Since 2016, Malawi has been at the forefront of using unmanned aviation systems – known as drones – in Africa. In 2020, the country took a big step with the African Academy of Drones and Data (ADDA) – the first of its kind in Africa.
ADDA officially opened on January 13, 2020, in Lilongwe, Malawi.
“In Malawi, we strongly believe that the adoption of modern technologies, such as drone planes and advanced data analysis and management techniques, will help us provide better service to our children,” said James Chakwera, director of the Malawi Department of Civil Aviation .
The academy is open to Mala'uis and citizens of neighboring countries, and will give people the technological skills with drones necessary for the jobs that drones use, particularly in humanitarian aid and disaster preparedness.
Graduates will obtain certificates issued by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the Virginia State Polytechnic Institute and University (based in the United States), through a partnership between ADDA and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The academy plans to educate 150 students by 2020 with a 10-week course. The first group has already started training and will graduate on March 18, 2020. The group is made up of 26 students, 16 of them from Malawi, 10 from all over Africa and women make up more than half of the class.
Debora Mtambalika, a member of the first ADDA group, appreciated ADDA's presence in Malawi:
My sincere gratitude to be part of the first cohort of African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) in Malawi. Getting to interact with International people and learn new skills in Drone Technology is really exciting. @MeloGasai @Sdhikrullahi @ banza024 #Malawi#Drones https://t.co/LLpcBWjQu0
– Debora Mtambalika (@ DeboraMtambali2) January 15, 2020
The face of innovation today, tomorrow and in the future.
Deborah Mtambalika has always been enthusiastic about building and designing drones. He believes that drones can help Malawi in disaster management and environmental protection.
My sincere gratitude for being part of the first group of the African Academy of Drones and Data (ADDA) in Malawi. Interacting with international people and learning new skills in drone technology is really exciting.
Shittu, biomedical researcher and member of the first ADDA groupHe told the reasons why he is excited about ADDA's mission and work:
Ever wonder if we can predict disaster before it happens, map out breeding habitats of the world most deadliest insects (mosquitoes), monitor outbreaks and transferring medical supplies to remote areas….
All these are questions I seek to explore with drone …
– Shittu Dhikrullahi B (@Sdhikrullahi) January 23, 2020
Hey Shittu, I thought you were a biomedical science researcher, why are you learning about drone technology?
The answer is simple, to save many lives, which is my goal and make people live better, the drone is still a key component that brings me closer to my goal.…
Have you ever wondered if we can predict a disaster before it occurs, map the breeding habitats of the world's deadliest insects (mosquitoes), monitor outbreaks and transfer medical supplies to remote areas …
These are questions I seek to explore with drones …
Registration for the second group is now open.
The academy plans to partner with the University of Science and Technology of Malawi to obtain a free two-year master's degree in data innovation and remote control airplanes by 2022, again, something unprecedented in Africa.
Drones Forever in Malawi
Remote-controlled airplanes have long been recognized as an essential tool for humanitarian operations in Malawi, where flooding accounts for 48% of major disasters. Since 1946, the severity of flood disasters has increased, with more than 80,000 displaced in March 2019 due to flash floods in Malawi.
Floods make roads already inaccessible, completely cut off affected communities, especially in remote rural areas. It is essential to adapt innovative technology for efficient real-time surveillance and disaster response preparation.
In June 2017, the Maluwi Government partnered with UNICEF to launch a test corridor of remote-controlled airplanes in Maluwi, also the first of its kind in Africa. They established it to investigate how drones can impact humanitarian work. UNICEF decided to establish the remote-controlled test aircraft in Malawi because the lack of reliable infrastructure has often hindered the distribution of fundamental medicines to clinics in the most remote rural areas.
In November 2017, a remote control plane called Eco Malawi delivered medications within a 19-kilometer radius. Eco Malawi is one of five remote control aircraft designed and built by 13 students from Malawi in the unmanned systems laboratory of the Virginia University of Technology in the United States. Prior to this achievement, the 13 students had virtually no experience in drone construction.
UNICEF has been using drones in Malawi to provide vaccines, blood transfusion equipment, antibiotics and anti-malaria medications. In the tests with remote-controlled airplanes carried out by UNICEF in 2016, the remote-controlled airplanes were used to take blood samples of babies from the villages to the clinics to carry out HIV tests. These efforts have improved access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV-positive mothers and children in remote regions.
The European Union has also supported various humanitarian initiatives in Malawi that use drones as an instrument for cartography, research and evacuation training in relation to disaster preparedness.
Drones in East Africa
Uganda has its own drone center, known as Uganda Flying Lab, to offer solutions to its development and humanitarian problems. The laboratory is a center for mapping and data analysis that also enables students to collect and analyze data.
Karen Asaba, an ADDA student, first became interested in drones while studying in Uganda Flying Labs.
Tanzania also uses drone technology to combat malaria and map potential critical points. Tanzania Flying Lab (TFL) offers courses, trains in local robotics and incubates new businesses. The TFL center is the East Africa laboratory that trains the instructors of other Flying Labs. It deployed the first drones against malaria in November 2019.
Flying Labs operates in 14 countries in Africa, including Kenya. However, film director Samuel Wanjohi was quick to point out on Twitter that Kenya had banned the use of drones with a high fine.
Meanwhile in Kenya:
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has prohibited the use of drones, warning that those violating the ban risk a fine of Sh100,000 or a year in prison.
– Samuel Wanjohi (@samdablew) January 15, 2020
In addition, by 2022, the academy will establish a two-year master's program in drone technology in collaboration with the Malawi University of Science and Technology.
Africa's first data and drones academy opens in Malawi
UNICEF has announced that the first African Academy of Drones and Data (ADDA) opened Wednesday in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Meanwhile, in Kenya:
The Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has banned the use of drones, and warned that those who violate the ban risk a fine of 100,000 Sherpas or one year in prison.
In Rwanda, Zipline, a drone medical shipping company, has been operating since 2016. As of 2018, Zipline has supplied 35% of the blood from national blood transfusion banks to remote clinics.
‘Fourth industrial revolution’ in Malawi
Drones are considered a “fourth industrial technology” with the potential to transform business models, curb climate change, increase agricultural production and create jobs.
The fourth industrial revolution, also known as “industry 4.0”, is the current era of human development in which disruptive technologies are merging with the physical and biological worlds.
Cybernautra Cristina Karrer celebrated the launch of ADDA in hopes of what this means for the future of Malawi, especially for women in technology:
The first #drone #academy in Africa has opened in #Malawi . 26 #dronepilots, more than half of them #womenwhofly will get a topnoch education. #srf #UNICEF #powertowomen #frogleaping pic.twitter.com/YA11k75MYu
– Cristina karrer (@karrer_cristina) January 16, 2020
The first drone academy in Africa opened in Malawi. Twenty-six airplane pilots, more than half women in the area, will receive a high level education.
With the right policies and platforms, drone technology can help solve critical problems. For now, flying a drone in Malawi is legal, but citizens must obtain permission from the Department of Civil Aviation before each flight. For commercial, corporate or non-profit drone use, license and registration is required.
With the creation of knowledge and skills, ADDA unleashes unlimited potential to revolutionize Malawi.