Malawi President Mutharika’s ‘surprise’ visits a senseless charade at its worst

I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens.-Donald John Trump, the 45th and current President of the United States since January 20, 2017.

Malawi’s litany of sad goings-on reads like a horror movie script: city residents drinking sewer water, non-ending water problems in our cities, bloodsucking rumors hitting the news headlines, rampant corruption and theft of public resources by non-other than those who we have trusted to lead and govern us, angry wives urinating over their husbands’ mistresses commonly known as MG 2s, then the never ending electricity blackouts which of late have become more of a norm to our everyday living, and adding to that a President who is more of a comic star than one who as a nation could be proud to call a leader. Malawi seems to be classified as a failed state not for nothing and I would say, a pathetic failed state without any hope of rising again.

 Reading most of the news articles in our local newspapers, one would be tempted to conclude that President Arthur Peter Mutharika is the most hated President out of all the five Heads of State that this country has had so far. But, if truth be told it is the bizarre way that our President sometimes behaves that has been attracting a lot of negative media coverage. It has been mentioned before, that the biggest problem with Mutharika is his indecisiveness on matters that need his urgent attention.

And just as his trade mark, this time around Mutharika again showed us that he is indeed a man who enjoys coming too late to address issues. Since Mutharika came to power, one of the issues that has been troubling Malawians, especially those who care most about our already fragile economy, is the persistent electricity blackout which as I am writing, has literary brought our productive everyday life down to its knees. However, to our good President time was not yet ripe for him to act and as if waking up from a big slumber he decided that the best time to deal with the problem is almost four years of unending outcries from Malawians. And to him, the best way to handle this horrendous experience and torture is by way of staging a charade and a publicity stunt by way of a ‘surprise’ visit to ESCOM and EGENCO.

Mutharika should be the first to appreciate that such a charade is nowhere near solving the electricity problems. If the President has no idea what these electricity blackouts mean to Malawi and its people, here is a brief synopsis that could probably joggle him a bit to see the seriousness of the issue and be aware that this electricity issue is serious and its cost is a sad human currency. Every day in our hospitals lives are being lost, including of babies, just because doctors have no electricity to conduct some vital procedures. A number of homes and businesses are also every day losing money and capital through rotting stuff in forms of meat, milk, vegetables and all sorts of perishables as there is always no electricity to power refrigeration systems. Those households which do not have the luxury to throw away such rotten stuff are forced to consume such unpalatable stuff ending in them being exposed to a number of ailments, which again when such avoidable ailments hit, it is another loss in terms of lost productive man-hours and treating such sicknesses in our already burdened hospitals.

These blackouts are also not good in attracting investment. Just imagine, foreigners who come into this country for workshops or in prospect of finding investment opportunities taking back to their countries only sad experiences and reputation of blackouts. Investing in this country has in reality become a nightmare. Companies can acquire generators to deal with the problem, but the end result is that they might as well close shop due to colossal costs of running a business on generators; it is simply not sustainable. Ask Paladin Uranium, they tried but it did not work out, eventually they had to close the mine. And this has become a threat to many more established investments in this country.

These power outages also mean that productive people are forced to knock off from work, whenever ESCOM feels people have worked enough for the day. Again, an unfortunate experience to an investor who is keen to see his investment in human resources having the maximum benefits by way of utilizing optimal work hours. Another unfortunate thing is that these days you can no longer rely on taking your work home, as ESCOM again has all the powers to decide for you when you are supposed to be in bed. If ESCOM wants you to be in bed by 6pm, then it is. Then we have a number of unemployed youths striving to stand on their own through operating barbershops and hair salons, welding shops, tailoring shops, or selling cold drinks and various other money generating activities that require electricity; these can no longer sustain their businesses; not by choice or their own shortfalls but through ESCOM’s inefficiencies.

The list of injuries brought by these electricity woes is long and it is an insult that when Mutharika decided to ‘surprise’ ESCOM and EGENCO with a visit, all he could manage is to come out of that board meeting with a plea for Malawians to be patient. The President sarcastically said his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led government has put the electricity woes as a priority. Mutharika said himself is obviously concerned about the power problems and he knows that without power it is difficult to transform this country economically and investors cannot come. To him power is very crucial and he is aware that the blackouts are very painful; they are hurting people and businesses.

The questions that Mutharika should answer before asking us to be patient include: when did he realize that electricity is a priority on any development agenda? Because to most of us, 2014 is a long time ago and if indeed electricity was his priority, we could, by now, seen the fruits of such line of thinking. Secondly, when did the President start getting concerned about the power problems? It seems again, the President has to be pushed a little to wake up from his dozing and realize that this electricity issue is a concern.

Then when did the President come to know that without power the country cannot be transformed and investors cannot come? The President’s realization is coming a bit too late with a lot of damage already done to the transformation drive of this country and to our aspirations of attracting new investors. And then did he really mean it when he say that power is crucial and that he is aware that the blackouts are very painful, and hurting to both people and businesses? Apparently, his long wait to act and his lackadaisical approach confirms otherwise; that he is someone who does not give a damn to all these worries about electricity, and does not care who and what gets hurt with the electricity blackouts.

If the President indeed meant all what he said and because of the damage already done, instead of asking for our patience, we expected him to at least for once act decisively and boldly by firing those people who are sleeping on the job. Have them see the exit; those who instead of thinking solutions, their only task at ESCOM and EGENCO is cooking up excuses and lies year in year out. These people were employed to get things done and if they are not up to the task, get them out. Find competent people who can deliver. Even if it means bringing in expatriates to help us find solutions, I believe the investment in such expatriates will yield better results as compared to the enormous and long term losses that we are enduring as a nation. Instead of subjecting himself to that DPP propaganda and charade of a ‘surprise’ visit, Mutharika should get ‘real’ engineers to solve the problem. Let us agree, the current crop of engineers at ESCOM and EGENCO have failed, and that this is a problem that purely requires political will. There are ‘true’ engineers out there who would know the solution.

Mutharika should know that this patience mantra is not a working solution. As said by Heinz Goemans, patience is when you become silent to entitlements that matter most to your daily existence prior to negligence of the supreme while others have defined patience as the willingness to stay where one is and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to you. And is this the patience that our President is asking from us Malawians; that we should keep quite just because someone including himself is in deep slumber on the job, or in anticipation that something will just miraculously happen and change our situation. Patience is indeed a virtue, but impatience gets things done. And patience has always its limits; take it too far, it would be cowardice.

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On Escom, no one seems to be asking – whatever happened to all the so-called deals Mutharika et al signed with Independed Power Producers from USA etc. We were supposed to have hundreds of megawatts of new power generation capacity from solar farms all over. Multiple Memorandums of Understanding were signed long time ago. I guess the minister’s and bureaucrats palms were not greased enough..? Never mind solar, Escom does not even seem capable of the rather more straightforward task of procuring diesel generators to at least temporarily help us with the blackout situation. It seems we in Malawi have… Read more »

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Baba wa Boyi
Who are we going to listen to? A well known personality Mayaya said Muthalikas visit was not a surprise visit because ESCOM was seen sprucing up days before Muthalika visited. To me that means it was not a surprise visit, and I am yet to hear Muthalika claim that he made a surprise visit. The problem with Malawians is, we are used to certain things like presidential noisy motorcades, and if these have not happened, we make up stories that the visit was a surprise visit. We need, as Malawians to find better things to do than following people. The… Read more »


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