Lawsuits and commissions consume money, while the design and construction of oil refineries create jobs. File picture: Reuters
Lawsuits and commissions consume money, while the design and construction of oil refineries create jobs. File picture: Reuters

While we’re focusing on coups and corruption, non-Africans are stealing our lunch

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 11, 2020

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Victor Kgomoeswana

While we – in South Africa – are focusing on Africa’s wars, coups, corruption and Covid-19 stats or are torching police vans and storming courtrooms, non-Africans are stealing our lunch. They are continuing to exploit resources in countries that are not even on our radar – like South Sudan.

In his last week as Energy Minister, Jeff Radebe visited Africa’s youngest state because it is “a significant oil producer with estimated reserves of 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil”. He cited its abundant reserves, “3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in its estimated reserves”, placing it among the top five African giants in oil Nigeria, Libya and Angola. The visit was eyebrow-raising to me because of its timing; it was not clear who was running South Sudan then.

The strategic intent of the visit was reportedly in pursuit of a deal worth nearly $1 billion (about R16.49bn) to establish an exploration block, a pipeline followed by a new refinery. That refinery part of the deal is nearing finalisation, but there is not much mention of South Africa.

A report on announced this week that a leading independent company, Trinity Energy, will construct a $500 million oil refinery in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state.

This 40 000-barrel per day refinery will supply the East African region with refined petroleum by-products. So, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are the market of this project. Oil refineries are labour and capital intensive. The work will be done by Chemex over the next three years.

My gripe with all this is that both Trinity and Chemex are American companies.

The essence of building a refinery in a high-growth regional economic bloc as East Africa is to drive the industrialisation of Africa and to ramp up intra-Africa trade.

The latter could give practical expression to the African Continental Free Trade Area and fuel post-Covid-19 economic recovery.

The US should not be dominating the action while leading African economies like South Africa are preoccupied with commissions, eventful court appearances and the attachment of luxury automobiles.

Lawsuits and commissions consume money, while the design and construction of oil refineries create jobs. The jobs being created in this project domiciled in South Sudan are going to the US.

South Sudan became an independent state on July 9, 2011, with the help of other African states, like South Africa. Its protracted conflict has dented the stability of neighbouring African states, including Sudan in the north, Ethiopia and Kenya in the east, Uganda in the south and others in the west.

Refugees from South Sudan spill over into these countries and strain their social services infrastructure.

How does Africa carry the burden of conflict in South Sudan and America draws the financial benefit of its industrialisation?

Why do we prefer “consuming what we do not produce and producing what we do not consume” in the words of PLO Lumumba?

Our only escape as Africa is to start using opportunities like this refinery to build indigenous economic capacity, not continue outsourcing our own growth and development to others.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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