Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What is to "invest in power generation"?

President Peter Mutharika’s speech in Parliament last week was great in substance and style. But his critics have faulted him on power generation in Malawi.

The President said: “Let us be honest to admit that we did not invest to expand our energy generation. For fifty years, we kept thinking as if Malawi would remain what it was in the 1960s.”
Journalists, including those we respect for long service in the industry, say the President was wrong.

Social media commentators, even those with PhDs, have gone to town on the President, saying there was investment in power generation in the last 50 years, hence we have electricity. The argument of the President’s critics is understandable but not true. 

If the President’s speech was as nice as I have suggested, if the President’s speech was well written, including in matters of punctuation, how could the good speech writer be so careless to use the word “invest” in appropriately?

I would like to bring your attention, dear readers, to the conclusion that the word “invest” was used correctly in the President’s speech. The intended meaning was the dictionary meaning, which I think critics have missed.

One widely acceptable way of making meaning is to look at the grammar of a word and history/context of the issue being discussed. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “invest” as “the act of putting money, effort, time, etc. into something to make a profit or get an advantage.”

Key to the word “invest” is the future aspect, a time in future when profit or gain shall be made. Profit or gain from an investment does not happen at the time of investing, no, not at all, but in future. In Chinyanja, “to invest” is kubzala (to plant) and the profit or gain is kholola (harvest). We plant to eat next season because in the season we are planting we eat what we planted last season. Likewise, we invest to make a gain or profit in future. 

So, what did the President mean when he said “we did not invest to expand our energy generation” in the last 50 years? According to Cambridge Dictionary, the President meant we did not construct power generation plants that would gain or profit Malawi in future. We did not construct power stations to meet future demand. The power plants that were constructed were for power demand, then, not now. This brings us to the history part of meaning making. What is the history of power in Malawi?

Let us start in 1972. Malawi had 49 megawatts of electricity, out of which ESCOM was producing 39 megawatts. The rest was being produced by private institutions, tea estates, for example, that felt ESCOM power was not reliable for their work. As early as 1972, power demand in Malawi was more than ESCOM installed generation capacity.  Between 1972 and 2014, we constructed and commissioned Nkula B, Tedzani I, II and III, Wovye, and Kapichira I and II. Our total installed generation capacity is 351 megawatts. Our current demand, according to the Ministry of Energy, is about 450 megawatts.

We are generating less than current power demand in Malawi. This clearly means that at no point in time did we construct and commission power generation plants with more capacity than we needed. Doing so would have been investing in power generation (constructing and commissioning power plants for future gain and profit, to meet future demand, not present demand, but future demand.) The President was right. We have not done that (invest in power generation) in the last 50 years. Instead, we simply constructed to meet present demand, then.

Unlike Malawi, Zambia invested in power generation. In 1972, when we had 49 megawatts of power, Zambia had 1600 megawatts, a lot more than the country’s demand then. Zambia was constructing power generation plants for the future. Zambia was investing in power generation.

We did not invest until now when we are working on major projects that shall give us an installed capacity of 2500 megawatts between now and 2027, capacity that shall be more than projected demand. Then, with more power power than demand, we shall say we invested in power generation, according to the dictionary meaning of the word “invest.” 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lesson From Chinani

How many of you, my Malawian readers, have been to or have ever heard about Chinani?

Chinani is a trade centre in Phalombe, unknown to most of Malawians. Yet in this corner, lies a big lesson in a small way. Chinani Football Team has a ground at the trade centre. The ground is fenced using locally available, cheap materials.

Now Chinani Football Team is good at the game and their ground is known locally as Chinani Stadium. Gate fee for games is K100 and at times the team makes over K200,000 from a game. Chinani Football Team is well organised and offers some lessons for all of us, especially teams that consider themselves big.

In some ways, Chinani Football Team has commercialised, although in what might be considered a small way.

We sometimes think that because super league teams have failed to commercialise then everybody else has failed too. We sometimes think that we urban folks are better organised than rural folks.

