It is common knowledge that the shortage of electricity in Malawi has reached alarming proportions and the consequences of this shortage will be felt for a long time to come. For an economy like Malawi the consequences can be devastating to the fragile economy. f While the current government should take the blame for the current situation, it will be unfair and completely stupid to assume that these problems have been caused by the botched procurement process of a few generators. The electricity problems in Malawi are a result of policy choices this country has made in the past. These policy choices were made during the time of MCP, continued during the UDF, DPP and PP reign.
One would understand the frustration of everyone including the MCP President who last week went to town to make statement on the current status of the situation. It is not the aim of this column to make a judgement on whether what was said in the statement is true or not. However, Dr Chakwera should be the first one to know that when the message is lost in the delivery mechanism then communication suffers. There are times when one tries to put aside their political affiliations and deal with issues in a rational manner if the issues being discussed are of national importance.
Sometimes the choice of words that one uses takes away the attention from the message to the semantics. This is exactly what Dr Chakwera did when he called President Mutharika a “pathological liar”. This was a very unfortunate term not befitting someone who has been ordained as a minister of the LORD and has had several years on the pulpit preaching the word of GOD. A quick reference to the book of Ecclesiastes 10 verse 12 would have helped him deliver his message.
While the message was on the procedures followed or otherwise not followed in the procurement of generators to add to the electricity generation and end the 25 hour blackouts. The debate in the rest of the week focused on whether the President lied or not when he said generators were on their way. Technically if the assertion is correct that the providers of the generators were cancelling the contract as the President was delivering his message on those generators, then the President did not lie. This is because Dr Chakwera benefited from the “after fact”. If that was the time the contractors were canceling the contract one would assume that there was time lag between the cancellation of the contract and the time that the President would have known the facts. Unless one wants to think that the President in omnipotent and therefore knows things before they happen or are about to happen or are happening some kilometres away.
But where did we go wring as nation? What is the genesis of this crisis? The first power generating station in Malawi after independence was Nkula A (1966 with 24 MW), followed by Tedzani I (1973 with 20 MW) and Tedzani II (1977 with 20 MW). This means that by 1977 the total installed electricity generation capacity was 64 MW. Between 1980 and 1992 Nkula B was commissioned which added 100 MW to the total capacity. The fact that there were no power shortaged was not because there was enough supply, NO! it was because while demand was higher the authorities rationed the power. In other words they only allowed enough people to be connected to the grid to ensure that the power is enough. This is why Malawi was the only country in Southern Africa with fewer people having access to electricity.
When the UDF government came into power in 1994, they commissioned several power projects. One of which was already underway during the MCP era Tedzani III (1995 with 52.7 MW), the other was Wovwe (1995 with 4.56 MW) and they also added Kapichira I (2000 with 64.8 MW). The DPP government added another 64.8 MW (Kapichira II in 2013 with 64.8 MW, a Diesel Power Plant in Mzuzu and a separate isolated system in Likoma District. This brough the total installed capacity from the hydropower plants to 350.65MW. Including the 1.1 MW from the Diesel Power plant in Mzuzu and 1.050MW from Likoma district, the total present installed capacity for Malawi is 352.8 MW. This pales in comparison to the estimated demand for electricity of 800 MW.
The lack of planning is apparent from all governments that have ruled Malawi from independence if one considers that while the country was busy from 1964 claiming to transform itself from an importing nation to an export led economy it only added only 129.6 MW since 1995 to the total capacity in 13 years. This translates into about 5 MW per year on average.