Young Tanzanian switching on rural areas with solar energy

 George Mtemahanji - Copyright: http://www.modenatoday.it
George Mtemahanji – Copyright: http://www.modenatoday.it

“In Africa it is difficult because when I start talking with people about our company and solar solutions, they often look at us like we can’t be taken seriously just because we are young,” he explained.

“It is really stressful for young people to build businesses on the continent because there are many stereotypes about us.”

His advice to other young entrepreneurs facing similar challenges is not to let it prevent them from getting up every day and trying their best to achieve their dreams.

“If we do not believe in ourselves, no one can believe in us. So we must have self-confidence.”

Young Tanzanian switching on rural areas with solar energy

Saudi Oil Minister Will Not Cut Oil Production

http://uk.businessinsider.com/r-saudis-naimi-says-opec-will-not-cut-output-however-far-oil-falls-mees-2014-12

With the oil shortages Malawi has experienced in the past( and here it must be said that the shortage was caused by donors withdrawal of budget support), if the price of crude falls below $40 a barrel, it would be prudent if the authorities in Malawi took advantage of this rare state of events to prevent future oil shortages.
Ideally a bigger more modern refinery as is being built in Zambia would measurably help the economy. But failing that, an increase in fuel reserves would do just fine.
While I’m not too sure of the legality of large millions-of-gallons sized oil reserves, I’d imagine creation of additional diesel and petrol reserves could go a long way into assisting motorists and industry with an insurance policy should we experience another donor-created fuel shortage in Malawi in the future.
For argument’s sake, let’s say  additional storage reserves for the equivalent of around 9 months of fuel in each major city was created….I’m struggling to find a reason why that would be a bad thing, except that if the price fell lower, we’d have paid more for our oil.
While said reserves would be taking account of the present fuel usage only(discounting future increased fuel usage – which is not easy to predict ),  even if prices fell lower than the current $60 a barrel, it would probably help Malawi in preventing an acute and sudden fuel shortage by creating a buffer in which, faced with a similar crisis as that which Malawi faced in 2012, the government would have a short breathing space to find a solution to the shortage.

Kenya receives loan from African Development Bank for Last Mile Electricity Connectivity project

Remember my post here about 10 things President Peter Mutharika could do to help Malawians? Remember the part about the Malawian government applying for a developmental loan from the African Development Bank and / or a few select countries?

Well, look at what Kenya has done:

AfDBIn case you wanted to find out how much 12.2 billion Kenyan shilling is, as of today, its equivalent to US$134 million

KesOr as the African Development Bank (AfDB) itself puts it on their website,here, US$133 million when the loan was approved. Still a decent sum I think, which if properly utilised can go a long way.

According to the AfDB:

..the funds will finance the Last Mile Connectivity Project that aims to maximise the use of the Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s (KPLC) 35,000 existing distribution transformers spread across the country. The total project cost is estimated at US $147 million, with the Government of Kenya contributing the remaining US $14 million.

..

The Last Mile project has three components: (i) construction of the distribution network including installation of energy meters for the connection of residential and commercial customers; (ii) project supervision and management; and (ii) capacity-building activities, which include training KPLC technical staff to operate and maintain the distribution system.

The proposed project will cover the entire country with selected transformers in 47 counties and expected to directly benefit low income groups, largely in counties with the lowest penetration rate. At least 314,200 customers, which would translate into approximately 1,571,000 people, will have access to electricity. By providing increased electricity access, the project will contribute to improved living standards among targeted households in terms of education, health and access to information. As for small businesses within the project area, the project will also help increase their competitiveness and ability to expand activities.

Excellent. A connected and powered Africa is a stronger Africa. Great stuff. Good for them!

 

Malawi school authority chosen as finalist for Zayed Future Energy Prize

Authority aims to establish a centre to train rural inhabitants in installing and using solar power

In one of the regions of the world where only a handful of residents have access to electricity, a proposal has been put forward to train students and community members about solar lighting use and development.

The initiative will establish a centre to train rural inhabitants in installing and using solar power, and has been initiated by the School Authority in the Nkhata Bay district in Malawi.

Because of its innovation and potential for promoting global sustainability through this project, the Authority has been selected as one of the finalists under the global high school category for the Zayed Future Energy Prize….

