Friday, September 07, 2007
By Cliff phiri
Sunday August 26, 2007 [04:00]
ABOUT ninety per cent of the vehicles that are running on Zambian roads are not road worthy, Bolton University Professor of Crashworthiness Clive Chirwa has said. Prof Chirwa says most vehicles in Zambia do not comply with any European, American or even Japanese safety standards.
He says his biggest worry is with the buses and minibuses, adding that ninety nine per cent of these are extremely dangerous thereby putting passengers at high risk.
Question: To start with, who is Professor Clive Chirwa?
Answer: Professor Clive Chirwa is actually a Zambian born in Mufulira on the 5th of January 1954. My father is Eford Noah Chirwa, a Chewa and comes from Mugubudu village in chief Chanje's region just after Chipata en-route to Lundazi. My mother Toddy also comes from Eastern Province.
Q: Are you able to speak Chewa?
A: Unfortunately no. You should appreciate that people who were born and bred on the Copperbelt mostly speak Bemba. I am fluent in Bemba but I am a little bit rusty on the Chewa.
Q: How many are you in your family?
A: We were eight children, three are deceased and now we are five.
Q: Where are the other four?
A: My brothers Davies and James are running their own businesses in Lusaka, Priscilla is married to a Bishop, also a Zambian but he was made a Bishop of Gaborone, Botswana; Esnart works for one of the NGOs Non-Governmental Organisation, so everybody is in Lusaka. It's just Priscilla and myself who live abroad.
Q: Now can we talk about your own family. Are you married?
A: Yes, I am married to a Russian lady called Elena; we have two children. The first-born is 25-years-old Dennis and the other is 20-year-old Daniel. Dennis completed a Masters Degree in Aerospace Engineering and he works for British Aerospace in the design department. Daniel is at the university studying IT and directorship in filmmaking.
Q: He didn't take up your profession?
A: No, he is studying something completely different from me and from his mother.
Q: What is his mother's profession?
A: His mother is a metallurgist. She is actually the European marketing director for a company called Clavel.
Q: Are your children living with you?
A: Dennis has his own place. Daniel comes only during university holidays.
Q: Which schools did you go to?
A: I went to Central Primary School first and later to Mufulira Secondary School. In fact I was with former commerce minister Dipak Patel at secondary school.
Q: How did you proceed from there?
A: I went overseas, to Volgograd University in Russia in 1975. From there, in 1981, I went to Cranfield University in the UK.
Q: What studies were you pursuing in Russia?
A: Automobile and Tractor Engineering and later Masters degree in Automotive Engineering. I then returned to Zambia in 1980 and joined MSD Mechanical Services Department and a year later joined University of Zambia as a lecturer. From there, in 1981, I went to UK under the Commonwealth Scholarship. On completion of my PhD Doctor of Philosophy in 1986, I returned to UNZA as a lecturer and resigned after a few years due to lack of advanced research that I was now used to. I was given a senior research fellow position at the University of Liverpool.
Q: And what were you doing in the UK?
A: I went over to do my Master's degree in Automotive Product Engineering and my PhD in Aerospace Engineering.
Q: What is Aerospace Engineering? What does it involve?
A: Aerospace Engineering is a subject about aircraft, spacecraft and it is about finding new ideas on air transport systems and how you can improve future aircraft in design sense. My work is about research and design of air vehicles' structural dynamics. To be specific, my work involves finding new advanced materials with better mechanical properties and use them in the design of an aircraft fuselage.
Q: You sound technical. What is fuselage?
A: Fuselage is the main aircraft body. It is the tube in which people sit in. Most of the work we do in the UK involves the wing. The British are very good at designing wings as we have seen from the Airbus series of aircraft.
Q: So what have been your major projects?
A: Since I started doing research in aircraft engineering, I've carried out more than 300 research projects and all those are pioneering projects, which had never been done before in the world. The companies I work for mainly are British Aerospace, Airbus, Boeing, NASA and many small aircraft manufacturers.
