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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

4/15/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Tiny African nation, with very limited Internet access, spreading news abroad

The Internet has truly made the world a smaller place. The tiny African nation of Malawi, which has very limited access to online services, took to the World Wide web after President Bingu wa Mutharika passed away this month. The Internet has become a popular tool for expressing grievances here, and in spite of repressive government practices, remains a viable sounding board.

According to recent statistics, there are currently 132,580 Facebook users in Malawi. This figure only represents less than one percent of the nation's 15 million people. However, the number of Facebook users grew more than 50 percent between March 2011 and March 2012.

According to recent statistics, there are currently 132,580 Facebook users in Malawi. This figure only represents less than one percent of the nation's 15 million people. However, the number of Facebook users grew more than 50 percent between March 2011 and March 2012.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/15/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Africa

Keywords: Malawi, Internet, social networking, Facebook


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Malawi is a traditionally peaceful country, but the nation's online community was first stirred to action last year. On July 20, 2011, Malawi broke out into nationwide anti-government protests in response to a deteriorating economy and political mismanagement. The protests lasted two days and resulted in 20 deaths.

In response, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority temporarily shut down private broadcasters and popular news Web sites were blocked. Malawians turned to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for the latest information.

"There's a tendency among officials - especially government politicians - to control the flow of information," Arnold Munthali, new media editor for Blantyre Newspapers Limited says.

"However, social media has created a socially free and more politically aware population, which the government is helpless to control."

According to recent statistics, there are currently 132,580 Facebook users in Malawi. This figure only represents less than one percent of the nation's 15 million people. However, the number of Facebook users grew more than 50 percent between March 2011 and March 2012.

The appointment of former Vice President Banda as the new head of state, and the first female president in southern Africa prompted new online activity as messages of support and optimism sprouted up all over Twitter and Facebook.
 
Banda will now try to begin to purge the Malawian government of corrupt officials and woos international donors back in an attempt to ease the country's economic woes; users on social media have increased.

This indicates that social media has a place in Malawi, despite the country's low internet penetration. In 2010, the International Telecommunications Union estimated that just 4.5 percent of Malawi's population was using the internet, with access limited primarily by poor communications infrastructure.

"We are in an environment where young people, who have incredible potential to flourish and steer Malawi into a dynamic, fresh and energetic country, are being oppressed left, right and centre," Rogers Siula, a media planner who participated in the July protests in Blantyre says.

"In this tense political atmosphere, platforms like Facebook, blogs, and Twitter are safe."

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