Mulanje with the red earth of the land against the vivid green of the tea fields. The guesthouses are almost from another era – basic, but meet all your needs and are quite romantic, with cool marble floors, fans on the ceiling and large beds with mosquito nets.
The climate is tropical and monsoonal with a wet season (November to May) and a dry season (May to November). The dry season is mostly cool but hot and humid prior to the first rain. Maritime influences ameliorate the dry season in the Shire Highlands with periods of light, misty drizzle, locally known as chiperoni.