The global artificial-intelligence (AI) story is just beginning, and governments worldwide must act swiftly to build the policy, talent and infrastructure needed to ensure the technology’s transformative power is accessible to all. Malawi is already moving proactively, taking bold steps to ensure it can harness AI for its economic and social development.
Malawi’s AI Vision
Most sub-Saharan African countries fall below the global average in terms of their “AI readiness”, demonstrating a technology and infrastructure gap that could exacerbate existing inequalities. Many wealthier blocs and countries, for example, are channelling funding into new technologies at levels that developing economies cannot match.
Yet while Malawi might lack resources, it brims with ambition and has identified digitalisation as integral to its long-term development vision, Malawi 2063. The National Digitalisation Policy for 2023–2028 aligns with this thinking, emphasising the importance of digital transformation in delivering economic growth, good governance and overall improvements in quality of life.
With the emergence of AI as a key enabler, Malawi's government is committed to creating an environment in which AI can thrive, benefiting businesses and entrepreneurs. AI also has the potential to reimagine the government's service delivery by providing insights, informing targeted interventions and underpinning proactive public services.
Laying the Digital Foundations
Harnessing AI to transform public-service delivery requires essential “raw materials”. Big data is paramount, but accessing and utilising data requires strong digital foundations – and that’s where the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) comes in. TBI has been working closely with Malawi’s government to make its digitalisation vision a reality in several areas.
Through The Tomorrow Partnership, we have been working with the government to improve internet access and help drive digital transformation across public services. Recently, our teams were on the roofs of schools and health-care clinics in remote communities delivering Starlink satellite internet. Starlink has not only helped to connect these communities, but also enabled the provision of services, such as the digitalisation of patients’ health-care records, in hard-to-reach areas.
In the agricultural sector, TBI jointly led a data-harmonisation exercise to create a comprehensive registry of farmers and their productivity levels. This registry will help pinpoint who should benefit from input subsidies and social-protection programmes, leading to more effective policymaking. In Malawi, where food security is increasingly threatened by climate change and agriculture accounts for over 80 per cent of export revenue, the potential impact of this initiative cannot be underestimated as AI develops and this data becomes increasingly useful.
Maximising the benefits of AI also requires a skilled workforce. Equipping Malawi’s public servants and leaders with digital skills is essential to delivering the government's strategic plans and digital-transformation vision.
To support this, TBI launched the DigSMART digital-skills training programme, which upskills government workers leading digital-transformation initiatives. The training has equipped staff at all professional levels with foundational digital skills and developed their understanding of the potential for online tools to transform public services. As and when AI becomes integrated into public services, civil servants will have the basic knowledge needed to develop their skills and utilise AI applications.
Image: In early November, more than 100 experts and changemakers gathered at the AI for Leaders Summit
Next Steps: Policy and Collaboration
Daud Suleman, the director general of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority, recently acknowledged that policy and regulatory gaps pose challenges to the nation’s ability to optimise new technologies. But several exciting developments are on the horizon: the Data Protection Bill is set to be introduced in parliament and reviews of the Communications Act are ongoing. Malawi is also gearing up for the introduction of legislation on cyber-security and cyber-crime, which will ensure the country can align itself with global AI standards and regulations.
Collaboration between policymakers and technology changemakers will also be critical. Earlier this month in Lilongwe, the AI for Leaders Summit brought together over 100 experts, thought leaders and decision-makers from government, civil society and the private sector to explore practical and potential applications of AI in the region. The summit, organised by TBI in partnership with Malawi’s government and the Kenya-based AI Centre of Excellence Africa, was an opportunity to drive the action needed in Malawi collectively and set the stage for the next phase in Malawi’s AI journey.
There is now a thirst for deeper dialogue between the government, private sector and development partners - discussions that will help launch Malawi’s next steps. With solid foundations in place and a strong vision for the future, Malawi can leverage AI as it evolves, exploring opportunities and partnerships to harness the technology’s power and become a regional leader.