Roads in Malawi

21175954_1498788570209917_871295268_n — By Harvey from Malawi

How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You just might like it!

There are very few things in this life that gets my blood pressure boiling. Non-does that more than the road networks in Malawi. For anyone thinking of visiting or even driving on Malawian roads in the near future, this piece is definitely for you. After traveling and driving on Malawian roads for close to three years, here is what I know:

— The general rule is that all motorists drive on the left side of the road section, but don’t be surprised when you see someone drive comfortably on the right-hand side, especially after last year’s massive rainy season. Many roads have chronic potholes, forcing everyone to drive as they please to ensure their vehicles don’t get injured.

— Most roads have no pedestrian sidewalk. A cautionary statement: if you see a pedestrian walking, or cyclist in the same road section as cars, do not be alarmed. Personally, I do not blame them – like the rest of the motorists, they too do pay taxes and deserve to be treated with a proper road experience.

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Devil Street, Lilongwe, Malawi

— Most minor road offenses can be remedied by cash. These include driving without a valid driver’s license, driving of a vehicle without proper documentation, driving vehicles that are not road-worthy, etc. (Disclaimer: don’t blame me if it doesn’t work for you). This is business as usual, cash for the permission of passage, especially with minibus drivers. So, if you are traveling long distances, prepare yourself to persevere multiple sessions of cop-driver diplomacy along the stretch. It’s not all that bad though, one gets to experience the true characters of men and themselves under these intense conditions.

— If you happen to own a car and reside in the ghetto like I do, expect to wash your vehicles hourly, as most low-middle class residential areas have super dusty road networks. This is not a good thing though, as it is perpetuating the wastage of clean water resources, which if I may add is already in short supply.

— Of course, keep a look out for goats, cows, dogs, chickens, and other earthly creatures on the road as you drive through the M1 road in smaller districts. They have a tendency to show up when you are least expecting them.

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When the African Sun Goes Down

— By Charles from Togo

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

The sun is often already present at eight o’clock, and sometimes even earlier in almost all the towns and villages of Togo. The sun is energy, energy that allows every living being to move, work, and produce results. Can life continue after sunset?

Many parts of the cities of Togo and Africa are not electrified. These localities have primary schools, colleges, and sometimes high schools. For programs that require electricity, students in these environments are exempted. When evening comes and they have to learn, these students study mostly by streetlights installed along certain streets for those who are lucky to have one close. For those who do not, the exercises are treated, the revisions are done, and the exams are prepared with oil lamps or lanterns. This is not without consequences on their results. Today, there is a decline in the level of schooling in rural communities.

What about people living in areas without electrification? The night begins earlier and lasts longer. Part of the long night, which usually begins at 7 pm, could have been used to prolong the activities of the day and thus contribute to the economic development of the localities, the country, and even the continent. Moreover, the populations would be more flourishing with the diversity of entertainment activities. The lack of electricity is a brake on development not only at the local level, but also at the national and even the continental level.

“When there is a power cut, we stop production,” says a Togolese company official who produces organic chocolate. The problem of load-shedding affects most professionals: dressmakers, hairdressers, computer scientists, and companies. The peak period is from December to March. The energy used in Togo comes from hydroelectricity, but Togo imports the energy of its neighbors, Benin and Ghana. With demand being greater than supply, especially in the dry season, when heat is at its height (December to March), the load-shedding becomes untimely, leading to a drop in production and thus in income.

Fortunately, the affected people are looking for solutions. Many have turned to alternative sources, namely the generator, and some to renewable energies such as the start-up Solar Africano. Solar Africano offers a solar kit to the inhabitants of villages at a very affordable cost and its payment is spread over three years. The government has also embarked on a solar-based rural electrification project.

When the African sun sets, indeed everything stops. But with the technology and power of sunlight for up to 10 hours a day, more energy can be provided to raise the level of study in rural areas, development of economic activities, both in towns at the time of shedding and in non-electrified villages. We can make the African sun shine after it disappears from the horizon to make the smile last longer.