More at Malawi school authority chosen as finalist for Zayed Future Energy Prize

Global 100 Voices: No 7 (Part 1)

My next guest is a true son of Malawi and a businessman who has done remarkably well for himself and his family. Based in South Africa, he is the founder and CEO of the Ulalo Group of companies, who have operations in South Africa, Malawi and China. He has a great desire to see Malawi and Malawians advance, grow and become economically independent, and I must say his experience in this regard is something we can all learn from. Mr Joshua Chisa Mbele, thank you for doing the 100 Voices interview.

[Note- this particular interview is a transcription of an audio file which will be available from this website soon]

Thank you very much for having me, my name is Joshua, Joshua Mbele, a Malawian by birth, I come from Salima, I’ve stayed in South Africa for almost 24 years, I’m married here, I have got kids, here, I have got businesses here and also in Malawi, I also have operations in China. I came to South Africa in 1989 or somewhere there, to seek I’d say I was an ‘economic refugee’; I was looking for greener pastures. Coming in 1980’s early 90’s it was not easy to settle in South Africa as you can imagine, it was a white South Africa, but I tried my luck, and persisted, buried my ways and settled, that’s the background. In terms of Malawi, I went to Robert Blake sec school, I went to Malawi Polytechnic to do Mechanical Engineering, and then I came here both to work and to pursue education. Today I am a fully fledged business person. As I indicated, I do have businesses in Malawi, I think if I’m not mistaken, I was the first Malawian who took hard-cash in terms of US$4 million then to invest in Malawian telecommunication industry, I have also invested in other sectors of the economy, we hold shares in Sunbird hotels, we hold shares in Mpico, we also hold shares in other sectors of interest and are still looking for opportunities in Malawi. Thank you.

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1.     As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

The socio-economic stability of Malawi to me is of paramount importance. As you know that the building blocks of the society is a family, that’s the root. Now, where there is economic havoc, you have unstable family structures. To have a stable economy also stabilises family lifestyles. A family which is skilled, which has got a father and a mother as professionals, which can send their kids to school and educate them adequately, which can put food at the table every evening, it means that it has got a more meaningful role to play in the economy, an active family is a productive family. A productive family is part of a productive community, it’s part of a productive society, and the two, the productive society and social economic environment of the country, the stability of it are integral to each other, so it is very important that we stabilise both the social and political environment in Malawi. For me as a family person and as a business person those are fundamentals that we need most.

2.     After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain?

Well, that’s very true…in chatting with my friends; I normally refer to myself as a founding father, to the amusement of many, what I mean by that, not that I founded the Malawi nation,  but I try to say that I was born just before the dawn of independent Malawi, because I was born in 1964, I’m as old as Malawi itself. Now, I know for sure that I have grown up seeing Malawi, we’ve grown up together I’d say so, from the dawn of the independence, Malawi made quite a lot of significant inroads, or there was significant tangible development so to speak, just to give you brief outline of that, since 1964, Malawi embarked on to be an agricultural country and Dr Banda established so many farms, tobacco, maize, cotton. We already had the established tea industries in Thyolo and Mulanje, and he went on to plant the forestry, you remember the Chikangawa forestry in the North, and not only that, he revamped what was then Farmers Marketing Board (FMB), into a corporate commercial ‘ADMARC’, which was there to serve both the growers and the market. It was the meeting point. And in terms of the infrastructure, things do speak for themselves. We upgraded what was the colonial rail from Luchenza, Nsanje, Blantyre, Salima, and later on, it was extended from Salima to Lilongwe and Mchinji under the Malawi Canada project. And also from Machinga, going out to Mozambique to Nacala port. We also had the development of the lakeshore road, not forgetting the Kamuzu International Airport. We should also not forget that Malawi established its own University of Malawi with the constituencies of Chancellor College, Bunda College, Kamuzu college of Nursing, Malawi Polytechnic  and he also planned for school of Medicine; those were Dr. Banda’s plans, not to mention the movement of the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, to centralise administration. But, after 1994, the advent of the multiparty democracy, which I welcomed so much, to some extent we downplayed the development that we had, we did not insist to maintain the momentum of development, it seems that we threw away the bucket together with the dirty water, because we slowed down, from 94 to-date, very small tangible infrastructure projects that have taken place, compared to what Malawi achieved, from 64 to 1994, so there was progress during the era of the Dr. Banda and we have slowed down in development, even the quality of education has gone down, so  those are some of the areas that we need to look at very carefully; we can look at the congestion on the roads, roads with potholes, we can look at the dilapidated universities and schools, we can talk of the empty hospitals without medications, the clinics … up to now Malawians do not have continuous supply of electricity, not everybody has got access to clean running water. These are the basics that we should have had by now 50 years down the line, but we are still struggling, even worse we have fallen behind with our agricultural outputs, we are now a begging nation, no longer self-sufficient.

