WE are a funny lot, are we not?
When political elites and their corporate cronies are looting money meant for sustainable power projects, we gleefully applaud the shameless wheeler-dealers.
In the warped logic of a society that has lost its moral compass, criminals who pocket taxpayer funds are lionised as streetwise geniuses — or “mbinga”, as they are called in Zimbabwe’s filth-ridden capital. The epithet is seen by many as a badge of honour. These self-styled “tycoons” — ranging from corrupt political fixers and backroom operators to attention-seeking crooks who have perfected the art of plundering public funds — are a predatory and parasitic lot who are firmly ensconced on the gravy train.
Not so long ago, Zimbabwe had a fairly competent Energy minister, but he got fired under a cloud of controversy. The current minister is nowhere to be seen.
Who is laughing now? The joke is on us. It takes a rolling series of relentless 18-hour power cuts to remind Zimbabweans that the responsibilities of citizenship must be taken very seriously.
In 1996, Zimbabwe hosted the World Solar Summit amid much pomp and ceremony.
The event was marketed as a glorious endorsement of the country’s solid commitment to green energy. Twenty-six years later, Zimbabwe has not made serious progress towards devising sustainable energy solutions.
A country which claims to be Africa’s most educated society is stuck in a time warp. In terms of infrastructure, Zimbabwe is lagging its regional peers by a good 20 or even 30 years. Other countries in the neighbourhood have been developing in leaps and bounds while we got mired in Stone Age politics, primitive accumulation and a primordial leadership ethos.
When you look at the country’s current fixation with the Hwange Thermal Power Station, you realise just how big the poverty of ideas is. Endlessly patching up an old coal-fired plant was once a decent idea back in the day, but it is no longer a viable proposition. New ideas, new thinking and new projects are required.
There is really no need to re-invent the proverbial wheel. Zimbabwe has an abundance of sunlight. The advantages of solar include mitigating the climate crisis, relatively lower energy costs and cushioning the country from unpredictable prices of imported electricity. It is only through significant investment in renewables that we can build capacity for green, secure and affordable energy.
Building resilience in energy supply takes foresight. For instance, Zimbabwe is emerging as a leading producer of lithium — a strategic mineral in the global shift to electric motoring and innovative energy storage.
If the government continues handling lithium in a shoddy and haphazard manner, the country will witness a recurrence of the Chiadzwa diamond “resource curse”. Foreigners will swarm in, cut corrupt deals with sleazy officials, loot the lithium and leave citizens wallowing in untold poverty.
In a world where countries are fiercely competing for investors in the energy sector, Zimbabwe should get its act together.
Risk-averse investors will not sit idly while twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the government to show policy consistency. Business does not operate like that.
Comprehensive policies are needed for renewable infrastructure development. When private investors realise that the government has skin in the game, they unlock the much-needed capital and technical knowhow. Solar plants and wind farms need huge financial outlays.
Investors will only commit to projects after they are convinced of a reasonable return on investment.
Zimbabwe has all the ingredients for energy self-sufficiency: plenty of sunlight, lots of land, a capable workforce, strategic minerals and access to a vast African market. What is lacking — as always — is competent and honest leadership.