Redressing the Electricity Distribution Inequality in Uganda

Sam — By Sam from Uganda

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.
Eight year old Irene Mirembe Rose is a Primary Three Pupil at Mother Manjeri Primary in Kampala, Uganda. Her mother, Sandra Namisango, wakes her up at 5:40 AM to prepare for her school. She takes a warm bath from a water heater, brushes her teeth, and dresses up to have her breakfast, which is quickly prepared on gas. Her school bus picks her up at 6:00AM. By 7:00AM, Irene is at her desk starting the day’s lesson, which lasts until 8:00AM, when the class closes for a thirty minute tea break. They resume from 8:30AM to 10:30AM, and then have another 30 minute’s break. Class resumes at 11:00AM, and stretches until 1:00PM, for a one hour lunch break.
The Afternoon Class begins at 2:00PM and ends at 4:00PM. Irene then spends thirty minutes revising and getting coached by her teachers before she is given homework. She is then given 30 minutes to play with her friends, and at 5:00PM, she boards the school bus for a thirty minute’s ride back home. By 6:00PM, Irene is done with her homework and is tuned in to her favorite TV Channel, Nickelodeon, watching Thundermans. At 7:30PM, she takes a warm shower, eats her dinner, says a prayer, and she is in bed by 8:00PM. Irene’s school is consistently ranked amongst the top 5 schools in Uganda for the past five years, and by 12 years, she will be through with her primary education with an assurance of excellence and a bright future.
Fifteen year old Rachel Namubali is a Primary six pupil at Namukubembe Primary School in Kantenga Village, in the rural District of Luuka in Eastern Uganda. Rachel wakes up at 6:30AM when the sun is starting to rise and heads to the garden to help out her mother with farm work. She comes back home at 7:30AM to clean up and prepare foodstuffs that she will eat while at school, because her school does not provide meals. Rachel’s class normally starts at 9:30AM, because her teachers have to first attend to their gardens too. Rachel’s school program depends on the attendance of the Teachers, but majority of them are inconsistent at school.
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Rachel gets back home at 5:00PM, and she has to go to the bush to look for firewood that her family will use for cooking, since it is a feminine role in her society. She is also supposed to collect water from the borehole that her family will use for the night and in the morning after digging. Rachel is expected prepare dinner which should be served by 7:00PM, before darkness sets in. By 7:30PM, Rachel’s household is in bed because the small kerosene lamp cannot provide them with light for a long time. Luuka District has consistently ranked amongst the worst ten performing districts in the Primary Leaving Exams, and should Rachel fail to pass, her family will either marry her off or send her to the city to work as a house maid.
Rachel’s household is among the 78% of the Ugandan population who live in rural areas. By 2014, only 4.4% of the rural households had access to electricity on the national grid and majority of them were relying on wood fuel and kerosene. Uganda’s biggest challenge has been lack of finances to extend the grid to rural areas, yet that is where the majority of the population lives.
Uganda currently has 850 Megawatts of installed capacity, of which approximately 645 MW is hydro and 101.5 MW is thermal generating capacity. The government is building more hydropower facilities like the 600 MW Karuma hydro and the 183 MW Isimba Falls hydro project, but less than 20% of the Population are on the grid. Uganda has one of the lowest electricity consumption rates in the world, and it was estimated to be at 8OKWh per capita in 2012.
Agriculture employs 69% of Uganda’s population and about 90% of the agriculture is done in rural areas. Lack of electricity in rural areas has greatly affected the farmers and as a result, the contribution of agriculture to Uganda’s GDP stands at just 26%, despite being the biggest employer. Many rural families waste a lot of productive time collecting firewood for cooking, their rural labor force ends up being semi-illiterate because they cannot progress far in education, many financial institutions that would have rendered credit to the farmers don’t want to set up in areas that don’t have electricity, and the biggest percentage of Uganda’s population has ended up being poor, thus Uganda’s position in the Low Income Nations.
Uganda needs to reverse the current electricity distribution pattern, which entitles electricity to only a few urban dwellers at the expense of the majority in the rural areas. Access to electricity will facilitate rural productivity and improves household welfare, which would lead to accelerated economic growth in Uganda.