3. In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

That’s a good question. I would start by saying that first, I’m not a public administrator but I would try as much as I can to define the role of the government from my personal perspective, experience as a citizen, and also experience as a business person. The government is there to take care of the social welfare of anybody that lives in the land, take care of the environment, okay; Now with that in mind, we need to bear that the first and foremost the duty of the government is to uplift the lives of its citizens; how can the government do that? That is by putting economic policies, okay, based on stable political environment, to make sure that there is tangible progress in the economy, because economy governs everybody, it also governs politics of the day; if we’ve got policies that are conducive for economic growth, the multiply effect is shared benefits for everybody, now the government role in this regard is to facilitate progress, prosperity and development; in our case to make sure that policies are in place that invites and ‘water’ the development of businesses from ‘nobody’ into ‘smaller businesses’, ‘smaller businesses’ into ‘medium businesses’, ‘medium businesses’ into bigger businesses’, that should be the trick; Private public partnership another aspect, where the government invites the private sector and say: look, these are the sectors that we would like to develop, it’s not the duty of the government alone, we want the private sector to come and join hands, here is an axe, lets join hands, so that we mobilise resources jointly and tackle the challenge together, so that we realise the benefit as a nation.

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4. As someone who has lived outside Malawi for a few years and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what things in your present country of residence have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

Yes, that is very true, just a bit of a background; That as much as I’ve stayed in South Africa for so long, but I’ve reached South Africa as a spring-board. My profession took me from working for one big company to another big company; with this I had an opportunity in my areas where I worked with BHP Billiton, BHP Billiton is the largest mining company under the sun. And with them I travelled to countries and worked in those countries, for example I worked in Belgium and France, to master the aluminium technology with the Pechney company for their latest technologies, and I worked in Kwazulu-Natal for that. After that I left South Africa and went to the US to pursue some of my ambitions, so I know what life looks like in the US, I was in Miami for some time, and I commuted between Miami and Atlanta, Georgia.  But when I delved into my private business, I did consulting, in my consulting field I worked for telecommunication industries; I worked for companies like MTN South Africa, MTN Nigeria and I also worked for companies that develop the software, I happen to also work with that company in Athens, to do the Application developments for telecommunication industries, so I have seen quite a lot, I have absorbed a lot, to observe how ‘catchers’, and ordinary citizens behaviour to influence the economic development. Today I am in China, I understand where China is coming from. In 1949 it was the poorest, today it is the second largest economy under the sun. What is it that other nations are doing that we are not doing?  First and foremost is the access to skills, if we cannot develop our own skills, forget about any development, secondly innovation, creativity, skills development as a priority in whatever we do. We must re-align our educational curriculum to our prerogatives as to where we want to take the country in the next 20, 30 years; science and technology, very important; we cannot do anything without such skills.  Now, my observation is that we are lacking behind because we still believe in the ‘I am going to school so that I can be employed as a manager, as a supervisor, I’m hoping to be appointed as a CEO’ No! Each one of us, every Malawian is a CEO in his or her own right. If anybody [among] us has a hunger to succeed, we should be able to create our own jobs, and employ others. Examples are there in China, China is a thriving economy, it is solidly built on small businesses, of course there are big businesses [in china]; look at Brazil, look at India, you know, there is no major intellectual difference between them and us, it’s simply the attitude, we can be just like any other nation, which was once the poorest and today is one of the most successful. Just in History, just to compare Apples with Apples, Malawi and Singapore in 1964 were in the same basket; President Lee and President Banda were friends. Actually Lee visited Dr Banda in Malawi, in his book he (Lee) said [something in the lines of]: ‘One of my best friends which I visited was a country that was also under the British rule, Malawi’…the difference between Singapore and Malawi was the attitude of the citizens and commitment to develop themselves, long-term plans, long –term strategies, today Singapore is a first world [country], Malawi still remains the poorest under the sun, so the attitude, the drive from the government, skills development, access to resources, partnership, those things are key to take the country forward.

