LED lights: the way to go.



A few years ago we switched from incandescent lights to energy savers. Which saved 80% on our electricity for lights. Now there is new technology available: LED lights, which are twice as efficient as energy savers. So switching to them is good for your pocket. But also it is the patriotic thing to do: every watt you do not use is available for others, cutting down on load shedding and black outs.


You can buy an LED light at Game for MK 650. I bought them for my security lights and calculated: If my security lights are on for 12 hours a day I earn back the money in 10 months. Even when I throw out the energy savers I had in my security lights. But I don’t do that: I keep them as spares for other lights. Now if you use LEDs in lights that are on for shorter than 12 hours a day you will earn your money back slower, but you will. Also LED lights last 2.5 times as long as energy savers, so you are better off in every respect. And how much is an investment of MK 650 anyway?

Which brings me to the next idea: Escom saves 30 MW by distributing 1.2 million LED lights. Very nice, good idea. But they spend around MK 5000 per light! Eight times as much as the lights are sold for by Game. And here you see how the para statal still does not know how to run their organization. Spending 8 times the money the private cat-led-bulbssector spends on a light is just over the top. When a government organisation or para statal gets involved in a project, suddenly the costs soar (as minister Kumpalume noticed in connection with the state of the art cancer centre). Hangers on are looking for opportunities to go to Lakeside conferences, collect allowances, and inflate contracts for their own pocket at our expense.

Shame on ESCOM


Chakwera vs Mutharika

Leader of the Opposition Chakwera offered President Mutharika a five-point plan to improve governance. Basically it is an anti corruption plan, nothing more than that. I find that quite limited if we look at the situation in the country (shrinking economy, health care below standard, security below standard, education below standard with several universities closed, chaos at the passport desk at immigration, chaos at the road traffic department, attacks on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression the list goes on and on).

The answer from government is also telling: they do not say anything about the contents of the plan, which means they have run out of ideas. They do not say: the plan is flawed in this way and we have a better plan: that way. They say: Chakwera is frustrated. They go for the man instead of the contents.

But if we stick to the anti corruption plan: Chakwera offers five points for repression of corruption, which is important. But he forgets a whole area that can be even more effective: prevention. Prevention has several advantages over repression: it is much cheaper and does much less of an imposition on scarce resources, and above all: with repression the crime has been committed and the damage done, with prevention there is no crime to attend to in the first place. But in the end you need both for the best effect.

So how do you prevent corruption?

Everyone who took the trouble of paying attention to the issue knows (and the person who does not can fix that by reading the website of Transparency International and some blog posts by the famous blogger John K Black). Here is a short list (for the ideas of Chakwera and Mutharika):

  • A change in labour laws that make corruption a reason for immediate dismissal, even before the criminal has been convicted (convictions always take years in Malawi’s s l o w judicial system) Standard must be a repay of all illegal gains at the cost of the organization.
  • Immediate assention to the Access to Information Bill with inclusion of all documents with no time limit, and without the limiting clause that the documents must be “for the exercise of one’s rights” Any government documents that are not endangering National Security must be public. If a document is claimed to endanger National Security a strong motivation must be given.
  • Big signs in all government offices with the rights and duties of office bearers and the rights and duties of the population in Chichewa and English and where needed in the local language. The signs must show contact details for the complaints procedure. For instance in Admarc depots, for people being shortchanged when buying maize, and at roadblocks, to show which goods can freely be transported and for which ones a license is needed, and how to obtain the license.
  • Empowerment of the ACB, Fiscal Police and Financial Intelligence Unit with staff and equipment, and cars from the Presidential Convoy, together with their drivers and fuel allowances.
  • Training of the police, immigration service, road traffic and other offices perceived to be corrupt (according to the Malawian population in the TI report) with classroom training as well as role play (like Forum Theatre): what do you do if you notice corruption? Role play, the police officer can take the role of the actor playing the colleague noticing corruption.
  • A website publishing all regulations, anything left out is not legally binding. A website can be updated in real time, so this is perfectly feasible. This one will work mostly for bigger projects as the local population has limited access to internet. But for building project and such it is important. It will also attract more Direct Foreign Investment, because an investor wants to know the environment he/she invests in.
  • Overhaul of the regulatory framework: Transparency International has found one of the biggest drivers of corruption is unclear regulations and procedures. Simple regulations that are strictly enforced will level the playing field for the private sector, and limit corruption. O the other hand, the current situation with very complex regulations which are intermittently enforced produces corruption. If the individual duty bearer can decide which rule to enforce and which one to ignore, this is a recipe for corruption.
  • All regulations must have time limits, so no handouts can be solicited for quick processing of any regulation. Again there must be a clear, quick and effective complaints procedure.


