The world is moving in the direction of electric vehicles which will replace those that run on fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are an environmental hazard because they are from organic matter that lived millions of years ago and has over the ages, through heat and compression, been converted to the form in which it is now. Burning it releases fresh carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases form an envelope around the earth. Like a blanket, this envelope traps the heat that would otherwise escape into space. This is a major cause of global warming.
To reduce or eliminate global warming, the world needs to change some of the ways in which it does things. We have to turn our backs on vehicles that run on fossil fuels. The electric vehicle is the vehicle of the future. From 2030, for example, it will be illegal to sell new vehicles wholly powered by petrol or diesel in Britain. Elsewhere in Europe and the Americas, similar legal restrictions will also be enforced. To this end, vehicle manufacturers are now switching to electric vehicle. The richest man on earth, Elon Musk, is into electric vehicles big time.
Even on the African continent, some innovators are toying with electrical vehicles. In Ghana, Apostle Kantanka assembles them, and in Uganda Kiira Motors rolls them out. Last year, for example, Kiira launched the Kayoola EVS bus, which they claimed was Africa’s first solar powered bus.
As if not wishing to be outdone, a little known Malawian man by the name of Frank Mafeni Soko worked on his own version of a solar powered vehicle. He assembled one that he was able to exhibit as a sample that could be driven around. He did this in Mzuzu. Soko’s solar driven vehicle could put Malawi on the map of those countries that are able to assemble electric vehicles.
As I was making arrangements to interview Mr Soko for this article, I learnt with shock that he had passed on. The news first came as a rumour but I went ahead to arrange with a colleague to go and check on him at Nathan Mechanical Services in Mzuzu. He did, only to be informed that Mr. Soko had died the previous Tuesday. What a tragedy this was!
It is hoped that he worked with somebody (maybe even several people) on his project, and that some know-how still exists in terms of how the vehicle was assembled. In our oral tradition, even information of great importance gets passed on from one person to another by the word of the mouth. We do not bother to keep written records of what has been done. As a result, when an initiator of project goes, so does the project itself.
Somehow I believe that we can salvage something from Mr. Soko’s project. Those who were close to him can initiate the process of getting the solar vehicle patented. Obviously, they will need to produce technical sketches of the vehicle before they can present it to the patent’s office. In so doing some written record of the vehicle will be created. In future, those who may wish to develop the project further will have something to refer to.
Further to this, I would urge those who have the necessary technical capability to adopt the vehicle, maybe under licence arrangements, make any necessary changes to it to improve it in terms of functionality and user comfort, then commercially produce it for the consumer. Initially this will have to be the Malawian consumer but after some time – and further improvements – the product can be offered to the international market as well.
When I talk about becoming producers, this is the way to do it. It is a project that may appear mundane initially that we need to focus on and work on to become a producing nation. We should not wait until we acquire enough expertise to produce aircraft of the same calibre as Boeing, for us to be counted among producing nations. Germany produces high class vehicles today – VW, Mercedes Benz, Audi, BMW – but it all started with a simple, three wheeled motorised car that one Karl Benz assembled in his home and got it patented on January 29 1886. He had used the internal combustion engine that his colleague, Nikolaus Otto, had developed, to provide propulsion to his car.
We need to search within our technical brains to find someone who can promote Soko’s solar powered vehicle to become a product that we can all be proud of. A thousand kilometre journey starts with the first step. Late Soko has taken that first step. May his soul rest in peace!