I wanted to begin by saying that figuratively speaking, our country is heading nowhere fast and then quickly realized that even if it were in reality, that would have not been possible if the fuel crisis that has hit the country is anything to go by.
We seem to be hoping from one hot mess to the other with reckless abandon and if we are not careful this could undo all the good things, including economic gains we have attained as a country over the years in our desperate attempts to turnaround the fate of our stuttering economy.
What is he on about, you say? Well, just like most of you, I do agree with the notion that energy is an important factor of production and as such no industry can thrive where energy availability is not guaranteed. On that note, let me at the onset express my gratitude to Capital Hill and development partners for finally starting to walk the talk on the issue of exploring more sources of electricity to complement the ones we already have that have proven to be unstable, evidenced by incessant power outages over the past weeks.
In case you have been in the dark (well, literally), government has signed a $1 billion agreement with partners for the 350 megawatts Mpatamanga Hydropower Plant whereby Capital Hill has 30 percent shares in the project, International Finance Corporation (IFC) holds a 15 percent stake with the other 55 percent shareholding being under Scatec ASA’s Hydropower Joint Venture and EDF.
It would be an understatement to say that Malawians have had it up to a boiling point in as far as energy woes are concerned.
This country has been grappling with persistent power outages as energy generation remains dwarfed and it was even worse last Sunday as no more that 87 megawatts of electricity were made available to the crucial sectors such as hospitals while everyone was left to navigate their way out of darkness either through solar lamps or any other backup energy sources they have put in place in their household or workplace.
No country or government should leave it’s its people struggling their way towards futile search for stable power supply. I therefore can imagine what a relief news that Mpatamanga Peaking Hydropower Project will deliver electricity to approximately 2 million people and lead to the abatement of 520,000 tons of carbon dioxide, annually can bring to the country.
I understand the scheme is composed of two power plants – a 309MW Peaking Plant at the Main Dam and a 41MW Base Power Plant at the Regulating Dam. But we are not going to celebrate this one just yet, not until such a time we get to see the project, which has taken years at inception stage, roll into life on the ground.
Enough of that, I am not turning into a griot for the government overnight. While we seem to have unlocked the long term answer to the electricity problem, in comes the fuel problem into the picture and the meandering queues at filling stations bring back memories of April 2012 when instead spending their time productively, Malawians were forced to spend days and nights hunting for Petrol and Diesel.
This time, however, the sad part is that both National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) and Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) officials were trying to downplay the problem, up until on Wednesday when we saw President Lazarus Chakwera taking matters into own hands by admitting to Malawians that we indeed have a fuel crisis on our hands and that he had even ‘burned the oil’ the other day with the very same Nocma and Mera officials who were in denial, having summoned them so that an immediate solution could be found The president did point out that shortage of forex was the real reason why the fuel problem had returned and that in the interim, they had secured some of it through commercial banks and that 6 million litres had been sourced by the time he was addressing the country.
It is quite sad that people in whom the president has entrusted the power to serve Malawians on his behalf by ensuring that we have enough fuel to go round, would in turn try to pretend that all was well while Malawians, some of them with Jerry cans in hand, are once again hoping from one filling station to the other in search of fuel. Unless people begin to own up when a problem arises, then you can be assured that we will keep jumping from one problem to another.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).