Malawi, Sustainable Energy, and the God of the Developing World

18 April 2012

Village - 17 April 2012

As Malawi elects a new and female President, Joyce Banda, following the controversial death of her 78-year old predecessor,  Deirdre Mulrooney reflects on her recent visit there

So you think Ireland has fuel and energy worries? Things could be a lot worse.  Consider Malawi, the ‘warm heart of Africa’, where only 10% of the population has access to grid electricity. The charming little southern African country ground to a halt recently while I was there with a team of TCD Engineers who were implementing the pilot of their thermo-electric generator project with Concern Universal. Left high and dry, petrol stations were encircled by kilometre-long queues.  Motorists slept overnight in their cars in the hope of an elusive drop of fuel. The reason? “Lack of forex” (foreign currency), locals shrugged.

When the honey smell of diesel filled the air again, a din of “it is God’s will” seemed to emanate from a post-apocalyptic sea of yellow jerry-cans.  When the fuel ran out once more, no-one could say for sure when they would get some more – maybe a month? As recently as July 2011 fuel shortages partly led to anti-government demonstrations, when 19 people were killed by police. But Malawi is actually the only country among the ten poorest countries in the world never to have experienced a major revolution. Peace-loving Malawians embrace and display their Christian faith with extraordinary gusto, shunning their own indigenous religious practices for the most part. Malawi is 80% Christian, in the tradition of Scottish missionary, explorer, and doctor, David Livingstone who arrived in 1859 to curb the slave trade – among other things.

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