Black dollars on the shores of Lake Malawi

Malawi government announced recently it had suspended all oil exploration licenses pending a review of some sort. Just to put you in the loop, the Malawi Government issued some exploration licenses to a number of International companies to explore the shores of Lake Malawi to find out if there are enough oil reserves to be commercially exploited.Loose cannon

Until just a few weeks ago, the shores of Lake Malawi – around Karonga up north and surrounding areas up until the border with Tanzania – have been buzzing with activity. People have complained of noise from planes that are carrying out reconnaissance and geological mission as part of this exploration exercise.

Rather than offer hope for a new Malawi with an improved standard of living as a result of dollars from the yet-to-be-explored oil, it seems what Malawians can offer at the moment is anxiety. It seems Malawians don’t know whether to celebrate or weep over the so called oil exploration missions.

Perhaps it is due to the not-so-impressive encounter that this country has had with the Kayerekera Uranium Mine project in Karonga district – the same district where much of the oil exploration is also taking place – that Malawians are not particularly animated about these types of projects.

You just have to understand the people of Karonga when they are actuality rejecting these oil explorations within their vicinity. They are afraid to be fed with a double whammy of meaningless projects that don’t add any value to their lives. For that to happen within a span of a decade would be pretty catastrophic.

There is very little in terms of positives that can be written about the Kayerekera Uranium Mine. Apart from what we read a few years ago that the mine has paid taxes to government to the tune of 300 million, very little positive news has come out of the mine. The mine project came with pomp and a lot of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) promises. Among them were a community stadium and an improved water purification and distribution system to better the lives of people in its catchment surrounding.

The project cycle is now nearing declining phase [if it has not already closed] and none of the promises have been fulfilled. Instead, the Kayerekera stories that have been dominating the pages were like ‘the Kayerekera Mine management is refusing to compensate a hospitalized ex-employee who was vaporized by dangerous chemicals in the line of duty’.

Or, we hear Greg Walker (the mine’s Managing Director) whining about falling global yellow cake prices,and threatening to shut down the machines (or is it placing it on shut and operate, or shut down and clean?).

Just recently, the company acknowledged that indeed there have been some chemical leakages into Lake Malawi as a result of a ‘bust pipe’. This was two weeks after dead fish started to mysteriously appear in Lake Malawi, and two weeks after it vehemently denied the same.

It was only after an altercation with communities, and when Minister of Energy and Mines, Atupele Muluzi visited the mine that management finally and reluctantly accepted culpability. Its explanation that the leaking water was treated and that it was safe came across like sour grapes.

Scenarios like that of Kayerekera Uranium Mine don’t inspire any hope to Malawians in as far as benefiting from the extractive industry is concerned. Just recently, it was revealed in the media that some oil exploring companies from the Middle East had actually cut corners in obtaining their exploring licenses – I will be a Loose Cannon and lay bare some of these in not too distant future.

There has also been a proliferation of some hot-headed vendors, some of whom senior government officials, calling themselves oil experts that are operating like middle men and cutting ‘oil exploration deals’

Managing Director of an oil exploring company from the Middle East, Chimwemwe Chikusa (he actually draws salaries from three companies) was operating under a dubiously awarded contract with questionable operating clauses. My good friend Ben Chiza Mkandawire is now also calling himself an oil expert, and operating under some international company (Hamra Oil) that cannot be traced anywhere even after running it through internet search engines. And man-of –the-moment for his “confession” on ‘Midnight Six’ treason act, Z Allan Ntata is also in the oild companies as company secretary for Rak Gas.

Not that it is any crime to draw three or five salaries from different companies (Many people are doing it across the globe), but there ought to be greater transparency around the terms under which these so-called oil exploring companies are operating.

One man should not be allowed too much latitude of decision-making domain. We are yet to track the ‘Black Gold’. Indeed we are far off and it might take years to find the oil nirvana that we seek as a country. But that is not reason to rush and make stupid mistakes, especially at these early stages of the processes. Case studies abound across Africa where we can learn from.

