The Zambian Energy Fiasco

The Zambian Energy Fiasco.
By David N Kapoma

For the last eight months or so, the Patriotic Front (PF) government has been claiming that the reason Zambia has been experiencing load shedding is that there was less than normal rainfall in the previous rainy season. They naturally do not want to be blamed for the current energy crisis that has adversely affected copper production and led to reduced industrial output up to as much as 30% by some estimates.

However, something about their explanation has made little or no sense at all. There has been no evidence adduced by the PF of low rainfall patterns from last year. All we have is their word for it. One would expect them to have backed up their claims with statistics and charts obtained from the Meteorological Department but all we have heard is rhetoric that has led to a speculation frenzy.

Adding fuel to the fire has been allegations that substandard equipment was bought by ZESCO from China and installed at Kariba thus leading to low electricity production, supposedly because the equipment cannot handle the current demands of electricity production. Other circles within society claim that probably ZESCO is exporting more power to our neighbouring countries, thereby starving the local people.

Furthermore, the Engineering Institute of Zambia (EIZ) conducted its own investigations and concluded that ZESCO and the Zimbabwean power utility both overused their water allocation from the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) and overproduced power several years ago leading to large losses of water from Kariba Dam and triggering the current power crisis.

The Bulletin and Record (B&R) Magazine investigated the rainfall patterns using data from the Meteorological Department and published a series of articles on the matter and concluded that there was nothing unusual about the rainfall patterns last year or years before. They analyzed data from 2003 and found that rainfall in North-Wester Province where the Zambezi comes from has actually been increasing while in Western it has been flat with no change. In Southern, it has been on a slow decline since 2003.
As the B&R concluded, rainfall patterns is a false reason for load-shedding and yet the PF regime has been giving that reason for many months. Moreover, if indeed we had lower than normal rainfall last year, how come we had a bumper harvest by the government’s own admission? Together with Tanzania, we are the only two countries in Southern Africa to have a food surplus.

So what really happened? Ask any Zambian and they will tell you that there is no simple clear-cut answer other than endless speculations and misinformation from the government who do not seem to want to own up and tell the truth. How did we suddenly lose water overnight from the dam? Does it mean that our engineers never saw this coming, or did the crocodiles at Kariba dam drink it all within a day?

Why didn’t we get a warning from ZESCO at a minimum regarding the increase in load-shedding? Why did the government take the business community and the Zambian people by surprise? Did anyone within ZESCO know that this was going to happen? If they did, what was done about it? Why has there been very little investment in new power production all these years?
And why does the government always speak on behalf of ZESCO on this issue all the time? Why can’t ZESCO come out in the open and tell us the real truth so that we are subjected to incoherent explanations and incongruous statements from the government? Why don’t they tell us the truth? Does it mean we don’t deserve to know the truth? Indeed many questions can be asked whose answers are very important to the Zambian people.

Is ZESCO a victim of the government’s poor decisions?