The state of the State

The state in Malawi looks less and less stable. This is inherent in the type of governance we have. It creates underdevelopment, dependence and subordination to foreign interests, which in turn generate poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Our history of capitalist colonialism has lead to this situation. Africa was a continent of mostly self sufficient social units. But the colonials have introduced the destabilizing factor of  international capitalism, forcing us to produce raw materials for their industry and then buying back the products from our own materials at a premium price.


Banda did not see this situation as a fundamentally problematic one: he perpetuated the economic class relationships, but replaced the European ownership of tobacco to a local ruling class. The population suffered as before. In the tea plantations, he largely left the Colonial Masters in place. Now the population was being robbed doubly: the former colonial power still paid low prices, but also the local elite was taking a cut from the surplus value, lowering the workers share even further. The  abject poverty of the population is only worsening in recent years, inequality keeps rising (check the GINI coefficient!).

With growing access to media and advertisements the expectations of the population are growing while their purchasing power is eaten up by the local and international elite. This post-colonial experience is frustrating the population more and more, and this frustration will find a channel of communication, most likely first in banditry, and later in organized resistance (which does not necessarily need to be violent, think of the peaceful  land invasions in Thyolo).

The population demands three things:

  1. an elimination of excessive and rising inequality between the happy few and the masses. This requires a fundamental overhaul of the capitalist/feudal relations that currently exist in Malawi.
  2. a reasonable level of services from the government in exchange for its taxes
  3. a reasonable standard of living.

The enigma for government is that the conditions which support its hegemony are exactly the same as those that make it impossible to fulfill the rightful demands of the population: the corruption and inefficiency in delivering services to the population are the exact mechanisms that enable the ruling class to enrich itself. And these do not only undermine the government services, but also limit the expansion of surplus value generated by the population. This is the reason the local ruling class in Malawi relied heavily on foreign aid to finance its material excesses. Now that the foreign aid is being limited, the local ruling class is not giving up an inch of its privileges, and passing on the burden to the population. Never before has the population of Malawi suffered at this level.

So far the ruling class has been mostly successful in preventing political translation of these rightful demands: political parties are all conservative, supporting the hegemony of the capitalist/feudal ruling class at the expense of the population. It seems the ruling class is keeping the margins narrow, so they can keep on extracting the surplus value from the population. Nominally we have multi-party politics, but the electorate does not have a choice in the direction they want the country to go: all parties keep things the same (despite rhetoric). This renders multi-party democracy meaningless, and just another perpetuation of the one-party type politics of extraction of surplus value from the population. In fact, our politics have been depoliticized, which renders democracy an empty slogan.

While this may seem to enhance stability, the opposite is true:

The only politics happening are the struggles over state power between the different factions of the ruling class. With this, the opposing interests of the different classes in society keep growing, and the impoverishment of the population is worsened, destabilizing state power.

If the population’s demands are not translated politically, the barrel will boil over at some (not too distant) moment, and we may be looking at a situation much more violent than the 20 July 2011 mass demonstrations. We could be looking at whole sale revolt, with disastrous repercussions for the majority of the population.


Electricity whoos, and the solution for Malawi

(see also: escom, black outs)

We can take an example from Norway in our electricity. The Norwegians, just like us, use a lot of hydro power. They combine this with a lot of wind energy.

