Kudos to creative Kwizombe

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The recent revelation concerning a youthful Malawian’s intent to embark upon the local production of electric bulbs imparted a revitalizing vigour amidst the stifling ambiance of an economy riddled with the dearth of manufacturing endeavours, emblematic of our nation. Let me yet again state that production is the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. It is in this context that the young man’s initiative should be exciting news to all of us.

It was reported last week that a denizen of Malawi answering to the name Daniel Ekali Kwizombe had secured the certification of the Malawi Bureau of Standards for the production of energy saver bulbs branded Eka-Lite. This Malawian product is set to be launched on the 19th of May at the Golden Peacock Hotel, Lilongwe.

Malawians have generally been shy at manufacturing for reasons that are not clear yet. Perhaps it is to do with the rigorous process that manufacturing is. We, Malawians, like to take short-cuts, which is why when a Malawian buys a new gadget they, generally speaking, do not bother to take time to read the operating instructions but just go ahead and try do press a few buttons in the hope that they will get it to work. You cannot rely on shortcuts in manufacturing, for doing so would inevitably result in substandard products.

The current situation notwithstanding, Malawi has a rich manufacturing history. Agreed, the manufacturing was crude, but it was once prevalent. This was long before we were colonized by the British. Basketry and production of ceramic articles, for example, were a major undertaking once upon a time, as was iron smelting. When he excavated the Mankhamba site, seasoned Archaeologist Juwayeyi stumbled over a great number of locally produced objects, many of them ceramic. Mankhamba was the headquarters of the Maravi Empire, which flourished between the 15th and 19th centuries. It is where the Kalonga lived. The last Mankhamba-based Kalonga was Sosola Kalimakudzulu, who died in 1860.

Among the items dug up at Mankhamba were many smoking pipes. Tobacco had not been introduced to this part of the world when the aMaravi thrived at Mankhamba. What could they have been smoking? Juwayeyi opines that the pipes must have been used for smoking the herb. What we know for certain is that smoking pipes were being made at or around Mankhamba, as were many other ceramic and lithic (from stone) objects.

Many metal objects were also recovered at Mankhamba. The aMaravi people were prolific iron smelters. A number of theories exist to explain the origin of the name Malawi. One of such theories posits that that the initial Bantu colonizers, proficient in the craft of iron smelting, erected kilns ubiquitously. In an era devoid of electricity and thus bereft of artificial illumination, nocturnal views were adorned solely with the luminous blaze caused by the flames emanating from the myriad kilns scattered across the terrain. This spectacle inspired the sovereigns of the region to christen it Malawi, denoting “flames”. The Portuguese recorded the name as Maravi.

The aMaravi’s northern neighbours, the Tumbuka, were also crafted iron smelters. Their Paramount Chief acquired the name Chikulamayembe (the one who fashions hoes) as a testament to this.

Historians Baker and Phiri mention a booming trade in ‘Kasungu salt’, Chief Mwase taking full control of of the trade in this commodity before the arrival of the British. Corroborative information is given in Nthara’s Msyamboza book, which states that Msyamboza was making items like mats and taking them to Kasungu where he would barter them for salt. Kasungu salt found its way to places like Tete in Mozambique and Zanzibar.

The Maravi were also adept at making cloth from cotton. The country used to be littered with countless looms used for weaving cotton into cloth.

The manufacturing spirit all but disappeared following the colonization of the country. It is the view of this columnist that this was as a result of the local manufacturing methods having been superseded by the more advanced methods of the colonisers. There have been several attempts to go into advanced manufacturing in recent years. Nzeru Radio, for example, manufactured radios and batteries in the 1970s through to the 1990s; Central African Transport Company (CATCO) manufactured a locally branded  car in 1972; PEW fabricated a number of bus and truck bodies until its demise in early 2000s.

Kwizombe’s delve into manufacturing is only a continuation of a well-established, albeit deserted, tradition. It is incumbent upon all of us to support the young man by taking a sober decision to buy Eka-Lite bulbs. Let import substitution roll into full life by our action of deliberately choosing Malawian bulbs over imported ones.

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