The ground around the majority of informal markets in the Zambian capital Lusaka is covered in black sand. On close inspection one will realise that the sand is not black but that the ground surface turns black due to the charcoal trade in the country. Trading is one of the main economic activities at these markets and tonnes of charcoal bags have become part of the markets’ character.
Unlike in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, the charcoal is not used for braaivleis but as a source of energy for cooking in the majoirty of households in that country. Zamibians have been forced to use coal as an alternative source of energy to cook because the grid powered electicity is just not reliable or at worse not available at all.
This is the electricity story of the SADC region. We jokingly talk about how charcoal is used to roast and barbecue meat at parties over weekends in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. But this does not mean that these countries are not facing the same power shortages as in the rest of the region. They too are facing problems and are unable to sufficiently provide electricity at affordable rates to the citizenry. Last week, we reported that the cost of eletricity to the end consumer will increase and that utilities in the region will move away from providing electricity at subsidised rates but rather at cost.
Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zamibia for example have been loadshedding for years now. While the fight about providing affordable power to Namibians has been on suspended deadlock in boardrooms and airconditioned offices, the country is slipping into an energy crisis daily.
It has become apparent to us that in many of the SADC countries, the fight is over which sources of energy are more cost effect and will benefit the region’s poor. But what is clear is that the status quo cannot and should not be allowed to continue. The pace of ensuring that everyone in the region has access to electricity has been painfully slow. The World Bank, for example, states that only 23.4 percent of the Sub Saharan Africa population had access to electricity by 1990. This figure only improved to 37.5 percent by 2014. If you look at South Asia for example, the figure stood at 42.9 percent in 1990 and more than doubled to 80 percent by 2014.
Althoug there are some who came with massive improvements like Botswana who came form 5.8 percent to 56 percent during the same period, others like Angola suffered a decline, dropping from 47 percent to 32 druing the same period.
The lack of reliable and affordable power supply to the SADC region is also humpering the region’s economic growth and undermining its competativeness. It will aslo be detrimental to the region’s desire to industrialise as high energy costs mean higher production costs, which equal to less competitive prices for value added products from the region.
We are calling on all SADC governments to find synergies in resolving the power crisis facing the region, without greedily opting for profits over the region’s developmental needs, which will anyway benefit all in it. The Inga hydro power project in the DRC is one that comes to mind. The project has the capacity to power the whole of Africa with its clean energy, but fell through because some of the SADC countries opted to circumvent others in the region with the hope of maximising profits.
There is a serious need for consolidation of power generation with power utilities in SADC and engagement between Namibia and Zimbabwe is a positive sign.
Currently, Zimbabwean power consumption stands at 1 200 megawatts at peak periods while Namibia needs about 450 megawatts at peak periods. Ironically neither Namibia nor Zimbabwe are meeting their generational targets.
According to statistics, recent efforts by Zimbabwe to expand the Kariba South Power project will increase generation capacity by 300 megawatts and if equally shared between the two countries load shedding can easily be wiped out.
If the expansion of the Kariba power station and the Hwange Coal power project are completed Zimbabwe can easily push its generation capacity to above 1 200MW, a move that will not only allow that country to cater for its domestic power consumption but also produce surplus that can then be shared with other utilities.
Its about time the SADC population gets what is due to them and this can only happen when the region pulls in one direction and solves the electricity questions once and for all.