Q: How did you develop interest in engineering and technology?
A: I developed interest in technology from my primary school days. When I was at Central School in Mufulira, there was an annual inter-school quiz for under 11 years in mathematics and reasoning.
The first time I participated in the quiz of about ten mine schools, I came second and the second time I participated I won the competition. This was among good schools on the Copperbelt. When I went to secondary school we had a tour of Mufulira Mines and this was when my engineering interest started developing. This was in form one. Then in form two, I joined JETS, which is the Junior Engineers Technician Scientist. This is a Zambian thing. From form two to form five, I won the Copperbelt and the national top prizes in category of physics and biology.
Q: What's your comment on the perception some people have that engineering is difficult?
A: Most of the things in engineering are those, which every single person on earth does on everyday basis without realizing that they are solving extremely complex problems. Let us take mechanics or applied mechanics for example.
This is the most difficult subject in engineering and the mathematics involved is extremely difficult. Go to any village in Zambia, you will see women who have never been to school and children carrying buckets of water on their heads without spilling it. This activity is difficult to solve in mechanics. What the women are doing is to balance the applied forces from the bucket of water with their body forces. This is not simple because the forces from the bucket are dynamic; they change in direction and sense as the water splashes about in the bucket. To maintain the bucket forces in equilibrium, the women walk is calibrated format, their necks automatically measuring the direction and sense of the bucket forces so that they are dynamically maintained in equilibrium at all time. If the equilibrium is not maintained, they will spill the water. This does not happen because every person intuitively is an engineer despite not understanding the laws of applied physics.
Q: Hasn't it been challenging for you, working in an environment, which I assume is all white going by the pictures you showed me earlier?
A: That's correct. I've worked tremendously hard to reach this particular position. To complicate the issues I am African and foreigner. I am a pioneer in my engineering field of crashworthiness, indeed I am number one in the world and people come to me for advice on technology. Therefore, presidents, prime ministers, ministers, senators, EU Commissioners, company directors, technical staff, academics and my colleagues who are totally Caucasians have come to accept me because of my input to modern science, technology and engineering as a whole.
Q: So they actually respect you now than before?
A: Very much so. The whole world knows me in this particular area of engineering. When I am dealing with low velocity impact, I help the car, train and aircraft manufacturers. When I am dealing with high velocity impact, I help the spacecraft and the military institutions.
The work I have done for them that has put cars on streets, trains on rails, aircraft in the air, rockets in space and combat machines in theatres has gained me this respect. Indeed, this is why I have been awarded numerous prizes for contributing to science and engineering. Three years ago, the joint American National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society gave me the title of Distinguished Professor of Crashworthiness.
Q: So you have never worked with a fellow Zambian abroad?
A: Not in Europe, no. I've worked with fellow Zambians here at the University of Zambia in my early years.
Q: Where are you based now?
A: I am based at the University of Bolton, which is in Lancashire, five miles from Manchester.
Q: Going back to engineering, what is crashworthiness all about?
A: Crashworthiness is a very complex stream of science - what you do here is you look at how a body which is moving can absorb kinetic energy when an instantaneous stop or crash happens to that particular body. This can be a car, an aircraft or even a bicycle.
Since these machines are driven by human beings, I have to make sure that these people survive the impact loads when a crash happens. Therefore in every car, aircraft and train design, I make sure that the vehicles are given survival spaces to reduce accelerations on the body of the occupants. Therefore, my work involves both structural mechanics and bio-mechanics.
Q: What are the modern passenger safety technologies that are in place?
A: The modern passenger safety technologies that are in place are in two forms.
One is passive safety, here is where crashworthiness becomes important and you can see within the vehicle itself. Passive safety devices are the safety belt itself, the airbags although one would say they become active with an element of impact, but they are passive devices, the body structures that have crumple zones and survival cell. Then we call active safety.
