Our electricity situation has not been as bad as now since times immemorial. We have black outs and load shedding on an unprecedented scale against tariffs unheard of until recently. And it is all down to incompetence, corruption and mismanagement. Our politicians are being paid salaries to make sure we get the services we pay tax for. Are they performing? No, three times no, no, no! Instead of making sure Escom performs, they are bickering among each other over the spoils of corruption.
What is the situation?
Due to climate change, the levels of water in the Shire are lower than ever in 15 years. This limits power generation. Now every company knows that it is of paramount importance to spread risks to ensure consistent performance in the light of volatilities. But Escom has been generating over 90% of its capacity from the Shire river for decades. This is bad management. And there is no excuse like: we did not have the financial means to do something about it. Under Bingu wa Mutharika’s reign (before 2012) Escom received a grant of US 325,000,000. That is (current exchange rate) over MK 256,000,000,000. With that kind of money and 4 years in between, it would have been perfectly possible to build more capacity. Which is what the grant was intended for. But that has not happened. The only idea that Escom came up with was building a coal fired power plant. Now every child knows that coal is the dirtiest fuel on earth. It pollutes left right and center, and contributes to climate change big time. Exactly the climate change that caused the power generation now to fail with low water levels in the Shire. So this coal fired power plant that is planned is going to contribute more to the problems that are interfering with our electricity supply as it is! Bad idea.
On the other hand: the conditionality of the grant was that Escom needed to be run in a capitalist way. After all, the grant came from the US Millenium Challenge Corporation, which is American. And it is in the US interest to spread capitalism, so they attach capitalist conditionalities to their aid. That’s the sting of the “Beggars are not Choosers” policies that our governments have been following ever since independence. Now our government has been sabotaging this conditionality: for political expediency they have decided not to shed any jobs at Escom. And they are offering low prices of electricity to potential competing private sector providers, which keep them out of the market. On the other hand they decided to make the electricity user pay for this inefficiency, by raising tariffs through the roof. So now we have the inefficiency of our Malawian Politicians combined with the pricing strategy of the American donors, and we get the worst of both worlds. Black outs, load shedding, as well as the highest electricity tariffs in the region. Our politicians are treating jobs at para-statals like Escom as rewards for political support, not as heavy responsibilities that need to be checked, accountable to the population, and subject to dismissal in case of non-performance. So the top dogs at Escom can be corrupt, inefficient and incompetent if they like. They only need to supply political support to the powers that be.
The victim is the population: most have no electricity connection at all, and those who do are dealing with bad quality and high prices.
Recently Jimmy Kainja wrote an article about corruption, in which he states that the population does not object against corruption because corruption has become normal. This is a chicken-and-egg reasoning: it is also the case that corruption has become normal because the population does not object effectively against it.
How then should we stop it? My proposal is: civil disobedience. We need to stay peaceful, for a civil war would be as bad as the corruption that is attacking us now. But we need to force the corrupt powers out of corruption. At the moment those in power have an interest in remaining corrupt, so they will keep doing it as they can.
Civil disobedience is an organized disobedience that puts the powers that be (the state powers) under pressure. This can take the form of mass demonstrations (which are legal, but often still the government tries to stop them illegally, or unarmed demonstrators are shot to death as the Bingu Administration did to 20 of our comrades in 2011). Or defying government orders. Sit ins, especially in high profile locations like the entrance to the Parliament or the entrance to the State House. Refusal to comply with bad regulation is another way. As I wrote recently, NGOs are en masse refusing to submit their financial administration to the NGO Board, because the NGO Board has no business with this information. And because 90% of the NGOs are refusing, it is impossible for the NGO Board to close them: this would cause huge protests from the population. This is an important lesson: together we stand, divided we fall. For more ways of effectively implementing civil disobedience we should look to Mahatma Gandhi, who defied the British colonial authorities and achieved independence for India as early as 1947 (a decade before any African country!). Also important is Dr Martin Luther King, who used civil disobedience in the USA against racism and for civil rights for ethnic minorities (mostly African Americans). There was state violence against the civil rights activists, but the activists were trained in non-violent resistance, and in the end they won. The US South was mostly integrated. We need to employ similar tactics to force the endemic corruption out of our government system (and other parts of society like the private sector and NGO sector, too!)