Botswana, better known for its dazzling diamonds and abundant wildlife, is looking to draw in investors by showcasing its vast reserves of coal in a region facing a growing energy crisis. Executives from India, Australia, the U.S and South Africa were among the 200 delegates in the capital Gaborone last week for a government-organized conference designed to illustrate the sector's potential.
"Botswana has vast coal resources estimated at over 200,000 megatons. The resources are grossly under-exploited with a production of less than one million tons a year," said Kgomotso Abi, acting permanent secretary in the ministry of minerals, energy and water resources. "With the impending power crisis in the SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) region, the use of Botswana coal resources to meet both the national and regional energy requirements has become imperative."
Many of the 14 countries in the SADC region are experiencing problems in meeting their energy needs. The Zambian energy ministry for example announced in April that supply would be outstripped by demand by next year, estimating that generation capacity needs to rise from around 1,600 megawatts to about 4,500 megawatts by 2010. The situation is particularly desperate in Zimbabwe which relies on 40% of its electricity on imports from the likes of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo which are running out of surplus power.
Botswana has been one of the great post-colonial success stories, averaging around 9% growth rates in the first three decades after independence, although levels have dipped in recent years to a still impressive 5%. Its success however has been heavily dependent on tourism, and diamonds which account for 77% of the total export earnings.
Abi however said that a thriving coal industry would diversify the base of the economy and had the potential to create many more jobs in a country where unemployment is estimated to be anywhere between 24% and 40%. "Coal-based ecological industrialization provides a strategic model for rapid GDP growth, socio-economic upliftment, job and wealth creation, facilitating poverty elimination that would be the model for Africa," he said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007