more-art golf early days

5.  When you last visited Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?

I go to Malawi very often, as I indicated that I do have businesses in Malawi so almost every year; in the recent past I used to go to Malawi almost every other month. I’ve seen the change of guards from the UDF government, 2004, to Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika, I must say I recommended him, he started very well, he did quite a lot of good work, he improved the road networks in the country, he had his own vision and I recommended him, I complimented him, you might be interested to know that I had a meeting with Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika on the 20th August 2007 at the state house, where he narrated his vision for Malawi by heart, which road will be linking which one, what building will be wherethe expanding of  Lilongwe capital city reaching the frontiers of the Kamuzu Central Hospital, creating the five-star hotels, building the new stadia,  the highways, I was very impressed, and true to that word, when you go to Malawi today, the skyline of Lilongwe has changed, you cannot miss the Malawi parliament, you cannot miss the five-star hotels, you cannot miss the convention centre, you cannot miss the road, the presidential drive that takes you from the city centre to area 18, the roundabout, it’s quite beautiful. And the roads connecting the other rural areas, Chitipa, Karonga road is there, in the south there are a number of roads going from Blantyre to Mulanje…, those are developments that happened under his first term of office. But as usual, things changed, things changed for the worse, apparently he decided also to reward himself, so what was intended for Malawi became for himself, and things went wrong I must say and its only today that we realise to what extent things went wrong, but he started very well, there is evidence to that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t like that at the end.

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5b. I note that in your description of your encounter with the late Bingu Wa Mutharika, you haven’t touched on anything to do with industrialisation – did Bingu’s plan have anything to do with increasing Malawi’s industrial output?]

I’m here to make an honest and objective assessment. If Dr Bingu drove his vision, the way he articulated everything, in the earlier days of his presidency, he was on the road to achieve that. What happened later on is that when things started going wrong, companies that were supposed to expand or small businesses that were supposed to grow were wiped out, one, It was difficult for people to have access to Forex to import machinery or to import raw materials, but most importantly, he played a cronyism card such that only those connected to his regime were developing; Now, you cannot develop a country based on family framework, or friends framework, it doesn’t work.

[Part B coming soon]

100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.

Global 100 Voices: No 4

My next guest is a good friend and a brother who I have known for many years. Based in London, he is a true son of Malawi, and someone who I genuinely believe has a bright future ahead of him. Yet it was only recently that I discovered just how much passion and ‘fire’ he has for Africa. Mr James Woods-Nkhutabasa, thanks for doing the Global 100 Voices Interview!

[ Brief profile: James has several years’ of communications experience working for public and private organisations, in promoting achievement in African leadership, issues concerning global governance and development. He is also one of the founding members of Diaspora Capital LLP (dCAP), a members investment club which seeks to make socially impactful investments in Africa ]
  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

I believe a socio-economic stable environment is beneficial not only for the nation only provided government can create an arena of good governance, accountability, transparency and no corruption. This is also attractive for investors.

  1. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence?

The visible progress for me is that Malawi is now a democratic nation, people have more access to goods and are also more connected due to the digital revolution. On the downside Malawi is still fighting the goals set at independence and poverty levels remain high. We still have a long way to go.  Maybe regional integration is key to addressing this weakness through the delivery of wider social and economic benefits that would benefit the country and drive its development further. We need to stop thinking of Malawi as a single unit but think of it as a major part of the remaining 53 nations on the continent. Only then will we sing our success story. But we need to get our house in order first.

recycleds      3. In your view, what pressing challenges remain and what should Malawi aspire towards?

Malawi, similarly to other African countries is facing major corruption issues and a lack of good governance. Our parliament is also filled with recycled politicians – what I aptly name – ‘The Kamuzu/Muluzi Giants’. It seems to me that our politicians change allegiances as much as they change suits. The political world, leading a nation, serving your people should be a vocation or ‘a calling’ but not a pension, as it currently seems to be for some.

Malawi should aim to be a success story in good governance.

  1. In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government in tackling those challenges?

Create an environment of patriotism, transparency and competence. The government needs to remember that they are there to serve their people: men, women and children and thus to run the country accordingly as it is their responsibility. We need strong leadership and this can be achieved collectively, through government and civil society. Malawi needs an enlightened and dedicated sort of leadership that looks forward and not backward. Most importantly get the right sort of people involved in government.

  1. As someone who has lived outside Malawi for several years and hopefully been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what things in your country of residence have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

The competitive work ethic and drive that people have in London is absolutely brilliant. People have the desire and resilience to achieve the best possible outcome. This has taught me to continuously improve to keep up with this ‘rat race’ and be able to be significant in the growth and development of the nation.

  1. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?

Malawi has extremely bright individuals who can contribute great things for the nation. The leadership needs to promote an open society – welcoming of all and not based on ethnicity, tribe or social standing, but instead on what you can offer to drive forward development.

