LET’S connect the dots. The Russians clinched a diamond mining deal this week which gives them 70% shareholding of a joint-venture with the Zimbabwean government.
Candid Comment with Brezh Malaba
China is back in full force in Chiadzwa, after three years of sulking over its unceremonious eviction from the lucrative diamond fields. The Americans, soon after building a new US$300 million embassy in Harare, have just won a multi-billion-dollar energy deal, catching everyone by surprise.
A geopolitical chess game is playing out in Africa as the powerful US, China and Russia jostle for influence and scramble for resources on this continent.
In the past month, I have travelled extensively in southern Africa and what I have seen is astonishing. Although each country’s economic and political circumstances are unique, there are common threads running throughout the region.
Angola, for instance, is experiencing a bout of soul-searching after the political elites squandered an estimated US$600 billion in oil revenue while children are dying like flies from curable diseases and malnutrition. In Mozambique, the political elites have orchestrated a huge scandal involving fraudulent government loans totalling US$2,2 billion, plunging the donor-dependent economy into untold turmoil.
Our northern neighbour, Zambia, is reeling from economic turbulence precipitated by a rapidly rising external debt stock and vicious squabbles which continue destabilising the all-important copper-mining sector. Here in Zimbabwe, 6,7 million people face starvation, extreme poverty is now endemic in the world’s second-biggest exporter of platinum, and 18-hour power blackouts are decimating the few remaining companies that had miraculously survived two decades of gross economic mismanagement, corruption and political upheaval.
All these countries are richly endowed with vast natural resources. But why are children succumbing to curable diseases, why is hunger tormenting millions of people, why is access to electricity a pipedream? Here is the answer: It is all about the calibre of African leadership, the quality of our institutions, and the citizens’ acceptance of mediocrity. It is interesting that when a mutual opportunity to “eat” arises, the powerful nations are willing to momentarily lay down their weapons and enjoy the feast together. The proposed US$5,2 billion Batoka Gorge hydro-electric scheme — projected to generate 2 400 megawatts — is one such sumptuous meal. In an unusual spectacle, General Electric, a US corporate giant, has teamed up with Power Construction Corporation of China to build the power plant. Mutually Assured Eating!
The deal is touted as a public-private partnership on a Build, Operate and Transfer arrangement, but in reality the citizens of Zimbabwe and Zambia will have to inherit this debt. I am astounded by the ballooning of Batoka’s projected cost from about US$4 billion to US$5,2 billion. Is someone trying to pull a fast one? But, again, this is what happens when inept leaders go begging for foreign assistance after failing dismally to harness internal resources.
Think, for a moment, where Zimbabwe would be today, had the Chiadzwa diamond bonanza been channelled to funding Batoka.