Saturday, August 15, 2020

Botswana’s Post COVID-19 Industrialization

Botswana is one country in Africa which will emerge victorious from this period of COVID-19, a pandemic that has literally brought the world to a point of paralysis. Even the best individuals in the field of epidemiology have never in their wildest imaginations thought of a pandemic that would bring the world to its knees where the superpowers are rendered powerless.

But as a country, we have seen our most vulnerable points as a regards to our economy. One of the biggest problems was the supply of petroleum products into the country, a major strategic commodity and we must never let that happen again.

South Africa has been our sole petroleum supplier and its seems we have not seen that we presented ourselves as weak and most vulnerable to an extent where we could be sanctioned by lorry drivers. The rescue plan to bring refined petroleum products via Namibia and Mozambique will not in any way solve our current problems as regards our energy needs.

As far back as 1992, I became aware of Botswana government’s intension to set up Tshele Oil Reserves. This came to be known to me as the military was involved in the plans as this was a major security issue that needed buy-in from all key stakeholders in the country. As a junior officer, I thought that was going to happen within ten years. After South Africa’s independence in 1994, complacency dug and this is one of the reasons why we are where we are now.

Now is the time to establish not only a site for our petroleum reserves but the best thing we can also go on and do is to set up our own oil refinery. The best way to establish this industry is to involve the experts in the field. We have the University of Science and Technology in Palapye which should serve us in our hour of need. The setting up of a refinery requires the involvement of physicists and chemists. In fact as far as I am concerned, it is the chemistry professors that should make the first move and advice government on the way forward. They must act proactively.

The best site for an oil refinery will be in the North West District as it borders Caprivi Strip in Namibia. This strip offers us great opportunities for the import of crude oil from Angola. We would have a sure and steady supply from this country which is the continents second largest producer.

SONANGOL which is the state-owned petroleum company will become the supplier to Botswana Oil Limited (BOL). According to Angola’s commodity and infrastructure map, the nearest oil well for the export of crude oil into Botswana would be from the city of Menongue.

BOL could invest in the construction of a railway line from Menongue running all the way into the North West District. Currently there is basically no existing infrastructure that links the two neighbouring countries. Menongue is already connected to the town of Namibe which is found in the western part of Angola. Already there is an existing oil infrastructure in this town. The railway line would not only provide our country with the much needed crude oil, but it would also become an essential alternative rail route from the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently Angola’s oil production was recorded earlier than the onset of the pandemic as declining. Botswana’s entry into the refining industry will serve to improve the prospects of addressing their decline in production. The African Development Bank was already involved in the financing of the expansion of the oil infrastructure in Angola prior to the start of this current epidemic.

Obviously the Angolans are looking for avenues and opportunities to ramp up their production. Botswana provides a great opportunity for such growth. Even though Botswana has a relatively small population, it has a high per capita population of motor vehicles and this has equally raised our petroleum energy requirements.

Setting up a refinery in the vicinity of Tsodilo Hills would be an ideal thing. Obviously the EIA would take a refinery as further away as possible from the Okavango River and Delta. And for security reasons, no country would want to have its only oil refinery on the fringes of an international border.

A railway line connecting Tsodilo Refineries to the rest of the country would obviously originate from Sua Town. This is another town that provides a host of economic activities for the country’s industrialization. Already tenders are floating for the construction of a railway connecting Sua Town with Livingston in Zambia. This would be an ideal route to export refined petroleum products to the southern part of Zambia. There is a pipeline that brings crude oil into Zambia and it runs along the Tazara Railway. There have been logistical challenges in as far as supplying the southern part of Zambia is concerned. That opening will definitely be filled by BOL as they resume production from the Tsodilo refineries. Zimbabwe will also need to be supplied with fuel from here as they are equally facing supply challenges.

This is one project that will turn the economic prospects of the Ngamiland area. This district still records very high incidents of poverty and an industrial project of such magnitude would certainly bring a total turn-around of their local economy.

The development of a petro-industry in the North West District will have rippling effects on the entire economy of Botswana as there will be a host of petroleum downstream industries. These are job creation opportunities that will equally have cascading effects on entire economy of the country.  

The rail link between the Tsodilo refineries and Sua Town will also open up a host of economic opportunities as a lot of the extracts from soda ash will become useful in supporting the petrochemical industry. It is this platform that can serve as a springboard to Botswana’s fast tracked industrialization.

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