One of the problems we, the inhabitants of Earth, are grappling with is that of global warming. Some people think that this is a naturally occcuring phenomenon resulting from the forces of nature. The truth of the matter is that we, the humans, have caused this problem.
If we are not careful, this planet will reach a point of no return and may join the neighbouring planet, Venus, as a hostile environment to life. The greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane, which we constatntly release into the atmosphere, are the major culprits in terms of global warming.
Whereas carbondioxide in the thick Venutian atmosphere has a natural source, that is not the case on Earth. Various anthropogenic (by humans) processes produce carbon dioxide as a by product. Chief among these processes is the burning of fossil fuels —petrol, diesel, jet fuel and coal.
There has, therefore, been a major drive towards replacing fuel driven vehicles by electric ones. The latter do not produce any carbon dioxide and are, therefore, more environmentally friendly. If we could replace all petrol and diesel propelled vehicles and stop using coal altogether, we would have a real chance of halting, or even, reversing the global warming that threatens us.
People like Elon Musk are already mass producing electric cars. Recently, Elons Musk’s electric car manufacturing company established a branch in China to target the huge Chinese market.
We have our own Malawian Elon Musk. He is Ted Kwelepeta, a Lilongwe resident whose home district is Balaka. Ted is in the process of asssebling an electric car and will probably be the first Malawian to produce a home made electric vehicle.
Kwelepata’s route to the electrical car is very different from Musk’s in the sense that the former did not quite plan to assemble one but stumbled over the chance to do so as he was busy doing other things.
Ted spent some years in South Africa where he did a number of things including working for wineries. He also had a stint in the real estate business, which is what made him decide to come back home. Realising that the property business in Malawi was not as developed as that in South Africa, he saw an opportunity in setting up at home. When he finally came back home he created a property company called Pamudzi Property Investments.
He would post on Facebook the activities of any projects that he undertook through Pamudzi Property Investment. In so doing he would be in touch with many Malawians living in the diaspora. One lady in the diaspora asked him to build her house at Chitipi in Lilongwe. The lady insisted that the house should be built using cement blocks, which at that time, around 2010, were perceived to be expensive. Fortunately for Ted he had had prior experience with cement block because he had used them in South Africa and therefore saw their use as an opportunity.
He started teaching people on Facebook about cement blocks. When more people started asking him to assist them in their building projects where they wanted to use cement blocks, he decided to have a go at assembling a block making machine. The first one he made was a manual machine. By 2015 the sales of the manual machines had picked up substantially and he decided to upgrade them by making them mechanical, running on petrol, diesel or electricity.
The experience he accumulated while assembling the mechanical machines made Mr Kwelepeta decide to explore other avenues. He is currently busy making prototypes of farm machinery: first a walking tractor and later a ride on tractor. He has also, for the past three years, been working on an electric car.
The electric car project was initiated by somebody who asked him to try and build a vehicle that a physically challenged person would use. He took the challenge and put some parts together to build a car. The assembly is almost finalised now but, the only challenge is that being an electric car, it needs a gadget that controls the speed of he motor. He has been hoping to buy such a gadget from overseas but this year has been tough because of the corona pandemic.
Mr Kwelepeta says when he is finally done with the electric car, an organisation that looks after physically challenged people and which has vested interest in the project will help him get it approved by the Road Traffic Department. This is good collaboration. It would also be good collaboration if a different company could help in getting the speed control fixed.
We have no shortage of innovation in Malawi.