This is divided in two parts: first is the active primary safety, which is like the braking system, the lighting, indicators, etc. And we also have active secondary safety which are the accident avoidance system, ESP technology that improves the handling on vehicles with high centre of gravity There are other safety technologies that are coming on-board. These for example are the speed control and alert devices, lane change control, sleep sensors, re-moulding tyres or puncture proof tyres and many more
Q: What is ESP?
A: Electronic Stability Programme. This protects high centre of gravity vehicles such as SUV or commonly known in Zambia as four wheel drives not to overturn.
Q: Is this the new phenomenon in the technology industry?
A: Yes, this is new.
Q: You have been around for over a week now. What are your impressions on vehicles running on Zambian roads in relation to safety?
A: Ninety per cent of the vehicles that are running on Zambian roads are not road worthy and do not comply to any European, American or even Japanese safety standards.
These are hazards on our roads. Not all imported second hand cars from abroad are good for Zambia. In UK, for example, they have found that over 60 per cent of imported second hand reconditioned Japanese cars do not comply to the safety standard. Similar problems may be in Zambia. This is why I went to visit Mr Fredrick Mwalusaka, the director and CEO chief executive officer of the Road Transport and Safety Agency to see how I can help.
They have accepted my help and I will be advising them on a number of issues that will change the Zambian road picture by removing unsafe vehicles from the roads. My biggest worry is with the buses and minibuses. Ninety nine per cent of these are extremely dangerous and putting passengers at high risk. This is public transport and safety must start from here.
Q: When surfing through the Internet I came across information that you are also an editor of a journal. Which journal is this and what is it about?
A: That's correct. This is 'The International Journal on Crashworthiness'. I am the founder and the editor-in-chief. It's the only journal in the world that publishes the research outputs from all over the world in the engineering branch of Crashworthiness. This is a highly respected journal and was founded in 1996.
Q: How often is it published?
A: We initially started with four issues per year and now we have a circulation of six issues per year. So it comes out every two months.
Q: How many staff members does it have?
A: At the university five people work for it and at the publisher's about 20.
Q: I gather that you have been called upon by multi-national companies like Mercedes Benz, BMW, Grand Prix, British Aerospace and the like to provide your expertise on crashworthiness. Tell me about your experience there.
A: My experience there is very good because most of the vehicles I have participated in designing for Mercedes Benz, BMW, Aston Martin, Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Land Rover, The Jordan and McLaren Grand Prix, etc sell well and better protect occupants in crashes. My contributions to them have been mainly in the structure of the vehicle itself.
Q: Is there any particular project you have done where you think you made a great contribution?
A: I think in all my projects I have made big contributions. The reason being that on over 300 projects I have carried out over the years, there is a tangible outcome that is a working machine. So I cannot distinguish any particular project and say that this is actually the most distinguished among all. The reason being that if I am on a project I give all. Between you and I, NASA have nicknamed me "the perfectionist". This is because I do not tolerate half backed or un-thought through solutions that will spring out problems in the future. But I can say that of all these projects I have done only one project has produced two Internationally awards for me.
A: The Holman Brothers Safety Award in Mechanical Engineering for best research work on aspects of eliminating danger to health and T A Stewart-Dyer/Frederick Harvey Trevithick Prize in Mechanical Engineering. The others are company ones such the Ford and British Railway Awards.
Q: As an engineer, what do you look at in promoting road safety?
A: Education is the key. Zambians must be made aware of everything about safety from primary schools. The general population must be informed of safety issues either through leaflets, newspapers, billboards or television. Every country has a safety scheme and I would like to see that here too. Zambian pedestrians are the most uninformed people I have come across so far. They cross roads at high-risk locations, walk along high speed roads in dark clothing putting themselves in danger. This surely must be priority in teaching safety.
Q: Given the scenario, what then is the remedy?
