The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) holdings is set to initiate a $32 million fibre optic backbone network project to improve connectivity within the country. This will be done next year through its subsidiary Powertel.

ZESA spokesperson, Mr Fullard Gwasira, confirmed the development saying that surveys have already been completed to confirm the feasibility of the project which will require some 1,850 kilometers of cable. Overall, according to him, the returns on investment from the project are expected to be two-fold, a drastic improvement in national capabilities in power monitoring and grid control as well as a significant increase in internet bandwidth sold across borders. This, very much, supports the overall theme of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-economic Transformation (Zim-Asset).

“This project is going to support network expansion and increase redundancy and enhance quality of service to our consumers. This initiative will increase capacity for growth of the business as well as increasing electricity vending service,” said Mr Gwasira.

A report, dubbed the Zimbabwe Scope Report, was released last week by a British business delegation which visited and assessed the gaps in the Southern African country’s infrastructure base. A big gap, as identified in the report, is the huge disparity between the demand and supply of electric power where demand surpasses supply by 800 megawatts (MW), and this is further compounded by the unavailability of imports from the rest of the Southern African neighbourhood.

“ZESA’s assets are, at all system levels, either inadequate or obsolete. ZESA is heavily indebted and has very limited access to capital. Furthermore, there has been very limited investment in the sector for many years. The power utility hopes, in the short term, to restore and reinforce its transmission and distribution networks, negotiate for an increase in imports with regional partners, implement demand side management, and promote the use of alternative energy resources. It also needs to improve its credit control systems and will implement prepaid meters,” the report read.

In turning this situation around, the country has made substantial investments in its generation development plans, the most recent moves being to expand the 300MW Kariba Power Station and the 600MW Hwange station. ZESA has also begin to upgrade distribution networks and rehabilitate other plants.

As highlighted in the report and hinted by Mr Eliab Chikwenhere, ZESA Group Financial Controller, the country seeks international private sector engagement in the power sector. Investment incentives are available for companies that will operate in the power sector. Such projects will be accorded the special “National Project Status,” which, among other implications, means they will be exempted from paying taxes on capital equipment. They will also gain the assistance of the government in acquiring visas and work permits for international expert project staff.

Even though Zimbabwe has a grim past characterized by economic instability, recent consistent and concerted moves by the government to effect a turnaround appear promising.

By Emmanuel Iruobe

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