Kariba: are the wheels falling off?

via Kariba: are the wheels falling off? – The Zimbabwean 29.10.2015

The rhetoric on Kariba these days focuses on reduced power production, falling lake levels, failing fisheries, dropping tourist arrivals and hyperbolic descriptions of the catastrophe that awaits the region should the dam wall collapse.

One would be excused for thinking that the wheels are falling off.  But is that really the case?

Built between 1955 and 1959, it would be natural to expect that the Kariba Dam wall would by now need rehabilitation. It has aged. To not do anything and expect optimum production would be dereliction of duty of the worst kind.

The attempted denial of the fact that the wall is faced with certain collapse, if recommended urgent rehabilitation works are not carried out, is also an irresponsible act worthy of punishment.

Why have the governments of both Zambia and Zimbabwe gone on to contract Chinese company Sino Hydro to expand their stations’ generation capacity – if the structure on which they are founded is collapsing? Why waste all this money if the dam will be washed away?

Technical advice
Clearly both countries are aware, or at the very least, have received technical advice to the effect that the plant still has life in it. Not just life, but valuable life. Recall that this is the very facility that the British Queen, on commissioning it, observed that the plant would generate “power for the rapidly growing industries for this potentially enormously rich territory”. The territory she was referring to were the two Rhodesias – both Southern and Northern – during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

What has clearly been lacking is proper leadership. Both Zambia and Zimbabwe, as Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia became known after attaining independence, have had their founding fathers overstaying their welcome in the office of president.  Kenneth Kaunda had to be forced out by a strong wave of multi-party democracy after 27 years in office.  He wouldn’t willingly leave – even though it was apparent that he had nothing new or better to offer Zambia. He had to be defeated.

Real “rapidly growing” industrial activity only started after he left office. His Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, is eyeing another five-year term in office after 35 years in power. Zimbabwe is not enjoying any rapid industrial growth. The opposite is true.

Lack of planning
The expansion exercises in both countries are rather reactionary and, in the case of Zimbabwe, driven by the need to gain political mileage and not to satisfy anticipated industrial growth.  It is this lack of planning that is hampering the otherwise “potentially enormously rich territory.”

Guy Scott, who briefly became Zambia’s president after the death of the fifth republican president Michael Sata, in 2014, was right in observing that there is a major problem in sharing facilities such as a power generating station. There is an obvious competition in using the resource being shared (water in this case) – leading to its overuse.

All signs are pointing to a changed attitude towards the rehabilitation and maintenance of our power plants, finding alternative sources of energy and generally planning ahead. This development will be enhanced with a new thinking and style of leadership in both countries. The ruling parties do not necessarily have to change, but there has to be obvious changes in vision and thrust, probably necessitating fresh pairs of eyes.

There is a future
With funding for the rehabilitation works now secured from international investors, it is certain that deformities, cracks and anticipated new challenges will be addressed.  The plunge pool will be reshaped to avert the scouring of the basalt foundations. There is a future. Kariba can live again but only under a visionary leadership.

The same is true about the receding shoreline on Lake Kariba. It is purely a lack of effective leadership and planning issue.  One cannot blame climate change when it is a phenomenon that has been preached about for a long time but nothing has been done to anticipate its effects or mitigate them.

As an asset of immense importance the Kariba Dam reservoir is being mismanaged. The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) allocates water usage to both ZESCO (Zambia) and ZPC (Zimbabwe) depending on scientific studies of inflows and other hydrological conditions. However, both ZESCO and ZPC are known to have used more than their allocations, worsening an already bad situation. IF ZRA guidelines had been abided by, the serious load shedding now being suffered would have been far much less.

Sound advice is spurned and yet the governments would want us to believe that it is drought, caused by climate change, which is causing havoc. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is even claimed in government circles that the British are draining our lake as part of their economic sanctions.  This is no joking matter that serious government officials should be laughing about.

There are just too many hands involved in its administration. Besides the ZRA allocating water to both ZESCO and ZPC, based on measurable variables, ZINWA also sells the same water to municipalities, like Kariba town. ZINWA adds no value to the water, does not maintain it and probably does not measure any inflows. None of the money collected is ploughed back into the reservoir as is the case with the ZRA. Zambia is also doing the same in Siavonga.