The Spirit of Volunteerism in Malawi

Lena — By Lena from Malawi

It was a sunny Wednesday morning and I set out with my colleagues to visit some volunteers who are placed to work on a project called Support for the most Marginalised Children Education. This project is implemented by Centre for Youth Empowerment and Education (CYECE) in a rural area called Siya-Siya in Salima.  Having a clue of what these volunteers have been up to in this community, thus encouraging the most marginalised children to get back to school, it never occurred to me that these youth’s passion in helping others has grown so much that they were not only understanding this community better, but also proposing solutions that are sustainable. This made me realise how much youths would like to give to their communities, even though they might lack the platform and resources to do so.

Working for an agency called International Service that manages a Youth Volunteer Programme called International Citizen Service, funded by the UK Government, the programme engages youths between the ages of 18 and 35 from the UK and Malawi to volunteer in development projects. The Programme is aimed at developing the skills of the youth, regardless of their qualification or expertise, mentor youths to become active global citizens, but also expose them to unfamiliar culture and how they can manage in this cross-cultural setting.

The number of Malawian youths that apply to take part in this programme is so overwhelming that I for one felt most apply because jobs are scarce.  The youth and women  unemployment rate in Malawi is estimated at 27% according to http://malawi.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/Malawi%20Demographic%20Dividend%20Report%202016.pdf. While this is the case, among the estimated 17.2 million population (2016 PRB fact sheet) of Malawi, 40% of the total population are youth under the age of 15. This means that if the youth age of 10-35 as provided for in the Malawi youth Policy 2013 is taken into consideration, youths in Malawi make over 50% of the population.

However, to the contrary, getting to Siya-Siya that morning, we were welcomed by the enthusiastic 12 youth Volunteers, 6 Malawians, and 6 Britons. Exposed to unfamiliar environment, one would expect them to complain about the environment they are living in, but they enjoyed being in this environment and took it as an opportunity to learn from the community but also identify issue affecting children’s education then propose solutions to these issues. Talking to each one of them, it was established that they at first took it as an opportunity to get away from home and fill the gap of idling at home, but to their surprise it has been a fruitful as they have had the chance to live a life in the rural communities which has changed their world view. For the Malawian volunteers who were not sure what volunteerism entails, said they would do it again as they will be satisfied that their contribution is helping someone who really needs the help.

Some of the activities these youths are involved in is identifying children that are not going to school, persuade them to go back to school and establish the reasons why they never went to school or dropped out. From what these volunteers established, despite primary school being free in Malawi, children have been sent back from school for not having a school uniform, having to walk very long distances just to access a school facility, some schools only having junior classes which meant if one is transitioning into a senior class, he or she must change schools. Some dropped due to bullying while other due to child labour and early marriages.

Standstill

Ifeoluwa — By Ifeoluwa from Nigeria

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity, in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

When I wake in the morning, inside my room in Ibadan, Nigeria, my eyes quickly dart to the electrical socket on the wall opposite my bed. After confirming with this involuntary action, that there is indeed electricity, then comes the rush to plug my laptop and phone for charging because the availability of electricity determines my capability to work and earn. Without electricity, my life and career as a freelance writer come to a standstill. This is very much the case because I have weaned myself off the paper and the pen. Gone are the days when I could not write straight up on my laptop and scribbled first on a notepad. By way of adaptation to the absence of constant electricity, I have had to learn to write full stories on my smartphone. The 4500mAh battery capacity of my phone was the most important factor in purchasing it.

In Nigeria, petrol and diesel generators are the common alternative sources of electricity. At night, the loud noises of generators sync with the natural sounds of the environment. In my house, we have two petrol generators. When there is no power, we use the higher powered generator to run the pump which supplies water from the deep well into the house while the smaller generator serves to provide lighting and to charge phones and rechargeable lanterns. When the generators give up on us after continuous use for weeks, I often wield the spanner trying to clean the corroded plugs. When that fails, we need to look for a technician to fix the generator. This sometimes means staying without electricity for several hours.

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Generators: the only reliable source of electricity.