Not all times. Chinani is one example. And there are many teams like making money from local fenced grounds like Chinani.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Door to National Service

It has been like this for many years: US citizens come to volunteer in Malawi for two years and leave, often with fond memories and a passion to help end extreme poverty; their lives changed, forever.
Some, like Michael Buckler, have continued to help Malawi while back in the US. Others, like Adam Gaskins, have come back to found NGOs that are working with rural people. Buckler founded Village X, an organisation that is drilling boreholes in rural corners of Malawi.
All this is good, yet not enough. Peace Corps volunteers who lived in Malawi left one desire that was never met.

Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi, and across the region, have inspired a generation of young people who have developed a passion to help end extreme poverty in their own countries. Sadly for Malawi, there was no program for young people to volunteer and get life changing experiences by helping rural people realize their potential and meet their needs.

Of course, once every year, in April, there was Youth Week, a voluntary week in which young people did social services in their areas. But that was during one party system of politics under Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Youth Week ended once Malawi adopted multiparty politics of government in May 1993. In fact, that year’s Youth Week was poorly patronised because multiparty advocates castigated the week as oppressive. The idea of voluntary work was suffocated.

Now there is an opportunity, for young people to volunteer not just for a week, but for a year; a year of living and working with rural people and helping them help themselves.

CorpsAfrica, founded by Liz Fanning, has rolled out in Africa, starting with Morocco, now Senegal and Malawi. Says the introduction on CorpsAfrica website:

“Modelled after the successful Peace Corps program, CorpsAfrica will recruit men and women from developing countries of Africa to move to high-poverty communities within their own country. Each volunteer will stay in a host community for one year to create and support small projects that eliminate barriers to economic growth and prosperity.”

The website adds that CorpsAfrica will build up confidence through national service, give volunteers job skills, “and an understanding of poverty that only comes from living it.” The hope is that CorpsAfrica volunteers will be the next generation of NGO staffers, government officials, academics, business leaders, journalists, philanthropists, parents. (For more go to

The startup director for CorpsAfrica in Malawi is Adam Gaskins, a Peace Corps who volunteered in Dedza. He came back to Malawi to continue helping people help themselves. Adam has experience in working with people, especially those in rural areas. Prior to joining CorpsAfrica, Adam founded and served as CEO of Nutreerich, a commodities export company based in Malawi that assists farmers in supply chain management and crop diversity. He holds a degree in business administration with an emphasis on management from Northern Kentucky University. He is fluent in Chichewa.

There is something powerful in voluntary work, something that makes former Peace Corps volunteers come back to Malawi to help. That something powerful will now be planted in Malawians volunteering in Malawi. That, I think, is the desire left by Peace Corps volunteers, now being satisfied.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Country in Mourning

She fetched rain water for use the morning after Monday night. Her bucket was full of water; useful water, she smiled.

Waking up at about 11 pm, she noted, the rains had not stopped. Instead, it was raining heavily. Her afternoon smile disappeared from her heart. In her mud house, the old woman had useful water, in a pail; outside her house, there was harmful water from rains that had been falling since Sunday morning.

She never slept, again, only to sleep forever at midnight. The soaked wall of her house fell on her, leaving her dead. That was not all. The fast running water soiled everything she had and washed her body away, into a footpath that had turned into a stream of water following heavy rains. Neighbours in her Soche Hill residential area found her body in the morning as they walked in rain to assess damage caused to the area that once used to be protected land.
A girl in the neighbourhood stood still, at a distance as people took the old lady’s body from the gully that had been formed since Sunday. In her mind, the girl might have been thinking about the vanity of life. She had heard about floods but had not seen any. And these were not floods, not yet.

Now, standing there, she thought: like weeds are unwanted plants, so floods are unwanted waters. She was right in many senses.

