By Peter Nyanje
More than half a century after many of its countries were politically liberated, Africa still struggles to enforce its position in global development rankings despite being touted as a continent with significant economic development potential.
Several factors can be attributed to this situation including poor leadership.
Africa the second most populous continent and has vast fertile, abundant arable land - plus resources such as water, forests and minerals.
These ingredients are significant in propelling socio-economic development in a country.
But Africa still languishes at the bottom of the development ladder globally. For any country to effectively benefit from its human and material resources, its leaders must provide the necessary direction and take sound decisions. May be this is what’s lacking in Africa.
The quality of leaders is also crucial in establishing democratic processes and successes. Leadership shortcomings militate against economic strides.
Take, for instance, the current crippling electricity crisis in South Africa. The problem might not have reached the current level of load-shedding if Ethiopia had quickened the process of constructing a major hydroelectric dam along the Nile River.
This is because Ethiopia would have been producing surplus power which could have been sold to the power-stressed South Africa through the eastern Africa grid.
It should be taken into account that Tanzania has already connected its grid with Kenya, which is connected to Ethiopia.
Therefore, electricity from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) would have been able to reach South Africa through Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.
Similarly, this problem facing South Africa today would not have been a major challenge if Tanzanian leaders had not abandoned the ‘Gas Economy’ initiative mulled during the administration of former President Jakaya Kikwete.
Kikwete came to power in 2005 amid serious drought which had crippled hydroelectric dams which were producing more than 70 percent of electricity for Tanzania.
He then decided to think outside the box and came up with plans to use the abundant natural gas resources in southern Tanzania as a major source of energy.
This was meant to transform Tanzania from relying on hydroelectricity and become a gas-powered economy.
If the plan was implemented, Tanzania today would have been generating enough power for itself with a lot of surplus which could be sold to other countries in need like South Africa.
But progress towards developing a gas economy in Tanzania is as good as dead.
If the Southern African regional group, SADC and its East African sister, EAC had implemented their idea to connect their power pools, South Africa would benefit from Ethiopia's electricity.
Even if the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has stalled, had Tanzania pushed for the gas economy initiative, by now it would have been producing enough electricity from its vast gas resources and possibly sell to other countries.
Tanzania's decision under the administration of late Dr John Magufuli to abandon the gas economy initiative has also proved to be costly for the country itself.
Only two months ago, Tanzania was in a power crisis due to shortages in generation options.
This would not have been the case if the government had pushed on with the gas initiative as a major power source.
The Kikwete government had borrowed money to fund a gas pipeline project from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam to make the resource readily available for industrial and other uses.
The project cost the country around $1.22 billion. However, the subsequent government decided to ditch the gas economy plan and opted to construct the Julius Nyerere Hydroelectric Dam along the Rufiji River despite concerns from environmentalists and economists.
As a result, a pipeline that cost the country $1.22 billion is now operating below half its capacity.
The Gas economy initiative was meant to allow Tanzania to use gas to support its socio-economic development.
There were plans to turn gas into primary cooking fuel in Tanzania, thus saving the country’s forests that are being decimated by charcoal makers. But all those plans were shelved.
There were also plans for gas-powered electricity generation projects in phases, aiming to make Tanzania a major regional power producer.
The projects planned to be mainly funded through private-sector investments with minimal state financial injection, were meant to produce more than 10,000 megawatts on completion.
But all projects lined up by the Kikwete government to increase power generation were shelved by his successors.
As a result, Tanzania is among the countries affected by power shortages despite having all resources required to produce more than enough power for its economy.
As we speak, Tanzania generates below 1,300 megawatts of electricity for its population of more than 65 million.
A few years ago, office of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) indicated in its annual report that the debt from the abandoned pipeline project, which was placed under Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), has left the public entity operating with negative capital, affecting its liquidity.
Boosting free trade
Former Tanzania President, Benjamin Mkapa, was a proponent of intra-African trade.
He pushed for trading among African countries noting that the exchange would boost economies of the countries and that by doing so they would benefit more compared with the current practice of selling their raw materials mainly to developed nations.
He made these arguments challenging the point of view of those pushing African countries to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).
Mkapa was somewhat satisfied when the continent decided to establish Africa Continent Free Trade Area (AfCTA), with the overall mandate to create a single market bringing together 55 countries and eight regional economic groupings with a total population of 1.3 billion and combined GDP of approximately $3.4 trillion.
AfCTA, which came into force in May 2019, was considered a panacea for intra-Africa trade ills. However, despite having 54 out of 55 nations signing the pact as of this month, trade among African countries has continued to be disappointingly low.
According to data published last January by Africa Renewal, a United Nations digital magazine covering Africa's economic, social and political areas, intra-Africa trade accounts for just 14.4 per cent of total African exports.
Analysts argue that AfCTA may be an excellent vehicle to take African trade ahead, but having it is one thing and political will, which is needed to make trade happen between and among African countries, is an entirely different thing.
Thus it is difficult to see Rwanda, which has embarked on manufacturing electric cars, depending on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a source of raw materials for the production of batteries because their two strong men do not see eye to eye despite the advantage of the countries’ being neighbours.
Working together for the common good is the best option for African countries. For instance, instead of bitter rivalry over Nile water utilisation, Ethiopia and Egypt would have looked at the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS) as a model and an essential instrument to resolve their misunderstandings.
Founded in 1972, OMVS has proved to be the most successful example of shared river management, as since then, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Mauritania have never quarreled over Senegal River waters.
African countries should also consider AfCTA as a solution to their economic woes. Each African government's efforts to improve its trade balance with the world should be directed at boosting the trade balance with fellow African countries.
This would see African countries sharing their wealth and creating employment opportunities through investments facilitated by intra-Africa trade.
Trade can easily be made between African countries by connecting economic hubs.
For instance, EAC has easily connected Tanzania to the Atlantic Ocean through DRC, which was recently added as the newest member of the intergovernmental organisation.
Before that, SADC was the first to consolidate that trans-Kalahari land corridor between Walvis Bay in Namibia and Pretoria in South Africa in 1998 before it was extended to Maputo (Mozambique), thus linking the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The author, Peter Nyanje, is a political and economic analyst based in Dar es Salam, Tanzania.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.