During the hot months, which tend to be longer than the wet and cooler months, with no electricity to operate the fan I experience night sweats and sleeplessness spurred by the combination of the heat and noise from the loud generators operating in the environment. By morning, I often wake weak and cranky with a heavy head, reducing my level of productivity throughout the day. Things get to a head during periods of petrol scarcity when there is unsteady electricity supply and we cannot purchase fuel for the generators. The foods in the fridge start to go bad; when I boil and fry the frozen turkey, it tastes funny like roasted bush meat. I comfort myself with the idea that it is a new acquired taste and push away thoughts of diarrhea induced by food poisoning; I am reluctant to throw away food bought with my hard-earned money.

On the days when there is continuous electricity supply for 12 hours non-stop, I stare at the bulb with a sense of foreboding slowly settling over me. The usual pattern is electricity becoming steadier for about one or two weeks followed by a protracted lack of electricity thereafter. The typical culprits – a fault in the transformer, vandalisation or theft of cables, and felled cables as a result of heavy rainfall, not so common but tenable – highlight the biggest problem in the power sector: lack of sustainability. Unstable electricity supply has become so deeply ingrained in my daily life that I almost consider it a norm. Where do we go from here?

On January 22, 2017, when the Transmission Company of Nigeria announced that the nation’s power generation capacity had dropped to 2,662 megawatts, I knew the electricity situation had just taken a nose dive because that power capacity is supposed to cater to an approximate land mass of 910,770 sq. km. In 2013, I had conceived some hope when the Nigerian government decided to privatise the electricity generation and distribution companies with an aim towards improvement. We now have one transmission company, six generation companies and eleven distribution companies. However, to my disappointment, the names just changed but the system remained the same. This notion is strongly supported by the refusal of the public to adopt the use of the new companies’ names – everyone still refers to them by the former government-owned name – NEPA (National Electricity Power Authority). That acronym has acquired a popular different meaning – ‘Never expect power always’.

Some of the problems ailing the distribution companies include lack of maintenance as the facilities develop faults incessantly and the maintenance fees being paid as part of the electric bill seem to be misappropriated. I am projecting that the privatisation failed to change the situation for the better because the restructuring only resulted in a decentralised system and did not leave room for healthy competition. We are still constrained to use a particular distribution company according to the location one resides in. I believe if we have the freedom to choose from the distribution companies available without being restricted by our location, we can trigger better service delivery as each of the companies will step up to the risk of losing their consumers. I realise the kind of structure I am proposing may not be as simplistic as it sounds, but it can be achieved with proper provisions being made.

At present, the major concern in the energy sector in Nigeria remains the generation of higher megawatts from hydro/thermal plants to reach the total populace. Apart from the provision of solar panels, which is mostly facilitated by international organisations targeting the rural areas to power the preservation of vaccines and other medical amenities where there is a higher lack of electricity, there is very little research in the area of renewable energy. This is justified partly by its attendant high cost.

Recently, a South African Telecommunications company in Nigeria started offering a Mobile Solar Home System to their subscribers. This at best represents an elite solution to a problem which affects both the rich and poor. In Nigeria, the national minimum wage is 18,000 Naira and this solar system is priced at 26,000 Naira minus the inclusive monthly subscription fee. Therefore, for solar energy to be a verifiable solution to electricity problems in Nigeria, government will have to provide major initial subsidies to make it accessible to everyone irrespective of their social or economic class. There is also a vital need for relevant researches to be conducted on experimental sources of renewable energy. A friend once told me of an individual in Porto Novo, the capital city of Benin, in West Africa, investing in the conversion of gases derived from animal wastes to generate electricity. I was at once captivated by such an innovative idea which can easily be adopted in Nigeria with its dominant agrarian cultures.

For most Nigerian youths, we have been conditioned to think government has to do everything for us because of the lack of an enabling environment riddled with corruption and ineffectual governance. However, we need to accept that we all have a part to play. Whether through demanding accountability from our government to foster the right solutions and develop a sustainable program or facilitating more academic and field researches on the possibilities of renewable energy, we just need to start and do something.

As I type these concluding lines, I can hear children in my neighborhood, squealing in delight – ‘Up NEPA!’ a welcoming herald of electricity being restored in our homes. I look forward to that day when 24-hour electricity becomes a reality in my country.

The Epileptic Power Situation in Nigeria

 — By Lovelyn from Nigeria

Some of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life even from childhood are in some way related to the epileptic power situation in my country, Nigeria.