A: The remedy is traffic separation. The people designing the roads shouldn't design the roads specifically for the width of two lanes that carry the vehicle. They must make sure that pedestrianized sections are put in place at the design stage. Road construction in Zambia has been myopic. This must change to improve the mobility of the forgotten walking public who are indeed the majority. We are in a democracy.
Q: Does this essentially contribute to the number of accidents we have?
A: In fact, it does contribute to the number of accidents. I personally nearly experienced this last night as I was driving coming from Lusaka West into the city centre on Mumbwa Road. Pedestrians were crossing to and fro, walking along the edge of this high-speed road without care because they have not been offered pedestrian lanes. I found this extremely disturbing and would like to see accident statistics between cars and pedestrians on this route.
Q: I know you have just been here for a few days now. What's your comment on Zambia's safety in relation to railway transport?
A: Believe it or not, since I came to Lusaka, I have not seen a train. This is the first time in over 30 years that I have not seen a train for a whole week. This is depressing and tells me that the railway system in this country is the worst in the world. The reason may be because nobody has improved the infrastructure since the colonial days. Surely something must be done. The railway in this country is the future if economic revival is the aim. Talking of safety, I saw the railway tracks.
These are all zigzagging all over the place and are below standard for normal operation. I just wonder how accidents do not happen frequently. One reason might be because there are no trains running.
Q: What are your impressions on air transport and air safety in Zambia?
A: I cannot say much on that because there are few aircraft in Zambia. Indeed when I landed I thought I was on the airbase than civil airport. There was not even a single aircraft. I was extremely surprised. But the only thing I can say is the demise of Zambia Airways is a tragedy.
How can a landlocked country have no national airline? The decision taken then and the many poor, tragic privatization decisions have put Zambia back to the turn of 20th Century. We have nothing to show as a country that has been independent for over 40 years.
Q: What about Zambian technology in general? Are we making headway?
A: Technologically no. I have seen there are some changes, for example in Lusaka. I haven't gone to other towns yet but I have been given stories by people who have come from other towns that the whole of the Copperbelt has lost the technological headway it had and the towns are unlivable due to the fact that they are dilapidated. What I want to know is how the owners of these mines are bringing technology back to the community.
This was done well by the British and ZCCM Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines. How are they contributing to the welfare of the locals? These are serious questions that require answers. Copper is sold every year from Zambia and generating billions of kwachas. Why is that only a few millions come to the coffers of Zambia? Surely something has gone terribly wrong here and requires urgent remedy.
Q: What about exporting it as raw copper?
A: We must stop exporting copper as raw material. This should be done in large steps where more manufacturing will take place here and the products sold on the world market. For example, the Chinese come here to buy copper. Why don't we tell them that we will supply manufactured copper components for their assemblies? As the manufacturing business grows, we will demise the copper export and our revenue will be a million times more.
I was surprised to hear of a US$35 million loan from China. This is neither here nor there in terms of great step improvement. It is loose change and will be swallowed in a second without realizing. The painful part will be on the repayments because the money borrowed has to be invested to generate more money, if not as in this case it will be difficult to repay.
Q: I hear senators in the US have called upon you?
A: That's correct. I bet you got this from the website. From time to time I offer advice to The United States Committee on Commerce, Science & Transport. Three weeks ago before coming to Zambia, I was called upon to present to them the European perspective on how we are solving the safety transportation issue on SUV vehicles. Senator Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the committee gathered senators to whom I delivered my report on Capitol Hill.
I have helped the American National Highway Administration on drawing policies that are forwarded to the senate for debate and subsequent implementation into American transport policies. Why they call me is because I am the elected president of the European Union of Transport and Safety Network. My advice does not only end at EU and USA, I also all the time advise the British government, and have offered advice to the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Canada. Yes, I made my contribution to these governments.
Q: I realize that this advice has been given to European, US and other governments, what about your own government?