  1. If you have recently visited Malawi, what struck you most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?

The amount of women and youth trying to make a living through a business; truly inspiring to see the entrepreneurial spirit and a can-do attitude, be it selling vegetables on the side of the road to managing small wholesalers. It is really amazing at how they have adopted technology such as the use of mobile phones to sell and place orders. This has inspired me.

  1. What struck you most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

I believe the lack of good educational standards and opportunities have really been under-played. Youth are the future of Malawi, the leaders of tomorrow; they are being frustrated by the lack of opportunities and a lack good of education. These youth can be a curse or a blessing and rather sadly it has been a curse on the nation with increased criminal activity. If we do not invest in the youth and create jobs how are we to have a good future? Without the right investment we will continue to face the same problems of corruption, poor leadership and bad governance.

  1. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges?

I think we need a bit of the positive characteristics that our past and present leaders have shown but most importantly we need a leader who has an entrepreneurial spirit, a socio-entrepreneurial impactful spirit. We as African’s are natural-born entrepreneurs…we need a leader who will use an entrepreneurial approach to create sustainable development and leadership in so doing promoting a culture of hard-working, ambitious young people to drive forward development. A leader who has innovative ideas and simply not just focussing on what has been done, but looking at what can be done. We need a leader who will deal with disparities in wealth that exist between the poor, the middle class and the rich. High on their specification will be better business and financial acumen, infrastructure, education, employment and better health services.

  1.  Specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of sustainable development and reducing aid dependency?

I believe aid is still vital to Malawi for the next few years at least, but our president needs to really focus on the fruit of a stronger regional economic integration across the continent; and build economies of scale to enable Malawi and Africa to better compete in the global economy. Malawi seems to be attracting a lot of investors to the vast minerals in the country ranging from bauxite, gold, limestone (marble), monazite, niobium and uranium…then we’ve got oil and agriculture. The key aspect to ensuring the leadership moves away from aid dependency is to create a strong and efficient financial system that could support high levels of investment…also the need to eliminate the tax breaks these foreign investors have in the country as we are losing millions of US dollars annually.

Malawi can have a wonderful future. By strengthening its financial and legal systems respectively, and focusing on regional integration, Malawi has the potential to become one of Africa’s fastest growing economy by the end of this decade provided that political stability, social protection, quality education, private sector and good governance are implemented.

  1. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry – which is our biggest source of export revenue– in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?

There is a major problem by relying on tobacco. Let us look at the bigger picture – tobacco farming is a major employer in Malawi where it employs 70% of the nations workforce – in terms of providing a living to the population it plays a big part.

The country does need to diversify and not only focus on tobacco as the international controls on tobacco are surely having or going to have an effect on the economy.

I think a strong emphasis should remain on agriculture produce such as tea, coffee, macadamia nuts, groundnuts, sugar, cotton, soya and timber. The potential for agribusiness is there but we need the right mentality in promoting good practice to increase efficiency and bring in investment and expertise to help scale up production but also go into agroprocessing, where higher prices for commodities can be achieved.

Infrastructure development is vital for Malawi’s economy to flourish. There is a need for better roads, airports and aviation, rail, ICT, water and sanitation.

Stronger focus on the extractive industries and corporate realisation of Malawi’s objectives in oil found in Lake Malawi. Mining currently accounts for only around 2% of GDP, with tobacco, sugar and tea remaining the main exports by value, but we all know the short and long-term potential of the mining industry if we play our cards right.

Tourism is another sector to focus on. This would bring the needed foreign exchange and foreign direct investment and importantly raise the profile of the nation as truly ‘the warm heart of Africa’. I do not know if you are aware but Malawi was recently crowned runners up in the 2012 Safari Awards “Best Africa Tourist Board” beaten by Kenya. This is definitely an important space.

12. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?

Malawi, is still too fragile to sustain herself – as mentioned earlier I believe once the powers that be start developing the nation, attracting more investors and regional integration is in place Malawi will be on the right path to stand with the rest of Africa as partners and not rely on these international bodies.

13. How do you think the government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?

Problems are there, such as issues to do with mining legislation. The main legislation governing mining is the Mines and Minerals Act 1981.

The Mines and Minerals Act 1981 states that companies operating in Malawi need to employ and train local staff but this is left at the discretion of the company, thus local workforce are often found to be losing out. There is lack of regulation, think of the people who are displaced by the mining companies? There is no protection for these people – regulatory framework for resettlement only requires compensation to be given for land, livestock etc…but nothing is in place to give those people back land of same quality. Most people living in villages where these mines are based do not own the land through purchase but through living there for generations thus when the mining companies come, these people are evicted and not titled to any compensation. Most importantly there is a lack of transparency – mining companies are not revealing their profits in line with expenditure and taxes. The mining companies are not required by Malawi government to reveal their spending in Malawi.  