My first experience was at age 5. I was only allowed to partake in minor house chores, some of which included arranging my room, sweeping and a few other tasks in the kitchen. On one of the days, my mum needed to have a warm bath, and at this time, there had been a long period of power outage, and so to heat water, my sister had to use the cooker, instead of the electric heater. I was at the corner picking palm kernel seeds with which my mum was to make ofe-akwu (a local eastern delicacy). My sister lifted the boiling kettle, and before she could get hold of its handle as it flew off in a split of a second, the kettle landed on my back, emptying its content. The next thing I remembered, I was lying face down on a hospital bed.

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My second experience was even more painful. In 2002, I lost a dear friend in a fire incident that occurred in his home. A very talented teenager, who had a bright future ahead of him. On this day, I had spent time with Akeem, talking about the future we saw, as he had just been admitted into the school of his dreams, University of Lagos, and by the evening of the same day, my friend was dead. Fire gutted his house as everyone went to bed. His 7 year old twin sisters lit a candle stick for their night studies, as there hadn’t been power supply in the area for months. And so while the candle burned, the girls dozed off, as the melted wax flowed into the mattress on the floor.

There have been more of such occurrences, not just for me, but for other 169 million Nigerians in the country. Homes, businesses and even relationships suffer. Everyone is affected directly or indirectly. Once at the University during my degree program, students took to the streets in protest, as a result of a long period of power outage in the area, the school generator had to be turned off at a specific time, and that meant that the students could not study for long hours or even be able to charge their phones.

For several decades, local and at times even nationwide power outages have been the norm instead of the exception. Current electricity generation is primarily from either gas-fired or hydro power plants, with natural gas the main fuel source for power generation in Nigeria. According to McKinsey in 2013, the power generation potential from domestic gas reserves in Nigeria was greater than 10,000 MW, which is relatively higher than the potential from domestic gas reserves in other African jurisdictions, but still falls significantly short of meeting the needs of its over 170 million inhabitants.

The power sector in Nigeria has had eight ministers in five years, yet there is no end in sight to the perpetual darkness that Nigerians have been subjected to.

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According to the report by Thenewsnigeria, big companies that were employing thousands of Nigerians and paying billions of naira in taxes have either left for neighbouring countries such as Ghana and Ivory Coast or have shut down their operations outright because of corruption in the power sector that has impacted the real sector negatively. For instance, Dunlop Plc, a major tyre manufacturing company had to relocate to Ghana due to the rising cost of production that was traceable to the energy crisis in Nigeria.

Another major tyre major company that left the country as a result of the power crisis was Michelin. The company said it left the country because it could no longer generate enough electricity on its own to power its production.

Many of the companies that left are yet to return and the country is the worst for it. According to a report by the World Bank, Nigeria’s per capita electric consumption is 142 kWh which puts the country in the league of countries like Nepal (128kWh per capita), Sudan (159kWh), Togo (148kWh) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (110kWh). These are countries with much smaller populations and smaller requirements than Nigeria.

At home, the story is not different; my younger ones are forced to complete their homework under the strain of candle light or rechargeable lanterns (which most times are not well charged for the same reasons). Most nights, I have to consciously force myself to get some sleep as the sound of the neighbours’ generators blaring by my window made my head ache.

As though this is not enough trouble already, one is faced with monthly electricity bills, this is regardless of the fact that the service for which these high costs are furnished are never rendered.

On July 7, my Facebook friend, Gift Nwachukwu posted on Facebook thus: “Dear Enugu Electricity Distribution Company- EEDC, I have allocated 10,000 for your monthly upkeep. This is not for services rendered as you rendered none. It is simply for your upkeep as you are now my beneficiary. Enugu Electricity Distribution Company- EEDC kindly take note of this new arrangement.”

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Nigeria’s power strategy is based on the use of natural gas which is abundantly available in Nigeria, is relatively cheaper than using diesel and other fuel oils, and burns cleaner. However, the ineffective security of the critical infrastructure for transmission, as well as questionable politics in the South-South region, has exposed these critical infrastructure to sabotage.