A: I feel extremely depressed talking about this. I have on several occasions written several letters to different parts of the Zambian government, but no show. In fact, I have one letter here which I wrote in 2006 on 13th August 2005 to a Mr A Chipoya. I received a response in a form of a letter through the post nearly a year later and it said the President cannot meet me due to his busy schedule. I recently wrote another letter to the President through Mr P. Mulimbika. This reply was received four months later just about the time when I was leaving for Zambia. Again the reason is the President's busy schedule. I am here until the 7th of September, perhaps I will convince him to see me.
However, when the President was in London on his way from China, he wrote me a fax message. I thought that was good and considerate. I want to help Zambia, but the policy makers do not want to listen to my proposals then there is nothing I can do but to continue helping other developed countries to prosper even further.
Q: What then is the way forward?
A: The way forward is that I want to talk to the President himself. These people whom I write to and I talk to are wasting my valuable time. I really want to help.
Q: What was the response to the letter you received two days before coming here?
A: The response was "no the President cannot see you because he is very busy". These people do not know me and do not understand me.
Q: Do you think this kind of attitude contributes to the brain drain Zambia is faced with?
A: I think it does. If the British, the European Union and the United States eagerly prepared to hear my ideas and implement them in their policies, why should a developing country like Zambia mess me about? You offer help for free that cost in five figure sums and the Zambian policy makers do not want it.
Q: Do you feel frustrated?
A: That's why I perhaps left Zambia. I think the political angle in Zambia is completely wrong. If you look at many governments, which I have advised all the way from the United States to New Zealand, all these governments have got people who actually advise the President, I have seen that ministers advise the President but ministers do not have that expert knowledge of advising the President. They can inform him on how things are happening within their ministries and how the country should be run. But when it comes to pure advice on technical issues, experts should come in.
Q: Despite all the frustrations are you still available for advice?
A: I am here. In fact, I am here until the 7th of September if anybody wants to talk to me my mobile number is 0977376600.
Q: Do you have any intentions of joining politics?
A: Yes, if I am going to make a difference. But I am not saying in what capacity. I will say that later when I am ready. At the moment I am still a university Professor, I would like to help in terms of ideas to different ministries and to different governments. I would like to come and see that I help my country. I have got three more years to actually complete my university work and after that perhaps I will return to Zambia and come and help in a big way.
Q: What has been your greatest challenge in your profession?
A: My greatest challenge has been, being a foreigner in a foreign country. If I weren't pioneering these things nobody would have listened to me. Because everything I have done is pioneering I have never followed or used anybody's ideas. Everything I have produced for all these countries have been pioneering. I have never followed anybody in any research or any advice whatsoever. I have delivered very complex outputs that require profound thinking.
Q: Professor you are at the University of Bolton...
A: Yes! I am a Professor at the University of Bolton, I hold a chair, which is called the chair of automotive and aerospace structures. It is a top chair at the university as it combines two chairs, namely automotive and the other aerospace.
Q. What do you away from you professional life?
A. Yes, I do sponsor and support a school in Lusaka called Cardington School. I have tied this School to a British one from Bolton in UK. My support is in generating funding for the school. We hold jumble sales, raise money and buy books plus equipment for the Cardington school.
The director Ruth Mbewe has visited the UK a few times at the invitation of the sister Bolton School. This is my charity angle.
Q: On a lighter note, I hear you are a manager for a Zambian artist in the UK?
A: Yes, you are right. This is my artistic angle. I found this young man to be very talented and hence I wanted to help him break the ice as I did in engineering. His name is C.R.I.S.I.S. Shortly he will release his debut European CD. It's hot. It will be in the shops soon.
Q: Would you like to say anything in conclusion?
A: Yes. I advise the secretary of state for education in the UK. So education is one of the parts I would like to contribute to in this country. This is if I am given a chance.
Author: Well, I hope you will one day be given that chance. I would like to thank you for giving me an opportunity talk to you.
Prof Chirwa: I am equally grateful. Goodbye.