What we are seeing now are corruption-fuelling tendencies, and it calls for a wholesale review of the processes. Malawi does not want to go the way of other African countries such as Nigeria, Gabon, Angola where the ‘black gold’ has actually fuelled wars (we nearly fought with Tanzania) and created financial disparities and widened the gap between the rich and the poor; where oil discoveries turned out to be a curse than a blessing…

The disaster in the Gulf was no accident. It was the result of years of oil money buying off politicians to lead to an unregulated and ill focused addiction to oil and drilling. The doomed fate of the local fisherman and the environment were foretold in the infamous chants of ‘Drill, Baby, Drill.’Robert Greenwald

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26 thoughts on “Black dollars on the shores of Lake Malawi”

  1. Malawi's Finest Idiot says:

    Sad how Malawians elect ‘representatives’ who do not represent them at all. A country with no vision, a country with no pity for its poor citizens. a country where one’s poverty is a source of riches for other insatiable bellies.. I cry when I see my dear brothers and sisters languishing in poverty while their ‘representatives’ are enjoying United States Dollars from dubious deals. Investors who come in the country, exploit our natural resources and go back leaving us poorer than we were before their coming. I cry for my Land!!! Hoping one day we will understand why a Malawian doesn’t Eat Chambo Fish, why the typical Malawian cannot bask in the sands of the beautiful Lake Shores of L.Malawi. Hope one day the truth will come out: UNTIL THAT DAY, LET GOD GUIDE US THROUGH EACH AND EVERYDAY.

  2. Amama Joyce Banda akanatibetsera nyanja ndithu
    Kubwera kwa namateture Professor Peter Munthalika Kikwete tima boat take tonse sitikuonekanso mu Lake Malawi
    Professor Woyeeeeee!

  3. De Maria mwamisi says:

    We don’t need some Arabs whatever Hamras to drill some black liquid from our beautiful lake.Stop flying your planes on top of our heads.No country has ever become rich in Africa because of the dark liquid.Its only a Caucasian and a few crooked politicians and some few crooked oil barons who benefit from it.Ken Sarowiwa of Nigeria died for his Ogoni people because of injustices of their govt to its people who never benefit from their oil deposit..Ben Chiza Mkandawire doesn’t know anything.Peter is there to silence him after he made alot of noise during his demented brothers time.Please stop messing up with our Lake.Osamakumbakumba kwanu Ku Thyolo bwanji.We love our Fish and our Lake.Greg walker should also go back to his native Australia.We don’t need him in Karonga.Yellow cake yellow cake yachaninso apa.Its only Botswana and probably South Africa that has benefited from minerals but the rest are useless.Please don’t destroy our beautiful chambo and stop making noise with your useless planes.

  4. vyamuvisulo nthengwa says:

    It will take eternity really for this country to take the first forward move, i feel sorry for my country,

  5. For once I agree with the author, these Natural Reserves are mostly a curse to the country than blessing. Firstly the people of Kalonga must benefit before anyone else does or else just leave it

  6. Kenkkk says:

    The whole country can benefit from the oil or other minerals if we kill corruption and enforce our laws to the letter. The discovery of oil and other minerals is a blessing that brings rapid development to a country all over the world. So why should we be exception when we can’t even meet our budgetary needs, we can’t rely on agric for over, a good economy in the long run is that which is diversified.

    The problems you mention here are all man made because the govts are corrupt and collude with oil or mining companies to cut corners on human and environmental safety. Why are other countries operating safely? It is simply because they enforce their laws and punish the culprits polluting the environment. Accidents do happen though even in the safest and strictest countries. So there is no 100% proof on this. But the benefits to the economy if handled properly outweigh the risks.

    So the main problem here is not the oil or the mine but it is our govts and it corrupt officials not enforcing the laws to the letter.

    If the people around the mine don’t see the benefits because of some corrupt official from say the south stealing the proceeds, then you can understand the anger of the local people, hence some calling for the exploration of oil or mining to stop or suggesting the North to secede.

    The whole country can benefit if things are properly managed but we have so many thieving and selfish individuals stopping Malawi develop!!!

  7. hoza john says:

    Events being carried out in the north have nothing to do with oil exploration. They are meant for seismic survey as Lake Malawi lies in the African Rift were tectonic are taking place. The lake with peculiar fish species lies in a valley formed by the opening of the East African Rift, where the African tectonic plate is being split into two pieces. This is called a divergent plate tectonics boundary and is evidenced by earth quakes; remember what happened in Karonga in 2009/2010?

    For your own information, seismic survey belongs to a branch of seismology which is a science that deals with earthquakes. So anthropogenic sound in this case air guns is being produced from the vessel that we are using, the sound which oscillates at natural frequency is captured in geophones and hydrophones submerged in know locations using GPS. The aim is to estimate the maximum wave length that can have an impact on the rift zone. Remember, Albert Einstein said and I quote “Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance” end of quote.

  8. Damascus Mwenda says:

    God have mercy, You never forsake us nor leave us single handed look now these people. these people need a strong sense of touch from You.