All of Nigeria’s natural gas comes from the South-South region, and in order for it to get to power plants around the country, it must be transported in thousands of kilometers of pipelines that run from the South-South region to the power plants that utilize the gas. In the process, the gas pipelines get vandalized which often times result to blackout.

If I were the minister of energy in Nigeria, one of my first tasks would be to tackle the security issue in the South-South bring an end to the vandalisation of the gas pipeline and ensure electricity is effectively managed in the country, even to the rural areas and also maximize available sources of renewable energy for the benefit of all.

Nigeria’s electricity challenge like many other challenges that the world faces can indeed be overcome if the youths of the nation are willing to take responsibility to change the current situation, rather than wasting precious time blaming the government. We are indeed the change that we have long desired and waited for, which is why a few of my friends and I came up with an initiative #WakeUpSouthEast, to awaken Nigerian youths especially in the South Eastern part of the country to wake up and seek ways to make positive impact.

Indeed, a healthy and efficient power sector is critical to arresting growing unemployment, reducing crime rate, achieving economic diversification and rebounding the economy for sustainable development.

Electricity Generation in Nigeria: Problems and Likely Solution

franklin — By Franklin from Nigeria

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity, in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

It’s the 21st century and it’s okay to say the importance of electricity cannot be overemphasized. When you come to think about it, electricity is used in every form of life: we use electricity to power our devices and stay connected with friends and family, we use electricity to preserve food using the microwave and freezer amidst many others, and we use electricity to make our work easier while sweeping with the vacuum cleaner or washing with the washing machine. All of these are just simple home applications of the wonder that is electricity. When it comes to its industrial use, electricity is very important. It is important in the areas of medicine, manufacturing, building and construction. Now, with all of this importance and more, think of a world without electricity or with electrical failure: communication will be lost, spoilage will occur leading to wastage, there will be more laborious activities and lives may even be lost. To avoid these problems, electricity has to be a constant to allow for the smooth running of day-to-day activities.

I live in Lagos, Nigeria and generally, in Nigeria, power is either hydro-electric or via thermal or fossil fuel, which make use of coal or natural gas. Here, power is first generated, transmitted and distributed to our houses. For each of these stages, there is a company attached to handling it. Now as of January 2017, Nigeria generates about 7,200 Megawatts of power. On the average, 1000 homes need about 1 Megawatt of power for constant electricity. What this means is that only 7.2 million homes can be powered with the amount of electricity that Nigeria generates. This estimate does not include companies and industries which require a very large amount of power. With a population of about 200 million, one can clearly see that the amount of power generated is way too low to allow for the constant supply we desire. If I were in power, one of the first things I’ll do is seek out other means of power generation. For a country that has sun every other day of the year, it’s surprising that Nigeria doesn’t make use of solar energy for power generation. There is also an abundance of gas in the country: little wonder we are the number 9 country in the world with the highest gas reserves. These other means of power generation should be looked into. This will further make the country’s power similar to the USA where power is distributed amongst various means like coal, natural gas, hydro, wind and solar, in that order.

Unfortunately for Lagos, which is the most populated city in Nigeria, the electricity is largely unstable. That’s what you get when the power generated is not enough. On some days, there’s power supply for six out of twenty-four hours, some days more, and some days even less. The truth is half of the people in Lagos, Nigeria rely on fueled generators for electricity. Aside from the noise that this comes with, they are pretty expensive to maintain and also fuel regularly. Some of the times, this power failure is due to poles and transformers spoilage, especially during the rainy season, and this may go on and on. In some parts of Lagos and the country as a whole, tax-paying individuals living in these areas affected by transformer issues have to rally around to contribute and fix these items. All of this happens when there’s a sitting government and it should not be. The government needs to work actively on her maintenance culture, protecting pipelines and poles and attending to them in cases where attention is required.

In addition, rotten eggs need to be flushed away from the power sector. In a sector where a lot of work needs to be done, it is funny to note that a lot of individuals working in this sector are interested in personal gains solely and have no business whatsoever with the state of the industry they’re in. These individuals do all within their power to siphon the funds being given to this industry in the name of greed.

With all these put in place, the problem of low power generation will hopefully be a thing of the past and constant power supply will be the new trend because honestly, that’s what we need right now.