By Cedrick Ngalande
The greatest problem facing these African countries is what I call, “following in the footsteps” syndrome. In a scenario where one person is leading the other in, say a forest, the person in front is forced to exercise his creativity to decide which path to chart. The person behind only has to do one thing: wait for the leader to remove his foot so, he can place his own in that footprint. He does not need to be creative.
The person in front may sometimes choose a path that only suits himself and nobody else. For instance, he may be of thin stature, and therefore choose to pass through a narrow path which may not be convenient for his fat follower(s). Creativity brings freedom and power.
In modern civilization, the European nations are ahead of the African nations, in terms of development. Because we tend to follow in their footsteps, the creativity of our people has been destroyed. To develop, we need to rediscover our unique creative power.
Several years ago, I was selected from Khanaja Full Primary School in the then Mulanje District (now Phalombe) to St Patrick’s Secondary School in Blantyre or Chiradzulo, depending on whom you talk to. (In those days, the question of whether St Patrick’s was in Blantyre or Chiradzulo was always a hotly contested topic.
Of course, those of us from the villages wanted this great institution to be in Blantyre so we could brag during holidays back home. I do not know if this controversy has been resolved as of now).
It was at St Patrick’s that I was introduced to electricity for the first time ever in my life. It was a great feeling to live in dormitories and classes lit by electricity from the famous Nkula Hydroelectric Power Station. This excitement was tempered one day that rainy season when the electricity suddenly went off.
Classmates, who grew up in Blantyre city, started talking about “blackouts” – a term I had not yet learned. The next day ESCOM, through The Daily Times, announced that electricity would continue to be interrupted because of mud in the Shire River that rainy season.
That was more than two decades ago! Today in 2021, those blackouts continue every rainy season, and ESCOM continues to blame ‘mud in the Shire River’.
This is a classic example of lack of creative. We cannot permanently solve our ‘mud in the Shire River’ problem presumably because we are waiting for a solution from others. For more than 20 years, we have failed to summon the resources and creativity of the country to completely eradicate this problem.
I bet if the British — from whom we copied the method of hydroelectricity generation — were still using this method and experienced the same ‘mud in the river’ problem, we would not have blackouts in Malawi today. Why? Because they would have solved the problem and we would have copied from them, as usual.
Electricity is very important to the development of any country. The economy of the 21st Century cannot run without electricity. This calls for immense creativity to devise ways of providing adequate power to the whole country.
We do not have to stick to hydroelectricity generation. There are many alternatives to centralized hydroelectricity generation. The resources being wasted on fixing ‘mud in the Shire River’ could be used to establish other forms of energy generation.
For example, Malawi sits in the region of the world receiving the most direct sunshine in a year. Why are we not rushing to implement a comprehensive solar energy plan for the nation? We can even set up solar energy research institutes within the SADC to find ways in which we can efficiently use this free resource in the context of a poor African region.
So here is a thought, next time somebody wants to be CEO of ESCOM, ask him or her to give a plan/proposal of how s/he intends to remove this “mud in the Shire River” excuse from the vocabulary of ESCOM. Only then will we start our journey to true development!