The drawback of wind energy is: the wind does not always blow. Solar has the same: the sun does not always shine. Malawi is much more suited to solar due to its tropical location: the sun is much stronger here, producing much more energy per solar panel.

So how do the Norwegians solve this timing problem: they use hydro when they do not have enough renewables. When there is too little wind, they start up their hydro power plants, which typically takes minutes. When there is enough wind to make power, they shut off the hydro, so the water level in their reservoir goes up, and they have enough hydro power when they need it.


This same we can apply here, to both wind and solar: the levels in lake Malawi are so low now (due to el Nino and climate change) that we do not have enough electricity, and thus we have black outs and load shedding, causing losses of efficiency in the business sector and inconvenience at house hold level.  Also it causes more people to use charcoal, which contributes significantly to deforestation, which again contributes to climate change, both world wide and locally.

What does our para statal Escom do? It plans a coal fired power plant! This is the dirtiest dirty_powerenergy (apart from nuclear) that does exist. It is expensive: you have to keep buying fuel. Renewables, once installed, are cheap: they take only maintenance, but no fuel. Solar takes even less maintenance than hydro.

The coal fired power plant has not been built, we can cancel it. We can install wind and solar instead. And have enough water in lake Malawi and the rivers for the green belt irrigation plan, as well as for electricity. Wind and solar energy can be installed relatively quickly: it need not take more than two years from the first plans to the electricity being produced. Escom, do it!

How to deal with the State

Contribution by C. Companyero

The state is based on violence. There is always a threat: if you do not do as the State demands, you will be locked up or hit by a man with a stick.
If you use your constitutional right to expression and assembly, the state sends its representatives with sticks, tear gas and live ammo.
The State is an instrument of oppression by the powerful. They do not even play by the rules: they are above the law themselves. We all know how politicians gain wealth beyond their means.
Confronting the State head on may not be the best option: their methods of violence are much more violent than anything we can muster. Think of the murder of twenty of ours on 20 July 2011. And then we did not even confront the State head on, we only exercised our constitutional rights.
In meetings after 20 July, the organizers met a police force threatening with even more lethal violence in case the demonstrators would continue to exercise their rights. (“Our tear gas is finished, so we are going to use live ammunition from the first moment”) The organizers then decided to cancel follow up demonstrations. We can understand their considerations. But we also need to consider the daily lethal violence that kills people on a day to day basis: our drugs are stolen even before they reach the hospitals, there is no disaster preparedness so flood victims are suffering lethal hunger and exposure to the elements. You name it, it is happening. Set that off against the violence when we alert authorities of the mess they are creating, and we see the true face of the State: violence to protect the privileges of the few.
Confronting them head on is dangerous and may not be effective. What can we do instead?
I propose to create our own spaces, withdrawn from the influence of the State. Stay outside the formal economy, stay outside the tax system that funds the oppression. Form our own collectives (or soviets in the terms of Chilembwe Liberation). Cooperate and stay outside the ineffective and corrupt State machinery. We do not get rich, but we do gain a certain level of freedom, and we can undermine the power by ignoring it, rather than confronting it.

Save our democracy from the Speaker!

When speaker of Parliament Msowoya warned our Parliament to not let petitioners close, hrichard-msowoyae did a bad service to democracy.

In a democracy, Parliamentarians are supposed to carry out the will of the people. But in Malawi (as elsewhere) this does often not happen. So the population needs to remind the Parliamentarians why they are there. And in the worst case be able to recall them. (This was promised by DPP in their manifesto but after elections their manifesto was forgotten and they went pursuing their personal gain).

malawi-parliamentWe need to get close to our Parliamentarians and be able to pressure them to do what we voted them in for, not what brings them personal profit. So we need to get close to our representatives, and we do not need a Speaker to interfere with this process, petitioning MPs is a necessary part of democracy.

Obviously the security reason cited by the speaker was nonsense: at no point in the process was anybody in any way of danger, the speaker was just separating the MPs from the population they are supposed to represent.


BAD WEEK for Msowoya.