Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Botswana’s Post COVID-19 Industrialization (Part 2)

The need for the country to set up an oil refinery in Ngamiland District will not only serve a single purpose of securing our petroleum supply, but there are a host of other benefits that will follow after. The immediate benefit will of course be the employment of many citizens and especially the residents of that district. Other industries will naturally follow as there will be a developed road and railway network with electrical power distributed all across the region.

Another major industry that is certainly unavoidable will be the petrochemical sector. The petrochemical industry directly interfaces with the refineries and always becomes the primary downstream sector that creates a host of by-products.

As someone who comes from the social sciences background, I am not writing as an authority in this field, but I do so as a citizen who sees a great opportunity for our country. I do not necessarily need to explain the nomenclature of this science. I hope someone educated in the field of chemistry will write an article to get us into the science that I am going to circumvent here. I am mainly dealing with issues of national strategy.

The petrochemical industry is mainly concerned with the production of plastic and such related products. We should not think plastic in the narrow sense of the shopping bags that we use on daily basis. But instead we must think industrial plastic and that involves water tanks, water pipes, and a host of other products. We already have a thriving motor part industry in Botswana. This is where electrical components of German cars are produced in Gaborone West by a German company. It is here that plastic is consumed in great quantities as it is used for insulation purposes.

One of the two major players in the industry of petrochemicals is BASF of Germany and DuPont of America. BASF is already involved here in the soda ash industry and that product ends up in their factories in South Africa. It may be necessary to bring in a new player like DuPont but that will of course be determined by our primary refiner. For instance, ExxonMobil addresses the refinery and the downstream petrochemical sector.

The petrochemical industry will be a critical sector for Botswana because it will help us to stop exporting jobs. Once the infrastructure is set up here, it will equally help in the creation of a host of other industries. The plastic industry is so critical in the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Botswana needs to invest in a more long lasting infrastructure such as the medical and agricultural sectors. There is never going be a time when people will have no need for food and medical attention. At least we have learnt those lessons from COVID-19 and going forward the country must have a new strategy to address the needs we have realised.

From the proceeds of the refined petroleum products combined with the savings from what we are paying now for our imports, the country can set up the state of the art hospitals around the country and the industry that supports it. A majority of the medical equipment used on daily basis comes from the petrochemical industry.

Walking into any hospital for medical attention, the doctor will wear the rubber gloves, a mask and a plastic apron before the examination begins. Then what may follow may be a UV transmission and an injection using a plastic syringe while the patient lies on a bed made predominantly of plastic material to prevent staining. It is these things that the industry will export and as well as consume domestically.

If this country invests in a world class state of the art medical complex, the rest of Africa may never have to seek for medical attention overseas. Better and affordable medical facilities for our population will equally translate to an improved life expectancy. An investment in medical infrastructure will help grow the country’s GDP in many ways. In a case where a state of the art medical complex is set up in Maun, this will attract medical tourists. These are tourists who come from overseas for sightseeing and medical attention.

India and Cuba are two countries that are cashing in on this aspect of medicine as thousands of Westerners are flocking to these two countries for medical attention. In the process, the visiting patients spend thousands of dollar on other unrelated industries. And here is an opportunity that can begin to work on as part of our post COVID-19 survival strategy.

We all agree that we need to be self-sufficient in food as a country. But of course we do not possess the means of production. The means of production are, the plastic pipes used for irrigation and particularly drips as they have proven to be ideal for Botswana’s climatic conditions.

Morden and effective agriculture requires improved technologies. One of such technology is the growing of crops under tunnels. Most African countries consume a small portion of what is the total demand globally. But it is this market that we can tap on to as the demand is still met by importing these plastic tunnels half a world away from China. Tunnels assist in growing the crop faster and in the absence of pests and disease.

When we talk of self-sufficiency in food, we are talking bringing in hundreds of tractors into the country. The petrochemical industry will serve to provide synthetic rubber for the production of tyres and this will extend to the motor vehicles we use daily.

Everyone reading this article needs to understand that they have already used several petrochemical products which include sanitizers and household detergents. We all interact with petrochemical products daily and it has become unavoidable. The plastic pipe runs the water to your house and your smart phone is another good example of how close our interaction becomes. Simply put, the world is addicted to petrochemicals and we need to fill the need. Next week we will discuss the interaction of the refinery and the soda ash mine.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.