Some 10 km away at Fargo residential area, a young couple was preparing for office. They were watching rain water flowing in their compound. They were talking about the never-ending rainfall and how destructive it had been and how lucky they had been to be in a strong house. Just then, part of their brick fence fell down, without warning and water flowed into their kitchen and some rooms.

The previous day floods had wreaked havoc in parts of Chikwawa and Nsanje in Shire Valley, washing away thousands of hectares of crops and thousands of goats and cattle. A whole Tchereni Village in Nsanje had four houses standing while the rest were washed away, according to reports. People of the village were standing in the four houses. There was space enough to stand, no more; no space to lie down and sleep. In upper Shire River districts of Mangochi, Balaka and Machinga, crops had been washed away too; houses destroyed; roads made impassable. In Zomba, the friendly Likangala River turned into enemy and flooded homes, leaving thousands without shelter and some dead.

The lakeshore plain district of Salima was under floods as well. Rivers had swollen and flooded hectares of crops. The road from Balaka was cut some miles before Salima. The Lakeshore Road was cut some 20 km before Nkhotakota. Back in Zomba, the Jali-Phalombe-Road was cut and remains impassable. Water was flowing over the bridge that enables movement between Luchenza and Chonde on Tuesday. Many more roads were impassable, in both urban and rural areas. Many more rivers and streams have flooded across the country. ESCOM has suffered damage, too, leaving some parts without power for days. By end of day on Monday, officials estimated that 45,000 families were homeless. But the saddest news was that at least 40 people had died.

The rains that have caused havoc were expected. The Met Department’s forecast indicated a late onset of rainy season followed by a brief dry spell and heavy rains that would leave most parts of southern region flooded. The rains were late indeed, commencing days before Christmas and followed by dry days until the down poor of 31 December which was followed by another dry spell. Still the forecast said heavy rains to follow and floods to occur in many places.

But how do people prepare for floods? Should people move from flood prone areas before rains? In case of this season, except for the usual places in Chikwawa and Nsanje, most places are being flooded the first time.

Such questions, however important, seem distant from reality. The current needs and questions are on emergency assistance to the displaced, to those who have lost everything except their lives, to the injured and the hungry, to those orphaned by the floods. But the relevant questions remain. And floods have to be seen from different angles and one such position is that as the water dries up, fertile silt soils good for agriculture remain where once there was danger.

Note: I wish I had time to continue writing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Death of a Leader


Death has a way of testing our patience. This was not the day we thought Nelson Mandela would die.

We thought he would die months ago when he was in a critical but stable condition. We thought he would die years ago when he withdrew from public life due to poor health and old age.  

Mandela served 27 years of imprisonment against his wish. But after his release and after being South Africa's first black president, he had to serve another prison term against his wish too.

Mandela has been a prisoner between life and death for years. We can imagine the pain Mandela had to endure every day of his life after the age of 85. We can imagine his heart knocking on the door of death, his life lingering at the gates of death, wishing death to take the pain away from him. But death could not listen although life had almost released Mandela.

Death is stubborn. Death takes us when it wants not when we want. But death’s delay to take Mandela has helped us to build castles in our hearts for his eternal home. He was not perfect. But he was the closest to a secular saint in our times. He shall live in the heart of humanity forever.  

Leadership scholars have written about lessons Mandela has offered the world except one which I do now.

Mandela never attached himself to any religion. He knew as a leader he had to stay above divisions of faiths. He stood for umunthu, something higher than religion. Humanity is above the faiths we hold on to passionately.

The man Mandela was wise enough to know what to do regarding religion. He never went to Vatican to ask for a grand cathedral and a Catholic university in Qunu. He never went to Saudi Arabia to ask for a grand mosque and an Islamic university in South Africa. Mandela knew that religion must be left to the clergy. He never excited anyone with an idea of an Islamic city with a mosque and a university. He never excited anyone with a semi Vatican in South Africa.

Any leader who wants to appeal to all must stay away from politics of religion. This does not mean such a leader does not have faith in God. No. They should go to church like any other man, without pomp as Bingu wa Mutharika did or go to mosque and back home without sirens as Bakili Muluzi did. But stay above politics of religion.   

