President Peter Mutharika’s speech in Parliament last week was great in substance and style. But his critics have faulted him on power generation in Malawi.
The President said: “Let us be honest to admit that we did not invest to expand our energy generation. For fifty years, we kept thinking as if Malawi would remain what it was in the 1960s.”
Journalists, including those we respect for long service in the industry, say the President was wrong. Social media commentators, even those with PhDs, have gone to town on the President, saying there was investment in power generation in the last 50 years, hence we have electricity. The argument of the President’s critics is understandable but not true.
If the President’s speech was as nice as I have suggested, if the President’s speech was well written, including in matters of punctuation, how could the good speech writer be so careless to use the word “invest” in appropriately?
I would like to bring your attention, dear readers, to the conclusion that the word “invest” was used correctly in the President’s speech. The intended meaning was the dictionary meaning, which I think critics have missed.
One widely acceptable way of making meaning is to look at the grammar of a word and history/context of the issue being discussed. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “invest” as “the act of putting money, effort, time, etc. into something to make a profit or get an advantage.”
Key to the word “invest” is the future aspect, a time in future when profit or gain shall be made. Profit or gain from an investment does not happen at the time of investing, no, not at all, but in future. In Chinyanja, “to invest” is kubzala (to plant) and the profit or gain is kholola (harvest). We plant to eat next season because in the season we are planting we eat what we planted last season. Likewise, we invest to make a gain or profit in future.
So, what did the President mean when he said “we did not invest to expand our energy generation” in the last 50 years? According to Cambridge Dictionary, the President meant we did not construct power generation plants that would gain or profit Malawi in future. We did not construct power stations to meet future demand. The power plants that were constructed were for power demand, then, not now. This brings us to the history part of meaning making. What is the history of power in Malawi?
Let us start in 1972. Malawi had 49 megawatts of electricity, out of which ESCOM was producing 39 megawatts. The rest was being produced by private institutions, tea estates, for example, that felt ESCOM power was not reliable for their work. As early as 1972, power demand in Malawi was more than ESCOM installed generation capacity. Between 1972 and 2014, we constructed and commissioned Nkula B, Tedzani I, II and III, Wovye, and Kapichira I and II. Our total installed generation capacity is 351 megawatts. Our current demand, according to the Ministry of Energy, is about 450 megawatts.
We are generating less than current power demand in Malawi. This clearly means that at no point in time did we construct and commission power generation plants with more capacity than we needed. Doing so would have been investing in power generation (constructing and commissioning power plants for future gain and profit, to meet future demand, not present demand, but future demand.) The President was right. We have not done that (invest in power generation) in the last 50 years. Instead, we simply constructed to meet present demand, then.
Unlike Malawi, Zambia invested in power generation. In 1972, when we had 49 megawatts of power, Zambia had 1600 megawatts, a lot more than the country’s demand then. Zambia was constructing power generation plants for the future. Zambia was investing in power generation.
We did not invest until now when we are working on major projects that shall give us an installed capacity of 2500 megawatts between now and 2027, capacity that shall be more than projected demand. Then, with more power power than demand, we shall say we invested in power generation, according to the dictionary meaning of the word “invest.”