Clifford Kawinga is certainly a rare gem among the youth in Malawi. At only 38 years, Kawinga has already amassed the business acumen many indigenous entrepreneurs have toiled for decades to achieve.
The young man is the brains behind Creck Hardware and General Supplies, which is headquartered in Lilongwe, with shops and subsidiary companies in Blantyre, Kasungu and Mzuzu, among others.
Recently, the youthful entrepreneur—under his Creck Hardware and General Supplies—was awarded a K1.5 billion contract to supply and install heavy-duty diesel-powered power plant on Likoma and Chizumulu islands.
The contract was awarded under the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (Marep).
Thus, the youthful entrepreneur has not only managed to escape unemployment trap that is haunting many young people in the country, but has also proven that, if given government support and with good business environment, young people can create jobs for themselves as well as others.
“We are very grateful to government for entrusting Creck Hardware and General Supplies such a huge responsibility to supply and install hybrid power plant at the Likoma and Chizumulu Islands. Creck Hardware and General Supplies is a genuine Malawian company and currently, we are employing over 100 people who would otherwise be jobless if the business did not exist,” says Kawinga.
The 2017 survey by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) points out that unemployment rate for the youth in Malawi is at 23 percent, slightly higher than the national unemployment rate, which stands at 21 percent.
The major contributing factors to this trend include, but not limited to, youth’s lack of skills, experience and entrepreneurship training.
The deputy Speaker of Tajikistan’s Parliament Khayrinisso Yusufi recently observed that young people are the “main creative force of the future”.
Yusufi, therefore, stressed the need for investments to develop their potential.
“Developing the potential of young people, shaping their public engagement, strengthening their quality of education and health care, their participation in labour markets, and engaging in development processes reflect the aspirations of peoples and the policies of our countries to achieve the SDGs and create a better world for everyone,” she said.
Ironically, according to the World Bank, inactive youth who are neither employed nor in school make up approximately 40 percent of the total youth population.
Almost one third of those who are employed are in unpaid, informal jobs compared to 15 percent of adults.
Other studies, including the one done by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), reveal that one of the main challenges, which Africa is facing today, is the imperative to empower its largest ever young population and to provide them with opportunities to realise their full potential.
The UNFPA states that economic progress within the African continent as a whole has the potential to evoke a truly profound positive impact upon our collective achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Speaking at the commissioning of the Likoma Hybrid Power Plant at Likoma Island on Monday this week, the Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bintony Kutsaira, said the Malawi Government is already on its way to empower young people to enable them realise their social and economic potential.
He said to address the barriers impeding financial breakthrough among the youth, the government has come up with a number of mechanisms to actively involve young people in economic activities and wealth generation.
“Youth empowerment is at the heart of government and that is why you have seen government awarding such a huge contracts to a young man in the name of Clifford Kawinga.
“It’s even more pleasing to see that Kawinga has delivered the best quality Perkins machines. This gives us an impression that, if we give youth entrepreneurs the support and space, they can deliver the best; no more looking down upon the youth,” said Kutsaira.
The minister stressed that the government recognises the importance of actively engaging youth in serious economic activities in order to help build their envisioned futures and involvement in socioeconomic development of the country.
He said through the Youth Internship Programme and awarding multimillion kwacha contracts, government is demonstrating its commitment addressing barriers impeding financial breakthrough among the youth.
However, the awarding of the contract to Creck Hardware and General Supplies did not go without gossip and lies as some quarters felt the young man did not have the capacity to deliver.
Creck Hardware and General Supplies had been awarded the contract after satisfying the internal procurement committee with both the financial and technical plan.
The company charged K952.6 million, which covered inspections fees of eight officers, the expert who flew in to come and do the rigging and installation of the machines, training and skill transfer plus the transportation of the machines to the two islands, among others.
Creck Hardware and General Supplies has also delivered in many other contracts such as supplying prepaid system and metres for the Southern Region Water Board (SRWB), Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), Blantyre Water Board (BWB) and Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi Malawi (Escom).
Other than these, the company has also supplied generators to the United Nations (UN) systems in the country.
Their services have always been of great standards and up to date they are a well-respected supplier. The company also invested a lot in corporate responsibility in Rumphi, Dedza, Thyolo, Mulanje, Lilongwe and Mzimba.
In winter every year, the company donates over 5 000 blankets to the aged and children while in summer, it donates maize to those in needy and after November fertilizer is given to the aged.
It is against this background that Kutsaira condemned unnamed people who were circulating rumours that Kawinga had been awarded the contract on political considerations.
“It’s just very unfortunate that some people would come up with such propaganda. I know they did that because the contractor is young. But I must stress that this young man was awarded the contract because he outclassed other competitors and the ministry is very happy to see that Kawinga has delivered what the President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika desired for the people of Likoma and Chizumulu Islands,” Kutsaira said.
Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) chief executive officer, William Liabunya, discloses that the diesel-powered machines Creck Hardware and General Supplies had supplied and installed at the two islands are of the highest quality, durable and most efficient in fuel use.
He says the new machines give them flexibility and assurance that the islanders will now have power 24 hours per day.
“The two machines produce 750 kilowatts each thereby making up 1.5 megawatts. This is against a 300 kilowatts demand for the two islands. This means that we will be running one machine at a time. And even that machine will not be exhausted in supplying the demand that is there. So, out of 750 kilowatts, we are using only 300 kilowatts while the other 450 kilowatts are on standby,” he explains.
Kawinga says his strength in business lies in his passion for honesty and fairness when dealing with customers.
The entrepreneur challenges that there is no much secret behind the success of any business except for satisfying the needs and expectations of the customer.
“At Creck Hardware and General Supplies, we believe in respect for our customer. Thus, we do our best to deliver according to the specifications of the customer without considering the amount of profit we will make afterwards. The customer comes first before everything else at our company,” he assures.