Hopefully, our leaders in Africa and elsewhere will learn this lesson from Mandela, a man who for years knocked on the door of death and was kept in a prison between life and death.

Yet he remained calm, not making the world share his pain, never making his pain a theology. He was just a man, a simple man, one who says on his grave, we must write: Here lies a man who has done his duty on Earth.

Simple yet powerful. We all have a duty on Earth, we must find that duty and perform it for the sake of our children’s children.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dust in Blantyre

Blantyre is becoming Malawi’s second dusty city after Lilongwe. The challenge is that no one is talking about dust in Blantyre, Malawi’s oldest city.

Yet dust is all over, visible and touchable, in the city. Even outside the city, as far as Chileka, Nguludi and Mapanga, dust is becoming a daily occurrence. Those who have lived long in Blantyre can testify.   

Blantyre, once a symbol of Malawi’s small but growing manufacturing industry, cherished mountains covered with green carpets of tree tops. Soche Hill was all green. So, too, Ndirande Mountain.  
Such was the Blantyre I found in 1991 after a year in Lilongwe. But now Ndirande Mountain is bare. Soche Hill has a few trees on the very top and houses below.

Houses are all over where once were written the words “Long live Kamuzu” on Soche Hill. The fall of first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was also the fall of trees in Blantyre.

Over two decades ago, Blantyre residents used to mock Lilongwe for its dust. It was a relief for everyone to move from Lilongwe to Blantyre. Then, there was no dust in Blantyre. Now, a little over two decades later, I see Blantyre becoming dusty, slowly but for sure.

It could be climate change. But it could also be that we have cut trees. Or both and, of course, other reasons.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mandela, Greatest Man Living Now

Mandela is mourned while he lives in his illness, and he will be celebrated in his death, says my friend Bright Molande. I have had thoughts about Nelson Mandela these past hours that I had to fish out this article from my archive and post it here. It first appeared in The Nation of December 6, 2006.

Statesmen cannot be wished into existence. The world is longing for one to unite Iraq. And, as Iraqis are finding out, that man is not a citizen of the war torn country but a South African.
South Africa will, in the coming years, host two global events: the 2010 World Cup and the funeral of Nelson Mandela.

Both events will attract thousands of people, thousands of journalists. Across the earth’s 24 time zones, millions will interrupt their waking or sleeping schedules to gather around television sets.
The World Cup is held once in four years and might come back to South Africa in the next five decades. The funeral of Mandela will be once and that is all. Tens of thousands will stand along roads to say farewell as he will be driven the streets on his last journey to the resting place.

Powerful men and women of the world will be at the funeral. They are people who cannot go to a stadium to watch football: presidents like Hamid Karzai, George Bush and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi; brilliant minds like journalists Richard Stengel, Time Magazine managing editor who once worked with Mandela on his book Long Walk to Freedom, and Fareed Zakaria, former professor of political science at Harvard University, now editor of Newsweek International, who reports for and oversees weekly production of eight editions of the magazine.
These people will be on reserved seats because of protocol. But Mandela would have reserved the choicest seats for ordinary people because it was for such that he took the road of a freedom fighter.

Thoughts of a funeral are awkward to some. But life is a journey and it comes to an end. The world is now busy walking the journey of Mandela which everyone wants to go on and on and on. Sadly, nature demands that Mandela’s life, like all human beings, be over some day. At 88 [he is now 91], he is looking forward to that day.
“It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered,” he said in March 1997. “I would leave that entirely to South Africans. I would just like a simple stone on which is written ‘Mandela’.”