One can see that Scott’s sentiments are correct – the two countries are competing with each other to draw from the shared resource. Only the Zambezi River Authority, which is a corporate body co-owned by Zambia and Zimbabwe, should manage the Kariba Dam as part of its mandate is to “regulate the water level in the Kariba reservoir and in any other reservoir owned by ZRA.”

Daily usage fee
The same mismanagement is affecting tourism. Since the separation of the ministries of Tourism and Environment, tourist arrivals started to drop partly due to unviable charges now demanded for a tourist to access Lake Kariba. The charging has even intensified from the initial per entry fee to a daily usage fee. The drastic annual drops in attendance figures at the Kariba Invitation Tiger Fishing Tournament (KITFT) attest to this.

Why the Tourism and Environment portfolios cannot fall under one ministry as before to help with cogent decision making is a big wonder. One is tempted to think that it is just a way of creating employment for loyalists. The economy suffers in the process – figures don’t lie.

There are so many things happening  on Lake Kariba that manifest themselves in power shortages, dwindling fish catches and dropping tourist arrival figures. These cannot be wished away or be blamed on the British and their Western allies. These have to be admitted as mismanagement issues so that they can be looked at with new vigour and addressed and, ultimately, give Kariba a new lease of life.


  • comment-avatar
    Gomogranny 7 years ago

    Splitting the Ministry of Tourism from Environment has to rank as one of the most stupid moves this government ever made. Not only are ZIMPARKS now running at an all time low, but TOURISM which relies totally on coherent environmental policy is now all but dead.
    A vibrant Ecotourism Industry sits wholly upon the management of our environment…which is a complete shambles. Wholesale slaughter of our wild life by both Parks themselves (in the name of staff rations) and by shadowy characters in the Presidents office is the result. They like to tell us it is the Zambians or the Mozambicans with the cyanide…..hah, a pack of lies. The killers are Zimbabweans. And no, Hon. Made the place is not being burned by pissed off white farmers either….much as you would like to point your stubby little finger at them….the country burns, again because our so called EMA and Min. of Environment are too busy playing politics to get anything useful done.

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    R Judd 7 years ago

    All of our problems can laid out in a similar manner to this articles very clear analysis of goings on regarding Kariba. The unwillingness to plan and take responsibility are hallmarks of every ZANU activity. Our smart mouth leader is truly useless

  • comment-avatar

    I once asked a friend, “What is the Shona word for maintenance?”

    He didn’t know. Does anybody?

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    amina 7 years ago

    During the Rhodesian era, catastrophically happening like these of such magnitude never occurred, the same countries except Malawi were the once that constructed the dam. The original plan and development were done by the Italians, yet China was already there, but why did the government of those years not involve them, the simple reason is that they have no reputation. Now because Mugabe and his ZANU PF want to steal money they can not even consider local engineers. Chinese are known world over of delivering a product that is substandard since they only focus on doing a simple job depending with the money available regardless of durability. MUGABE is playing with lifes of people. HE MUST JUST RESIGN

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    Mazano Rewayi 7 years ago

    The problem with our systems is inheritance! If one is not involved with something from the start chances are they will not fully appreciate it until it is gone. Our “nationalist” leaders inherited investments they had no clue about. This is why the mark of independence is usually deterioration in infrastructure and services. They fought for the result that they saw without understanding the effort/sacrifice behind that result. Check what we did with the former commercial farms – we saw the green fields and concluded it was a blessing stolen from us! Modern leadership is something we are still to learn – it requires foresight, humility and evidence based decision making, not fantasies passing off as national policy.

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    mandevu 7 years ago

    “With funding for the rehabilitation works now secured from international investors”. What investors are these and what are they investing in? What are the terms of the deal? Why cant we fund our own rehabilitation works? These need to be answered before suggesting that all is well, don’t worry!

    • comment-avatar
      Mugarbage 7 years ago

      Good point, you don’t need foreign capital to invest in local industry for it to be viable.
      However, the wealthy of Zimbabwe rather put their money in a Swiss bank account with negative interest, than invest in their own country. Thieving scum.

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    Tsotsi 7 years ago

    The way of all Africa. The peak at when the nasty colonialists (or their successors) ran the place, then downhill all the way. No exceptions. None. Even South Africa is heading in the same general direction.