The number is magic. Today, I can safely say we celebrate 2 713 weeks of independence. During these weeks, a lot has happened. Leaders have come and gone. The population has gone up from four million to 17 million. Various public infrastructures have been built and destroyed. The story is long and there is a lot to talk about. Are you afraid? You don’t have to.
During the same period, national budgets have been formulated. Colourful speeches have been made by various ministers about the game-changing budgets often full of philosophical quotes, some from holy books as well. Whether talk is indeed cheap, I leave that to the public jury.
I hasten to say though that conditions for a real take-off are yet in place. Different numbers float around and it has been difficult to shake off the “poorest” tag. Whether anyone agrees or no, it is immaterial, but like they say, truth hurts. We are all in this together. It is our home and we owe it to ourselves.
Daily newspapers and some radio stations have found a new business. To run a media company is complex because sales can be tricky when incomes are dwindling. But in the media, we somehow smile because there is a line of survival.
Almost every day, there is some advertising about electricity and water shedding by Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and the water boards. Their task of generating electricity and supplying water is “rocket science”.
Otherwise, how does one explain six hours of electricity out 24 hours? Or how does one explain four days without water? The only genuine explanation is that these services require rocket science or some complex quantum physics. That’s the only explanation. Maybe 2 713 weeks of independence is not enough to fix these things. We need 10 000 more weeks.
Similarly, the front pages are on a daily basis awash with someone stealing something somewhere of the taxpayer quid. If you factor in doggy, online tabloids, well these tales come by the hour or something like that. Maybe it is the new norm, but who should fix it?
It takes two to tangle and many more to form a circle. We are all in it and must, therefore, not just play blame game, but realise that this country is all ours. President Peter Mutharika often talks about patriotism, but it is the citizens at different levels that are caught up in all this.
Perceptions matter and we are generating more and more of them, albeit those that do not work for the common good. I argue that there is one tough job in this country. That job of promoting the beautiful nation, full of “God-loving” people, as an investment or tourism destination. That after 2 713 weeks, a power cut is normal is unthinkable. That the cost of finance is astronomically high, exchange controls a norm and a vibrant street foreign exchange market, an obsession. These could not be truer, but again, everything can be fixed.
The idea of shaking off a negative perception is not that easy. Since Wovwe Hydropower plant, we have not taken steps to build new power plants. We did take radical steps to fix water issues in Zomba through construction of a massive dam. It is all history. Lilongwe and Blantyre have been left to grow, but the infrastructure cannot cope.
Like many others, I am not an insider of these utility companies. At the moment, all I believe is that generating electricity or supplying water to people is some rocket science. To be able to do so, these utility firms require thousands of engineers with triple PhDs in astro-physics or complex engineering. The kind of folks I hear you can only get at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) or some institution like that. That is how Cabora-bassa was constructed and we may simply need to do that. This is what I have been told to be true, though the circumstances of my acquiring such information are interesting.
In my simple world, I believe that life comes to an end, but there is need to plan for generations ahead. After all, we Malawians work hard to become wonderful ancestors. If the same reasoning was applied to planning public goods, it would be a suitable condition for a real take off and get us on the right path to shake off the poorest and one of the most corrupt tags.
We have done it before. The old Mangochi Bridge was one classic example when one simply made a decision to get it constructed in a matter of days. Not that it should apply to water or electricity, but we can draw some lessons. We can make deliberate attempts to invest billions of kwacha in water supply and electricity more than what we need. We could even export some and get even a good bargaining point from countries around us exporting power to us. After all, the number of people smoking tobacco is getting less and less. A diversification punchline? Perhaps, but success does not come cheap. n