A MALAWIAN GIRL DIES IN THE PROCESS OF CLIMBING MULANJE MOUNTAIN.
A Malawi girl aged 18 died last Sunday after suddenly running short of breath while climbing Mulanje Mountain.
The deceased Tasiyana Chipala accompanied her fellow Kasupe Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) youth members from Chirimba Township in Blantyre on a tour to the mountain.
According to Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust environmental education and communications officer Kondwani Chamwala soon after the accident happened the girl was rushed to Mulanje District Hospital where she was pronounced dead upon arrival.
Meanwhile the body of agirl has been taken to the deceased’s home in Ntcheu for burial.
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Two months ago, Bill Gates reminded us of a stunning bit of information.
The amount of electricity per person in sub-Saharan Africa is lower today (excluding South Africa) than it was 30 years ago.
A rapidly rising population and the slow rate of connection means the “electricity deficit” continues to grow.
Even having a connection is not a guarantee of power.
All across the continent you can hear phrases like “dumsor”, “kuzima zima”, and even the slightly dubious “rolling brownout”.
These curious terms all refer to the on-again, off-again “load shedding” process, where electricity is rationed to cope with overwhelming demand.
For the sad truth is that there is often more of the mythological “electricity in the air” in Africa than there is in the wires strung between generating stations, homes and offices.
In Nigeria, according to the Afrobarometer survey, 96% of the population are connected to the electrical grid, but only 18% can expect the service to work most of the time.
Further south in the continent the picture is often worse.
Malawi is a beautiful, verdant slip of a country, wedged in between Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
Despite its natural resources and tourism potential, the nation is better known forcoming close to the bottom of some important global league tables, such as income per capita.
When it comes to electricity connections, Malawi is a classic example of how not to do it.
Roughly 9% of the population are connected to the grid – in rural areas, this falls to about 1%.
The population is growing about 3% a year, meaning that every year the country is falling further and further behind.
The state utility, Escom, produces most of its grid power from hydroelectric installations on the Shire river. But falling water levels have hampered the reliability of this source.
To try and get more people on the grid the government is opening up the energy market to independent producers.
Power at a price
I visited Malawi to investigate the impact that lack of electricity was having on people’s lives for BBC Newsday.
According to Malawi’s Energy Minister, Bright Msaka, this opening up of the market will make a significant difference.
Mr Msaka told me that Malawi would produce an extra 200MW of solar energy by 2019.
That’s a big claim for a country that at present has a total installed capacity of less than 300MW from all sources. However, if this improvement in supply does actually materialise, it will come at a price.
“We have to make sure that the people who come to invest in the power sector in Malawi are able to make a profit,” Mr Msaka said.
“Either you have cheap power that is inadequate or you have adequate power for which you pay the appropriate price.”
The idea of paying significantly more for electricity is not good news for people in villages like Milonde.
The medical centre doesn’t have electricity. Vaccines are stored in a fridge powered by bottles of gas.
When the gas runs out, the vaccines have to be physically taken to another health centre 20km away, then brought back when the fridge is working again.
On a thunderous afternoon, I watched 50 secondary school students, crammed into a dank, dark classroom trying to complete an exam under the light of a single solar powered bulb.
But while small-scale solar might not be the solution in a large classroom, for millions of people in Malawi and elsewhere it could prove to be an important, intermediate step on the road out of darkness.
Brave Mhonie certainly believes that cheap, solar lights are perhaps the only way forward for the rural poor.
Brave is the national sales co-ordinator for SolarAid, a charity which sells solar-powered lights that also charge mobile phones.
They’ve introduced a pay-as-you-go ownership scheme for these lamps, which cost about $12 (£8).
That’s a lot of money in a country where people typically earn about a dollar a day. So the company charges $3-$4 upfront, and the rest is paid off over time.
“We tell customers how much the lamp costs and we ask them to pay over three to four months, but if they don’t pay the lamp goes off,” says Brave.
“The amount of light that you get is linked to the amount of money you pay.”
If the customer defaults on a payment, the distributor enters the details on his phone which is linked to the lamp and the lights go out. A high-tech solution to a low-tech problem.
Network of teachers
So far the “pay as you glow” model is working well as the amount people pay monthly is roughly the same as they would spend on paraffin lamps.
In Malawi, even the remotest and poorest areas have schools – SolarAid takes advantage of that network to distribute their products.
