“The people who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it,” is a quote often credited to the acclaimed playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw. Indeed people that regard anything and everything that is novel as impossible are full of negativities and can discourage those attempting to do something.
Dowa resident, Felix Kambwiri, who was the subject of my discussion in the last article has shown Malawi and the entire world, by building a home-made helicopter, that things that have hitherto been regarded as impossible can actually be done. In one of my many conversations with him, he told me that he believed that whatever a white man could do, a black man could also do. ”We should never be cheated,” he said, ”that we have been created as inferior beings to other races.” He went further to say that what mattered was not so much the colour of the skin but what was inside a person.
Somebody, claiming to have been sent by the Malawi Defence Force, visited Kambwiri on February 17 and sharply criticised some aspects of his helicopter. I could detect a tone of exasperation in Kambwiri’s voice as he narrated the episode to me. I told him that his visitor might be a helicopter pilot, and probably an excellent one, but he had never built one before, so there was no need to spend sleepless nights over his criticism.
The truth of the matter is that the so-called educated elite cannot build anything resembling what Kambwiri has assembled. In the first instance, they would be so bogged down with the act of analysing the project that they would get lost in what somebody termed ‘paralysis of analysis’.
They would, for example, want to know what types of metal, with what level of specific gravity or Young’s Modulus or shore hardness would be suitable for the body or the rotor blades or any other part of the aircraft. What would be the cost of such materials and where would they be sourced from? Before they realised it, they would be so overwhelmed by the amount they needed to push into the project that they would declare it impossible.
Those who might be so misguided as to approach a bank for possible funding would have their hopes utterly shattered because the income side of the projected cash-flows would look anything but healthy. Such projects are carried out for posterity not necessarily for cash. Asmelath Zeferu of Ethiopia has been building his aircraft for 15 years. It has not flown yet, much less been turned into a successful commercial venture. It is being done more for posterity than for commercial benefits accruing to the manufacturer. When I last checked, there was not one financial institution in the world willing to fund posterity.
In saying this, I am not negating the importance of analysis. It is important for projects to be thoroughly analysed before they are embarked upon, but if you are doing something that nobody has done before, that kind of analysis may only be important at the later stages. After Kambwiri has shown that a locally built helicopter can take to the skies, those that want to commercially exploit that possibility should indeed carry out all the necessary analysis to ensure that safety and competitiveness are not compromised.
When perfectionist Karl Benz built one of the world’s first motor vehicles, he was so bogged down with perfecting it that he never wanted it out of the workshop. It was his wife, Bertha Benz, who did something unorthodox by arranging for a 106-kilometre trip on one of the newly assembled vehicles, without informing her husband beforehand. As she undertook the world’s first long distance trip by a motorised vehicle, she had to surmount a number of challenges on the way. At one point the fuel line got clogged up and she cleared it with her hairpin. When the wooden brakes failed, she asked a cobbler to repair them by installing leather soles, and invented brake pads in the process. No amount of prior analysis would have prepared her for this trip.
Novel projects demand one’s determination more than one’s ability to analyse. Let Kambwiri carry on with his helicopter project and let the analysts come in later to help him perfect his plane. Just showing the world that it can be done is enough to bring honours to the Dowa resident. n