Mandela talks about his death. He does not talk about his funeral—that is up to South Africans. In fact, he spends time thinking about the after-life as he hinted in one interview. When he dies, he says, and once in the next world, “I will look for and join an ANC branch”.
Not that he is obsessed with party politics but the man is committed to freedom and justice and sees the ANC as the practical tool to fight oppression, for that is what he has been doing for most part of his life and perhaps can’t imagine a just life; he thinks he would have some battle to fight, always.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, describes Mandela as “not just the greatest statesman but the greatest man now living”.
Brown was writing in a November 13 special edition celebrating 60 years of Time Atlantic, years the magazine has covered—or, put rightly, uncovered—heroes. Of the magazine’s 66 heroes, Mandela was the first and was given two pages. Space is scarce in print media and goes with the value of a story.

Of course, three others were given two pages: the Beatles, Mikhail Gorbachev and Princess Diana. But Mandela’s story was the first. The best comes first in almost all media. This, again, speaks volumes of the value placed on this great son of Africa.
Mandela had a reason to hate white South Africans. He had reason to call them strangers and violently chase them from South Africa.

But after 27 years of imprisonment at the hands of the apartheid government, Mandela chose truth and reconciliation, not revenge, but forgiveness. He had been separated from his wife, to whom he wrote lovely letters; he missed his children. He went through the pain of being unable to bury his mother and his first born son, Madiba Thembekile, deaths that made Mandela to look back at his younger self, to evaluate his life.
“Her [the mother’s] difficulties, her poverty, made me question once again whether I had taken the right path,” wrote Mandela in his book, Long Walk to Freedom. “For a long time, my mother had not understood my commitment to the struggle.”
In such times, some people put up a brave face as if they have survived shame and embarrassment, but it is the soul that is bruised; the heart, not the body.

This was the case with Mandela. Questions without answers can be more painful than physical torture. Mandela wondered, without any answer, why his family was put in such an awkward situation. For long he had advised people not to worry about things they could not control. “I was unable to take my own advice,” he says. “I had many sleepless nights.”
The separation from his family resulting from a court case using discriminatory laws was enough to warrant a revenge after his release on Sunday, February 11, 1990.

Yet there were more challenges after his release from prison. He realised he had gained his freedom but he was yet to fight for the freedom of his people. Once the Inkatha members secretly raided the Vaal township of Boipatong and killed 46 people. No arrests were made. It was as if some people had no state protection.
“Mandela, give us guns,” said placards carried by his supporters at one rally. “Victory through battle, not talk.”

He had been tested for too long to carry on the struggle peacefully. But he said “peace”.
“It was because of the greatness of Mandela—and, especially, his refusal to hate or become embittered—that a multiracial South Africa was born, not in further bloodshed and catastrophe, but in peace and democracy,” says Brown.

To understand the importance of Mandela, consider Iraq, that helpless, failed state where sectarian violence has more control than the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Hundreds are dying everyday. No one is safe, not even the Prime Minister.
Aparism Ghosh is Time senior correspondent who has been reporting from Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Ghosh knows life in the city. He has the experience of flying into Baghdad, too.

“I know what lies ahead,” he says of flights from Amman in Jordan to Baghdad.
It is an hour’s uneventful flying, followed by the world’s scariest landing—“a steep, corkscrewing plunge into what used to be Saddam Hussein International Airport”.

It is scariest because the pilot has to avoid being shot down by Iraqi insurgents. The plane stays at 30,000 feet until it is directly over Baghdad airport, then take a spiralling dive, straightening up yards from the runway.
“If you are looking out the window, it can feel as if the plane is in a free fall from which it can’t possibly pull out,” says Ghosh. “I have learned from experience to ask for an aisle seat.”

That is not all. The journey from the airport into Baghdad is a 14-kilometre drive on what is called the Highway of Death.
The Shiites and Sunnis are engaged in sectarian violence. In fact, sectarian violence is a political term. Iraq is in a civil war. Out-going United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called the violence “worse than a civil war” in a BBC interview on Monday.

Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlak has repeatedly told the press that Iraq’s political landscape has no giants.

“Not only that,” he said earlier this year, “but the political system we have created makes it impossible for such a figure to emerge.”