14. Can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so how?

Government needs to address the points I’ve just raised and ensure something is done to curb this behaviour of secrecy. They need to tighten legislation, this will be achieved by revising the Mines and Mineral Act 1981 – I understand that this is being done.

15. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

African governments need to be accountable to their citizens. The responsibility for dealing with corruption and transparency falls equally on all parties from governments and donors, to civil society and citizens. We all have to fight to ensure we can develop better leadership with the tools of good governance.

We have to remember, when we the people have information; we have the power to hold our leaders and governments accountable to improve the systems, tackle corruption and have transparency.

16. Any famous last words?

Let’s continue driving our country and continent forward. In the words of Kwame Nkrumah ‘’We face neither East nor West: we face forward’’.

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The Kayelekera Uranium Mine and Economic Development in Malawi

Uraninite-218648

The Kayelekera Uranium Mine and Economic Development in Malawi  [external link]

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The Waste within Gluttony

burn burn burn
burn burn burn

His name was Ahmed and we met in a coffee shop in Withington. One of those chance and quick encounters.

I was waiting for someone, browsing through a second hand copy of Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, which I had just picked up in a charity shop nearby, when he came over to my table. He introduced himself and asked what I was reading. I offered him a seat and showed it to him, and as he browsed through it, he told me he was a researcher at Manchester University and had been in the UK for a number of years with his young family. That he would return home to Saudi Arabia soon. And thats when he began complaining.

“They burn gas in Saudi Arabia” he said matter of factly “Not selling it, not keeping it, not putting it in cans [i thought he meant canisters] or just containing it, no they just burn it, into the air-just like that” he said with a hint of frustration. I pushed out any thoughts of greenhouse gas effect from my mind, since in burning it, there was carbon di oxide released unreservedly into the atmosphere.

“They can channel it to the people, they saving them bills” Ahmed continued, in the best of his english. “The King is 90 years old and there is infighting in the royal family” he said. I checked this, and it turns out there is [1, 2]. Also, for some reason, Saudi royals always bring to mind thoughts of obesity. Most of them look overweight.

“Its not even a secret, everybody in the street knows it.” He talked of the power struggle murders in the royal family, which I had a vague memory of reading about at some point. He thought it would happen again in his lifetime.”They are finished, I know this, it will bring them down”

“The end of the dictatorship altogether?” I asked

“Yes” he said confidently “maybe within the next 3 – 5 years.”

We compared notes. Africa vs Saudi Arabia. Pluses and minuses. Challenges and opportunities. Our own goals. Myself – an Engineer, he – a social scientist. He admitted that Africa had a lot of potential, much greater than Saudi Arabia’s, but that “we don’t know it and it looks like there are too many inefficiencies, with corruption here, dictator there…” he said. He feared the wastage occuring in Saudi was happening in Africa and the poorest were suffering, but that if we were united in tackling African challenges we would build a very prosperious continent.

“Because you have everything, Saudi is just one massive dessert, with oil wells all over, but you have everything, the forests, the lakes, the rivers, fresh water fish, wildlife, young people, everything”

I assured him that while there was great potential, wastage was indeed everywhere, and the lack of vision was depressing.

He expressed  concern regarding the plight of young people in Saudi Arabia, use of force against citizens and interestingly mentioned “clerics” as the stumbling block.

“You would think they know, better” he said pausing before the word “better”.

“Taking a higher moral ground?” I asked him, thinking more in terms of not collaborating with the power blocs at the expense of the people.

“No, not that. They tell people that the king is chosen by God so you must not protest against him because it’s not right and God does not approve of protesting, that it is against their religion to protest. And people listen, people don’t know what their religion says. They haven’t read the koran. So they listen” At that point, I began thinking about the role faith ministers play in Malawian society.

“That way effectively cementing the rule of the wasteful and murderous regime” I said

“Exactly, which is why there was no real arab spring in Saudi.” said Ahmed

At that point, my friend entered the coffee shop. We exchanged numbers with Ahmed, him promising to give me a call sometime to ask advice for a wifi project he was considering. As he left I told him I had links with a company in Lithuania that made wifi devices – that I’d be happy to talk with him about it. Then he was gone.