Florence Gunza runs a flourishing, well-stocked groceries and agri-products shop at Tsangano trading centre in Ntcheu district.
She is a Mozambican –born and bred there –and her shop is on the Mozambican side of this rural town.
That shop is powered by electricity provided by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom).
Here, on this side of the town, the nearly half-a-kilometre line of Mozambican business operations and the residential properties behind it use power from Malawi’s parastatal electricity supplier.
And the seamlessness between the two nations and peoples here is a source of pride among the two sets of citizens.
“We have never felt ourselves as strangers to Malawians. We are part of them and they are part of us because we share many resources such as roads, markets and electricity.
“And most of my customers are Malawians; so we are one,” said Gunza, leaning against a full barrel of cooking oil, one of the merchandises popular at the market.
In the Eastern Zambian town of Lundadzi which is located about 110 kilometres from Malawi’s northern region district of Mzimba, life thrives there also under the electricity supplied by Escom.
Elsewhere in the Southern Africa region, South Africa powers its economic growth using electricity some of which it purchases from the neighbouring Mozambique.
And the Southern Africa’s industrial power house sells some of its excess electricity to Lesotho, saving the kingdom from the trouble of worrying about how it meets some of its energy requirements.
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc), driven by the slogan “Towards a common future”, sees energy as one of the key instruments with which the region will achieve harmony between member states.
As the region develops, so Sadc notes, it will increasingly rely on electricity for infrastructure projects which should improve the economy and social development in the region.
Sadc observes however that while most member states do have abundant energy resources within them, those states sometimes fall short on technical capacity to put such resources to optimum use for both national and regional advantage.
This has resulted into widely varying energy production and consumption levels throughout the region.
Sadc therefore seeks to harness and optimise usage of the energy resources available in the region through stronger regional integration of the electricity sectors of its member states.
Says Sadc: “Integration takes advantage of economies of scale, reducing the cost of electricity infrastructure development – especially in smaller countries – and saving the region $1.1 billion a year in energy costs.”
In the past 20 years, strides have been made for member states to develop their individual electricity sectors and for the region to share in the abundance of energy resources available.
For instance, in 1996, Sadc passed a Protocol on Energy as a way of facilitating the desired integration. The protocol acts as a policy framework “for effective use and development of energy in the region, including the electricity sector.”
This protocol came a year after Sadc had also established the Southern African Power Pool (Sapp), which is a collaboration of national electricity companies in the region.
Sapp was to be the welding rod by which Sadc would have a common power grid between countries and a common market for electricity in the region.
According to information on its website, Sapp was created with the principal objective “to provide reliable and economical electricity supply to the consumers of each of the Sapp members, consistent with the reasonable utilisation of natural resources and the effect on the environment.”
Sapp’s activities include coordinating the planning and operation of power systems among member utilities.
It also provides a platform for thrashing out of solutions to energy problems in the region.
Today, under the glazing flames of Sapp, nine national electricity suppliers –except those from Malawi, Tanzania and Angola – have been connected to the common power grid.
According to Sadc, this has resulted in an “expanded trade in electricity, reduced costs of electricity and improved energy stability throughout the region.”
Director of Energy in the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Natural
Resources, Joseph Kalowekamo, says Malawi, through Escom, is a member of Sapp but it is in the process of becoming an operating member through the Malawi- Mozambique and Malawi-Zambia interconnector projects.
But does he, as an energy expert, truly believe that a common grid is a solution at all to the perennial electricity woes in the region and specifically to Malawi?
“Sapp is part of the solution to power outages in the region,” says Kalowekamo.
He suggests that Sapp would result in some countries having excess power.
“Countries with excess power can sell that excess power to countries that do not have adequate power,” he says.
Like other member states, Malawi is undertaking individual power projects, including interconnectors such as the Malawi-Zambia and the Malawi-Mozambique interconnectors.
In fact, in its 2014 Annual Report, Sapp describes the Malawi- Mozambique interconnector as one of the four Priority Transmission Projects in the region.
So where do these projects actually fall in the Sapp common grid spirit?
Kalowekamo says government is pursuing these interconnector projects and others as they could enable Malawi to buy or export power where necessary.
“Malawi, could in future, be able to sell power back to Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania or any other country in Sapp if she happens to have excess power. This is the whole meaning of interconnectors…they allow import and export of power,” said Kalowekamo in an emailed questionnaire.
The interconnector projects which the government is pursuing, said Kalowekamo, will make it possible for Malawi to tap power to various interconnector sub-stations.
“There will be need to evacuate this power to across the country to where it is needed. Currently, our transmission lines do not have adequate capacity to evacuate that power from the sub-stations to across the country where it is needed.
“There is, therefore, the need to rehabilitate, up rate or construct overhead transmission lines to evacuate the power, and this is where MCA-M [Millennium Challenge Account-Malawi] with its infrastructure projects come into play in the Sapp framework,” he said.
That is, these projects would eventually connect Malawi to that common grand grid.
According to Kalowekamo, a common grid would afford member states a chance to diversify their power generation sources.
More importantly, it is a great opportunity for the region to harness its natural resources, some of which are trans-boundary, with a common approach and a common objective.
That is, using the Sapp rod and its flames, fragments will be interconnected to become one whole. What are geographically-scattered splinters in the region should be soldered together: two countries having their political boundaries destroyed, two towns being welded into one, and two peoples becoming one family –like Gunza and her Malawian counterparts at Tsangano.
Welcome to the Republic of Sadc; or, at least, the vision of it.
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