Politicians in Iraq have discovered that the easiest way to win votes is to appeal to sectarian chauvinism; they have little incentive to take the higher, more difficult road of liberal democracy which cherishes reason, liberty and freedom.
In July this year, al-Mutlak said Iraq could be united and the killings could come to an end. The country, he said, needed “an Iraqi Mandela”.

This is the gigantic size of Mandela. Even those in Iraq know the sectarian violence—or civil war, to be precise—can be ended by a leader of Mandela’s calibre; not George W Bush or Tony Blair, the so-called champions of democracy; not the Pope; but Nelson Mandela from South Africa, a two-hour flight from Blantyre in Malawi.
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, and spent early childhood the traditional, old way in Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River in Umtata.

“From an early age, I spent most of my free time in the veld playing and fighting with the other boys of the village,” he writes in his autobiography.
Childhood lessons have a tendency to remain in people for life. They are lessons guarded by society which, sadly, are not cherished by the modern society of Malawi. Now socialisation or transmission of values is, in some cases, more from the electronic media (television, radio and internet) and housemaids than the family.

Children ought to play with toys, especially those them make by themselves. Children ought to play with clay to derive lessons from the natural world: let them run in the rain until it’s over (this does not cause malaria, the disease is caused by plasmodium transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito); let them play with clay and realise their skills.
In such engagement with nature, Mandela found virtues that make him. The statesmanship in Mandela can be traced back to about five years of age when he shared food and blanket with others.

He had become a herd-boy, looking after sheep and calves in the fields where he learned hunting. One day, his turn came to ride a donkey and it bolted into a bush of thorns. He was embarrassed.
“I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonouring them,” he says.

You can see more from a mountain and from the perspective of years, says a brilliant journalist Jon Meacham. Mandela has climbed mountains and lived a long life.
He joined politics while studying in Johannesburg by joining the African National Congress in 1942. He has climbed mountains of books and time. He has been a life transformed from violence to peace. Yet he believes that when all channels of peaceful protest fail, violence is a practical option. This is what he did by leading Umkhonto we Sizwe, a military arm of the ANC.

Mandela has walked from the violent extreme of the world, balancing up on the way, and reached the peaceful end of life. He has shown that the end is more important than the beginning. Former president Bakili Muluzi missed that lesson. Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia missed the crucial aspect as well.
The years Mandela was locked up in his cell during daylight hours, deprived him of music and sunshine. He was denied things from outside. The familiar things we take for granted are what we miss most. But the character in him remained intact. The discipline is still in him.

He wakes up by 4: 30 am even if he went to bed late. He makes his bed—he still believes this is his duty, even when he was president. He exercises for one hour from 5 am and takes breakfast at 6: 30 am as he reads the days’ newspapers.
This daily timetable is changing now. Age is catching up and everything is becoming slower.

Yet his voice, weak and faint, is more important than ever. He prefers “we” to “I”. Thus he attributes all the honour given him to South Africans, saying that a man seen by all is standing on his people’s shoulders.
Mandela is now reflecting on his life and enjoying his childhood best moments—typical of old age. His greatest pleasure is watching the sun set with the music of Handel or Tchaikovsky playing.

He should really love that for he is the sun of the world, light for hidden, dark corners of poverty, disease, oppression and dictatorship.
It is now the turn of the world to enjoy watching the setting of Mandela’s life which is at the end of the horizon. He will go a happy man after leading the first South African multiracial government for five years, leaving the presidency at his peak—a lesson many have failed to learn.

Mandela worked with his immediate predecessor Fredrick de Klerk who was invited into a government of national unity. Further, Mandela has worked with his immediate successor President Thabo Mbeki.
The three formed a team that went to Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, to make South Africa’s case to host the 2010 World Cup.

South Africa is now gearing for the World Cup. The OR Tambo International Airport is being expanded and renovated. .
The fever is growing stronger every day. The economy benefits are visible. But the world does not know what will come first: the World Cup or the funeral of Mandela.