Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ending the use of paraffin by 2020 with Solar Aid and Sunny Money

It is estimated that over 110 million households, translating 600 million people in Africa have no access to Electricity. In Malawi, only 7% of the population has access to electricity. The other 93% use paraffin (kerosene) to light their homes. Even though it is used by a majority of the population, paraffin is known to be a dangerous fuel, a major cause of home accidents, is expensive, and is not a healthy option. Paraffin's impact on climate change is also well documented.

Imagine a world without Kerosene! This is an ambitious goal of one leading international charity organisation, SolarAid. Founded in 2006 by Jeremy Leggett a British green-energy entrepreneur, author and activist who is also a founder and chairman of Solarcentury, the UK’s largest independent solar electric company and Chairman of the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

Solar Aid is operating in five African countries of Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi through a wholly owned social initiative, Sunny Money. Sunny Money was founded in 2008 to be part of an innovative charitable model that takes a business approach in tackling poverty and climate change.

In Africa, Sunny Money is offering a low cost, safe, clean and brighter alternative to the use of paraffin. they have a wide range of solar lamps that are being distributed in the five countries through a well coordinated network of schools and agents. As of 28th September 2014, 1,340, 490 solar lamps have been sold according to their website.

In Malawi, Sunny Money is working with the Ministry of Education and a team of agents across the Central and Northern Region of Malawi. According to the Operations Director, Francois Gordon, in the 2014 country report (PDF), 22,800 lights were sold in 2013 translating into 125,000 people accessing clean, bright and safe light. 52,000 people accessed better health because of the reduced use of kerosene. It is also estimated that 74 million hours extra study time for children using solar lights for homework was achieved.

There are several types of solar lamps on sale in Malawi with prices ranging from 10USD(MK4,000) to 140USD (MK56,000) with a minimum of one year warranty. It is very cheaper to use one of these solar lamps because it is a one off payment unlike kerosene which is bought almost every time it is needed. A research (PDF)conducted by the Sunny Money team in its communities concluded that:

• Solar lights save money, reducing their cost-of-living by 10-20% monthly (an average of $117/year)

• Increased income – significant positive impact on productivity and income generation

• Increased study time, children are able to study after dark resulting in two or more extra hours a per night

• Improved health – reduced exposure to kerosene’s toxic fumes, reduction in coughing, eye irritation and risk of burns

• Environmental benefits - reduced CO2 emission (released when burning kerosene) and improvements in quality of ambient (indoor) air

credits: pictures from solaraid and sunnymoney websites, facts from Malawi country report and sunnymoney media kit.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cars265, lets you buy cars online, in Malawi

Malawians have been buying cars online for some years now. Despite being too involving and risky, Malawians have been going through the laborious process in order to own their dream cars. It has not been an easy way. Some have lost money along the way, some have received damaged cars or even a different kind from the one they ordered online. Not anymore!

Cars265 is a Malawian owned website that aims to sell old and new cars within Malawi. The website is an easy to use site that shows various types of vehicles on sale. The prices are quoted in Kwacha. According to Dingaan Whayo the Marketing Manager of Cars265, the price shown on the site is the real price of the car. There is no need to pay shipping costs, registration, duty or any hidden costs as the vehicles are already registered. The site uses seven search options including minimum price, body type and location within Malawi.

The coming in of Cars265 follows plans by a Japanese selling company, Beforward, to open an office in Lilongwe to manage he growing market of used cars in Malawi. However this move was no well received by some small scale used car sellers in Malawi. The sellers have been thriving their businesses in importing cars from Japan, Dubai, etc and selling them at higher prices in Malawi.

Over the years Malawians have been importing cars from Japan and Dubai online through companies like Beforward. The cars are delivered the port of Dar es Salaam or Durban. Durban is no longer a popular port since the South African government issued a directive that all in transit imported cars should be ferried on vehicle carriers up to Beitbridge. This pushed the cost of transporting the car from the port.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Malawi : Whither Secession or Federation

During my secondary school days, i discovered the art of reading books. I came across a collection of 130 novels by different African authors under the banner Pacesetters. Most of the stories' themes ranged from love, rags to riches (sometimes back to rags), war and poverty. One civil war that featured highly in these easy to read novels was the secession of a South Eastern Nigerian State of Biafra. From 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970, Odumegwu Ojukwu led the Republic of Biafra after successful de-linking the state from the parent Nigeria. What followed was a two and a half year civil war which only ended with the Biafra State getting back to Nigeria.

I have followed with keen interest the calls by some Malawians to change the current Malawi setup and adopt a federation system. Some have even gone a step further by calling for secession of the Northern Region of Malawi. The last time i checked we still had freedom of expression in a democratic country. These people have every right to voice out their opinions on the issues of federation and secession. It will be even better if a healthy debate (even a referendum) is called to reach out to make people whose voice cannot be heard in the current setup.

However i suggest that all parties should sober up and conduct a healthy debate. In my research on the two topics, i have come up with two countries that can give us a good lesson on both federation and secession. Canada and Nigeria The city of Quebec and the state of Biafra can provide us with great case studies for our debates. Nigeria and Canada have both the federation and have all fought secession for a long time. We can learn both the peaceful means of secession, the violent way of secession and co-existence of the states in a federal setup.

From the research i have been conducting, the regions calling for federation will not benefit much from the federal system of government. In a federal state, there is still a central government that runs the government. The federal governments will still be accountable to the central government. So if the leaders in the central government are bent towards one region, they will still be in control of affairs.

The only way a region can champion its own development agenda is secession. There are strong calls for secession from my region, the north. However there is no known movement on the ground that can champion the secession campaign. Secession is creating a new nation like what South Sudan did. It is a completely new government in a region, state, city or area. In the Malawi case, if the north secedes, (which is doubtful), it will have its own central government. Its own parliament and it will not get any support from Malawi. In cases like Biafra, the parent nation can force a blockade to the new nation if the secession was not properly agreed. A blockade on Biafra and the civil war are what failed the new nation to succeed.

My take is that much as secession will guarantee development to the north (assuming the leaders have the welfare of people at heart), we have not exhausted all the ways possible to bring development to the north. The biggest challenge is the tribalism that has taken root in most institutions in Malawi. We can blame the current government for driving a nepotism agenda but show me which government would have done differently. Almost all the major parties that competed on May 20, 21 and 22 elections are backed by regions and tribes. The north is crying foul now because it has no major force to usher it into power in the coming elections. However, we have a lot of northerners in the decision making positions who can influence change in the way elections are conducted.

Tribalism is Africa's common problem and it is a major cause of under development. However behind this tribalism problem is illiteracy. Our people lack basic knowledge of things. One can argue that there are more educated Africans who also practice tribalism. We have a bigger problem in our hands which cannot only be solved by seceding or making Malawi a federal state. I would suggest that we do the following:

1. Rewrite the constitution to address all the loopholes
2. Consult widely on the best electoral system and adopt it
3. Invest in Education
4. Create equal job and investment opportunities for all