  9. stupid governmrnt and poor governance

  10. xxxxx says:

    Kadakwiza you are very stupid. Why do you want to rise against the government just for you Tumbukas to be free. Yet you are already free. All what you need to do is packing your items from each region heading north. Our geographical features are just clear.Pack and go then start fighting for your real freedom by closing all roads heading to Nyikalanders. Simple. Why fighting? Are you inside Malawi. You are not inside Malawi. No. No. Never. You are at tell of Malawi and you can free yourself by cutting the tail at the middle mainly at Jenda where your boundery will be.JUST PACK AND DISAPPEAR. You are fools and. Educated fools who cry for milk when it is already in their hands. Why cant just be happy our uncle Chilembwe fought for you Tumbukas and you are enjoying freedom.

    1. Kadakwiza says:

      @XXXXX, Let me comment by saying Kadakwiza is stupid. Let me tell you my brother or sister whoever you are. First you must know that Malawi leaders don’t care about the poor like me. They don’t respect us the poor, what they think is themselves and there families. Fifty one years down the drain. No development, year in year out Malawi is always at the door step asking for aid. Is this what you want Mr. XXXXX . I don’t think so. Even those who fought for our freedom like it. The only way to end all this nonsense is for all Malawians including you Mr Stupid XXXXX is to rise and fight for justice. What l singled out Mppto is because we people of the can’t allow our resources to be abused by the these whom we trust. Mpoto must rise and fight for justice
      So if Mr. Stupid XXXXX have a problem with that, then I see you as one of them. I mean people who rip off our country. Time will come when Malawians will realize that enough is enough by that time Kadakwiza will be one of them fighting for justice. Mpoto Rise, Mpoto rise.

    2. Kenkkk says:

      Typical dpp boot licker and stooping stooge. Tribalistic to the end!!!

  11. MBACHI says:


  12. callista says:

    Malawi should have sent out University graduates to study oil exploration and it’s derivatives and then we could have done our own exploration. But even then those engineers would have never come back!! We are a cursed people who are both too corrupt and too stupid at the same time- a very toxic mix!

  13. Newa Sunareni says:

    Lawyers now in oil business…Koma ziliko ku Flames!

  14. Here we go again says:

    mmmmmm! good article, keep it up. We dont want another Bingu as in Kayerekera issue

  15. makito says:

    Pursue this issue Thom, Malawi is on its way to a minerals curse at the early stage. Corruption is much more than what we see.

  16. Mbava is lets just preserve our environment and ignore oil. Lets go for refrendum on this issue otherwise we are inviting poverty as the poor shall never gaing anything from oil exploiration and they shall loose the freshy lake malawi due to poor management of the industry. Learn from kayerekera. Oil exloiration is to make malawians more poor than rich. Lets get united and reject it. We better preseve our lake, fish and emvironment in general other than the other way round. Boma likakakamira, then mademo. Malawi isnt ready for black gold

  17. Patriot says:

    Malawi will never prosper.
    Crooks all over.

  18. Ntchona says:

    The government must taket blame for this. Malawi does things typitypical of a third world country. Peter must advocate and put systems of clean governance first. But you see your colleagues can only accept that mode if you as a leader can be exemplary. Unfortunately Malawi government leaders fall short of this grace. Corruption is killing this country slowly God help us.

  19. Kadakwiza says:

    North let us rise up and fight for justice. Let us fight for what is ours . Nkhondo ya mapepala siyithandiza olo pa ng’ono. Mpoto tiyeni tikhale patokha. Nthawi yakwana tsopano. Anthu amene tikuti atiyimire ndi amene akugulidwa. Palibe chitithandize. Mpoto likhale boma basi. Remember the Ogon people in Nigeria they fought for justice. Mpoto rise! Mpoto rise!

  20. gerald says:

    Agood piece

  21. chakuhenga says:

    stupid federation

  22. Nkhombokombo says:

    Oohoi!! Tampeza oil at last! What a shame!! People are suffering, for how long are you guys keep on exploring and sampling our minerals? Shame! Shame on you!

  23. #notoblackgold says:

    I am not a fun at all of this oil exploration/drilling close to or in our lake. The socio-environmental impacts are immense and what is the benefit to the masses? Come on we have a very beautiful freshwater lake that could draw a lot from tourism, a cleaner and long lasting alternative. Oil by the way is exhaustible, short lived. They will come, damage your lake, your environment, your fish and dump you after taking it all. Can our esteemed economists please analyze the costs benefits from this black gold vs investing in long term tourism?#notoblackgold join the campaign.

  24. THE BRAINS says:

    Dig deeper Thom, I like your column, it’s got good staff.

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