Don’t forget to count

A wise man once said: "There are three kinds of lies; ordinary lies, damned lies and statistics" and he had a point.?The point is that statistics can very easily be misused.

Someone puts across a doubtful argument by quoting some big figure. It’s more useful if no-one’s quite sure what it means, but he quotes a big number that is supposed to prove that if we don’t accept his argument, the world will end in about a week – or something almost as disastrous.

It sounds serious; the argument sounds too complex for us ordinary mortals, so it’s safer to accept. Then you have jumped into the soup.?When we heard, last year, that ZESA had agreed to export electricity to Namibia for five years, they had a story to justify their action at a time when we were already facing load shedding’. We didn’t have enough electricity for our own use, so their story had to be good. Here it is: the Namibians were to pay us in advance, in US dollars so that ZESA could pay for necessary repair work at Hwange, Kariba and throughout our electricity grid.

That makes sense. They had the money, we didn’t. If we didn’t do the repairs, our situation would get worse. If we did, we’d face a bit more pain now so that we would have much less later. That all sounds fine, but how many of us looked at the figures they used to support their argument???

I suspect very few did that. Give us a number with enough zeroes on the end and our minds switch off. “This is too big for us, but they sound like experts. They know what they are doing,” is our attitude. But do they know what they are doing? Is US$ 50 million a fair price for 180 megawatts (MW) of electricity for five years? Why do the Namibians insist that we agreed to give them that electricity, all 180MW, day and night for five years even if we don’t have enough to do our own cooking? In that case we’d have to import to be able to export to them.??

By my reckoning, that doesn’t add up. 180MW for five years is 180,000,000 watts for 5 (years) X 365 (days) X 24 hours = nearly 8,000,000,000,000watt hours, or 8 billion kWh (the unit your electricity bill is calculated in). That works out at 1kWh for $ 50 million divided by 8 billion= $50/8,000 = 1/160 dollars = 0.62c. That’s a lot less than you or I pay for electricity.??I suspect it is a lot more than ZESA pays for the electricity they import so that they can keep exporting to Namibia.

But then, if the Namibians do business with a pariah state, they don’t do it out of friendship (our old leaders have shown us there’s none of that in politics or international trade), but because they can screw a bigger profit out of us than they’d get by doing business with anyone else.?Of course, if my figures are wrong, I’d be delighted to hear about it.

Post published in: Opinions

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