Completion of transport, energy infrastructure projects are Zim’s latest benefits from Belt and Road Initiative


The Briefing with Tichaona Zindoga

In the next 30 days, Zimbabwe will start using a new airport facility at the Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, which is part of the expansion of the airport, being sponsored by the People’s Republic of China.

Currently, Zimbabwe’s electricity generation has been ramped up – just in time to ameliorate cold winter – following the completion of a thermal power unit at Hwange; hard on the heels of another recently.

The two projects, whose benefits to the Southern African country are immense, are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a plan that focuses on infrastructure development, investment, trade and other key dimensions to uplift the global economy, with the developing world at the centre.

China, under BRI, instituted the BRI 10 years ago as a trans-continental passage that links China with south east Asia, south Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land – and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connecting China’s coastal regions with south east and south Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe.

According to the initiative defines five major priorities, namely policy coordination; infrastructure connectivity; unimpeded trade; financial integration; and connecting people.

The plan has been revolutionary and won admiration , even from China’s competitors.

The European Bank of Reconstruction notes that BRI has been associated with a very large programme of investments in infrastructure development for ports, roads, railways and airports, as well as power plants and telecommunications networks.

On the other hand, a writer at the think tank, Overseas Development Institute, Linda Calabrese,  asserts that as the BRI focuses on the development of large infrastructure projects, many African countries hope to use this opportunity to fill their own infrastructure gap.

This is because, according to Calabrese: “One of the major constraints to economic development is not having good quality and the appropriate infrastructure.”

Infrastructure development will see roads and railways connecting production sites, power plants and industrial parks and make countries more attractive for investment, thus creating jobs and transforming their economies.

BRI benefits in Zimbabwe

The two projects cited above, namely the Robert Mugabe International Airport and Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion, show BRI in action, and the benefits and impact are immediate.

The airport will become a regional aviation hub able to handle about 6 million passengers annually, from the present 2,5 million.

So far four new aerobridges, one with a capacity of handling A380 aircraft and four baggage carousels have been installed. There is also construction of a new fire station, relocation of satellite fire station and the rehabilitation of an existing apron.

The upgrading of the RGM International Airport is also expected to see more international airlines opening routes into Harare and a corresponding increase in tourist arrivals.

This has excited the Zimbabwe side.

“Get ready for a world-class travel experience with state-of-the-art facilities and top-notch services,” said the Airports Company of Zimbabwe in a statement this week.

This development will see the country attract more airline traffic and travellers for business and tourism, making sure Zimbabwe is well-connected globally. This is against the background that China also funded the expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport, the town dubbed the tourist capital and an emerging financial hub.

The expansion of Zimbabwe’s biggest international airport was made through Chinese funding and expertise

On the other hand, increased electricity generation capacity means that the country can overcome power shortages that have crippled industry and left homes in darkness.

China has undertaken other thermal and hydropower projects in Zimbabwe. On top of the above-cited unit at Hwange, another unit at the plant Hwange 6 came on line two months ago, feeding 300MW into the grid. China was also involved in the expansion of hydropower facility known as the Kariba South Hydro Project; on the Zambezi River at the border with Zambia.

Interestingly, China also undertook hydropower expansion on the Zambian side and handed over the completed project which adds an additional 750 megawatts of power to the national grid, last March.

The bigger picture is that China’s investments are enabling Southern Africa towards energy self-sufficiency which is not just a great benefit to the peoples and economies of Africa, but also a good economic enabler for future high-quality investments by Chinese companies in big projects such as mining.

China also provided finance and technical assistance to Zimbabwe to upgrade the Hwange Thermal power plant

China is not stopping there: it has also tabled unprecedented large projects such as floating solar plant on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, projected to cost over US$1 billion; and just recently China proposed to assist South Africa by providing investment in 66 gigawatt of solar energy.

Ticking Boxes

When it comes to BRI, which Zimbabwe joined in 2018, the country is slowly ticking the boxes and accruing benefits. Of the five focal points of BRI, Zimbabwe is benefiting from mostly infrastructure projects and emerging high quality investments such as that by Tsingshan Holdings, which is building a $US1,5 billion steel plant to complete the metals value chain involving other projects in coke oven battery and ferrochrome.

China’s new energy materials giant, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt is invested in the country’s biggest lithium plant, while a cohort of other Chinese miners dominating the sector are soon seeking to to set up lithium value addition, which could see Zimbabwe move towards producing batteries, which are important in the global electric vehicle and renewable energy requirements.

Zimbabwe is the fifth largest producer of lithium, and high quality investments by Chinese companies will create more benefits for the country in the framework of BRI.

More high quality investments mean more employment, more roads, bridges, rail and electricity and export earnings for the country.

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