Scholar Lewis had his take on stages of development or better, growth. The statistics are, however, worrying and do not paint that picture any dreamer wishes for.
Neither do sentiments nor the psyche give you a feeling that the conditions of a take-off are close by. The only positive thing one feels is that we have known no war but the annoying part is the inability to build prosperity on a foundation solid in peace. Ironically, war-torn countries have moved on and their progression to prosperity is enviable. What is it that other countries do right? Or, what wrong is it that we do?
Trending now is electricity cuts with more than five hours without power supply. This is not a new development, but it has become the norm. Some big finance head honcho spoke of an economic miracle where all of us would be clapping hands. Being a land awash with prophets, you cannot fault his thinking. We are all hoping for one to restore power.
I do not think we should be hiring world class physicists or rocket scientists to help us crack the puzzle that our nation appears eternally entangled in. The finger loves to point at the politician, but I reckon, that most of us bear the blame somehow. Though not directly linked, a collection of individual personal decisions culminate into what becomes a national whole.
All I am saying is that maybe as individuals we are not doing enough. Maybe all of us thrive in a short-term culture. Worse still, with a papsa tonola sudziwa mtima wamoto mentality (make hay while the sun shines). Who would want to invest in a power plant that cost billions when they can buy generators and quick fix? Everyone is stuck with a short-term mentality.
Yet electricity tariffs keep rising every year. To those tasked with selling this country as an investment destination, it is a stab in the back. Businesses and would-be investors rate this as a cost anywhere. Something like this adds into the cost of doing business in an environment saturated with chronic inflation.
Prices or tariffs should rise once in a while, but there should be a strategy.
If I was manning the water boards of this country or running the ministry responsible for rainfall and rivers, I would take notice that our population is rising. Similarly, if I was in charge of generating electricity I would take the same cognisance.
This way, I would do a great favour to the guys tasked with selling this country as an investment destination. By recognising that Malawi has close to three million households, with an average household size of six, I would do my maths and think of how many megawatts need to be generated at a minimum for each home to have electricity. I would also pay attention to the current power needs for businesses. I would do similar maths if I needed to think of water needs for all households and businesses. That way, I would not focus my business strategy on raising tariffs to pay bonuses that my staff require at the end of each year.
Maybe I am being simplistic, but great ideas begin with crafting a basic model. Otherwise, I don’t envy the job of the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc). It requires one to master the art of mumbling if confronted by obvious questions from would-be investors on reliability of utilities such as water and electricity.
In the business world, there is no mumbling. The language is so blunt, straight simply because entrepreneurs invest millions and take huge risks on their investment. For sure, the risk they take is never lack of water or electricity to run a machine, but something else. You can call it basics of investment promotion. It is not surprising that investors sometimes flock to countries that appear volatile and less peaceful than ours.
Investing in huge power plants with a 100 million population of Malawi in mind should be our pre-occupation. The billions going into Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) and Malata and Cement Subsidy should be channelled to key infrastructure. Maybe electricity is a luxurious product.
As we march on and really try to crack the puzzle, I am still trying to fizzle the puzzle. Simple and blind decisions to start building our generating capacity beyond multiple factors of current demand oriented at future generations should underpin our minds to strategic investment in public infrastructure.
While utilities were a classic case, we can replicate other sectors such as hospitals, universities and roads that are failing to cope with our rising population.
Otherwise, the mumbling makes the business of investment promotion a hard one. Can we be fair to these guys for once? Maybe electricity is a luxury product and Malawians should focus on essential products. n