Dry taps in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and other district centres such as Mzimba. No or intermittent power supply from the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) to both domestic and industrial consumers. Poor telecommunications connectivity. No fuel. No foreign exchange. The list is endless. Welcome to Malawi, the warm heart of Africa!
Tell me, what is working properly in this country? This is a question a frustrated motorist asked me at one of the normalised fuel queues (courtesy of then Energy Minister Grain Malunga) in the country. That was at the peak of one of the worst fuel shortages the country has experienced, at least in living memory.
Under the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, the erratic fuel supply lasted almost three years (2009 to the first quarter of 2012), prompting Malunga to make an honest, but unpopular statement: â€œJust get used to the fuel shortages [Mungozizolowera zimenezi!].â€
Now, the honeymoon on regular fuel supplies under President Joyce Bandaâ€™s rule appears to have ended. Snaking queues are back in town, traffic jams are over in the major cities as people are back to spending valuable man hours searching for drops of fuel to keep moving.
The most painful thing to motorists this time around is that they are paying for the full cost of fuel through an automatic pricing mechanism (APM) which has raised fuel prices to record highs.
We seem to be a country in a crisis where everything is out of order. And, the sad thing is that nobody seems to care!
Foreign exchange shortages and logistics aside, my sources in the oil industry have attributed the dry outs in the filling stations to what I prefer to describe as a â€œpolitical decisionâ€ to reverse a price hike in early October which, in the end, meant that the fuel importers had less kwacha to buy the scarce dollars at prevailing market values. Sadly, some administration officials wanted us to believe that the shortage has come about â€œbecause suppliers are busy with Christmas preparations? Really? Is this the first Christmas the suppliers have celebrated?
Now, we have borrowed $250 million from the PTA Bank. Part of the funds would be used to purchase fuel. For how long are we going to borrow to buy fuel? The previous regime used to do the same.
Naturally, this is a lean period for foreign exchange in Malawi as the country has to pay for fertiliser and farm input imports besides fuel and medicines, for example. We have always found ourselves in this situation because of our economyâ€™s over dependence on tobacco, which is seasonal.
Ironically, Amayi or JB mentioned the â€œdisappearance of queues in filling stationsâ€ as one of the achievements during her first 100 days in office after ascending to the presidency in April in line with constitutional order after the death of Mutharika (May his soul rest in peace). However, it would appear the honeymoon is over for motorists.
My free advice to motorists is to ensure that you have a jerry can (chigubu) as a â€œmust-haveâ€ accessory in the vehicle, besides a spare wheel, jack and a pair of red reflective triangles, or risk being fined by traffic police officers.
It is a fact that the JB administration inherited problems from the previous regime. But that is water under the bridge, we need to move forward. We expect no excuses from authorities.
For as long as we continue talking more and doing little, Malawians will continue being subjected to the torture of carrying zigubu and wasting their precious man-hours on queues â€œhopingâ€ to buy fuel.