And headteachers make fantastic intermediaries.
“We know we are the agents of change and people use us to get the information on solar lights,” said Prosper Zilima, who runs a school with 1,200 pupils.
“We teach them how important these solar lamps are, in terms of saving money and in terms of fire risk from the paraffin lamps.”
People in these areas trust the teachers, who collect the money and place the orders. The heads also get a little commission that boosts their own salaries. Most buy solar lamps for themselves as well as selling them to the local population.
“I have four lamps and they are assisting me fully,” said Simeon Namakhwa, another teacher with a large school.
“Even my kids are studying using these type of light lamps – I don’t use money for paraffin or candles because of these lamps, but I have a full night of light.”
These may seem like small steps and indeed they are – but solar is scalable and a single lamp today can be added to until a whole home is lit up.
With mobile phone networks covering over 80% of the continent, electric power is more than ever the most important key to helping rural poor people take advantage of the connection and become better educated, informed and prosperous.
While African governments dither over reform of utilities and investing in large-scale power plants, the little solar lamp approach may just be the critical breakthrough for millions of people
The future of electric light in Africa may not be that bright, in fact it’s likely to be quite dull – but that slowly dawning glow of solar power could mark real, sustainable change across the continent.
The piece “Chaponda Jumps Gun – Foreign Minister under fire for interfering with oil search issues” featured below was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 36 that is circulating this April 2016.
A grouping of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has lashed out at Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, George Chaponda, for interfering with oil exploration licences issues which fall under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.
The CSOs under the banner of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Malawi slammed the Minister in a statement released in the wake of the press conference that Chaponda convened in Lilongwe a month ago announcing that State President Arthur Peter Mutharika has lifted a ban on oil exploration effected in November 2014.
Last week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Chaponda, disclosed that the President has lifted the ban. It isunclear why this announcement did not come from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining itself,
reads the statement from the CSOs which also tackled several areas of concern in the governance of the oil exploration subsector in Malawi.
PWYP Malawi is an initiative involving 16 CSOs which are members of the Natural Resources Justice Network.
Government of Malawi suspended all licences and agreements with expatriate firms on oil prospecting saying it wanted to review them in order
to ensure that the licences and the agreements that were signed are for the benefit of the people of Malawi and were done in accordance with all the relevant laws of the country.
Chaponda said the lifting of the ban was a well thought path that Mutharika had picked to allow the oil exploration subsector play its important role in the development of the country.
The Minister explained that the lifting of the suspension was necessitated due to growing interest in Malawi by oil and gas exporters such as Georgia and Kazakhstan.
In an apparent response as to why he was the one announcing the lifting of the ban instead of the line minister, Chaponda explained that prospective investors are showing interest to explore for oil in Malawi and that he personally held discussions with several of them.
He said he had talks on the issue with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Georgia David Jalagania, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Ycrzhan Ashikbayev and Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Sala Heddine Mezouar on the sidelines of the 26th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they promised to provide expertise and share knowledge on oil subsector activities.
However, though the Mutharika administration is courting new investors into the oil exploration subsector, licences for all the six blocks were already awarded to expatriate firms which include South Africa’s Sacoil Holdings for block 1, Hamra Oil for blocks 2 and 3, Rakgas MB45 for blocks 4 and 5 and Pacific Oil Limited for block 6.
The government under the previous Joyce Banda led administration signed petroleum sharing agreements for blocks 4 and 5 with Rakgas MB45 and for block 6 with Pacific Oil Limited.
The news of the coming in of the new investors has, therefore, created panic in the subsector with some players fearing that ruling party politicians want to take advantage of the new players to bulldoze their way to acquire shareholding in the tenements.
But Chaponda insisted that the ‘new entrants’ will only be integrated as technical partners to the tenement holders.
However, it is unclear what legal instrument the Mutharika administration will use to force the tenement holders to incorporate the ‘new entrants’ as technical partners.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining has confirmed giving a go-ahead to all tenement holders except Rakgas MB 45 to resume prospecting for hydrocarbons.
We have given an okay to all the firms. We are only negotiating with Rakgas because they are some issues we have to sort out with them on their licences,
said Commissioner of Mines, Charles Kaphwiyo.
Greed for oil wealth by powerful politicians is one of the key factors that lead to resource curse in many resource rich countries across the globe.