As Botswana gropes for solutions on how to diversify its economy away from diamond mining, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has recommended that the country should invest in “high-impact” infrastructure.
The recommendation is made in the bank’s Botswana country strategy paper 2015-2019 which rests on two pillars: infrastructure development and private sector development.
“To revive private sector investments and increase the productivity of economic investments, government would have to invest in high-impact infrastructure to improve competitiveness, provide a sound regulatory business as well as enhance skills development,” the banks says in a statement in which it announced the approval of the CSP by its board of directors.
In the recent past, Botswana’s effort to invest in such infrastructure has yielded mixed fortunes. On a positive note, the country has partnered with Zambia to construct the long-awaited Kazungula Bridge which will connect southern Africa with the rest of the African continent. AfDB is providing 31.5 percent of the money needed to construct the US$259.3 million project which started in December last year.
The Kazungula Bridge and Border Project, as it is officially known, entails the implementation of new infrastructure to replace the existing ferry and border facilities between Zambia and Botswana at Kazungula. The project comprises the construction of road-bridge over the Zambezi River, border facilities in each country and approximately 10 kilometres of bridge approach and access roads. Due to the absence of a bridge, hundreds of vehicles have to wait for a week or two to pass through the existing pontoons, costing the regional economy a lot of money.
The bridge will eliminate the risks associated with operating pontoons, and reduce transit time from 36 hours to 2 hours. The construction of the project will be undertaken by South Korean Daewoo Engineering & Construction ÔÇô the same company that built the Serowe-Orapa road.
According to the Brookings Institute, a leading think tank in the United States, Botswana is one of the 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa which have surpassed the threshold for domestic financing for infrastructure. Experts say that when it comes to domestic financing for infrastructure, 5-6 percent of GDP should be sufficient. Alongside the Central Republic of Africa, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Rwanda, Botswana allocates between 7.1 and 8 percent of its GDP to infrastructure.
On a negative note, Botswana has experienced catastrophic failure with the Morupule B power station, which AfDB also provided funding for. At full capacity, Morupule is supposed to generate 600 megawatts (MW), with each one of the four units generating 150 MW. However, the power station has never consistently generated that amount of power, resulting in loadshedding (rolling blackouts) that has come at great cost to both households and businesses.
The greatest tragedy about Morupule B though is that not even the president can be trusted to provide accurate information about its condition. Last year, at the height of the general election campaign, President Ian Khama told a political rally in Gaborone that there would be no more loadshedding because the power station was now functioning properly. At the precise moment that he said that, Botswana was importing a substantial amount of its ower from Eskom, the South African power utility.