Grand Inga Dam: Another white elephant for the DR Congo

(November 21, 2011) An article in Africa’s Daily Maverick argues that the proposed Grand Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a “beautiful vision” that would “fix Africa” by “lighting up the heart of darkness,” powering African industries and forcing countries to rely on each other.This kind of rhetoric echoes the way Mao talked about the Three Gorges Dam – another gigantic and expensive project justified by grandiose hopes. There are reasons to doubt that Grand Inga, costing $80 billion, with twice the capacity of Three Gorges, would fare better.

The Inga 1 and 2 dams are in disrepair, and operate at about 40% of full capacity; they have proven to be costly white elephants, while those affected by them did not recieve compensation. And while Grand Inga would produce far more power, at least on paper, it’s unlikely that it would benefit ordinary consumers – the electricity will go to mining and industry, and may be exported as far as Europe. Worse, the dam would be an attractive target to sabotage, as so much of Africa’s power would depend on it. South Africa would be better off looking at more reliable and economically feasible ways of powering its economy.

The Grand Inga Dam – can it really happen?

Simon Allison
Daily Maverick
November 16, 2011

There was a conference last year, a particularly swish one, where someone in the crowd asked the assembled notables if there is a single project that has the capacity to transform Africa. The guests, a heady mix of Africa’s richest and most powerful men, with as many important women as the organisers could scramble together, were unanimous in their response: get the Grand Inga Dam right, they said, and the rest will follow.

Mentioning the Grand Inga Dam in the right circles tends to have that effect. Bitter, thick-skinned activists go weak at the knees, their forgotten idealism briefly rekindled. For not only would the Grand Inga Dam fix Africa, it’s construction would literally be a giant monument to how much has been fixed already.

The Grand Inga Dam doesn’t exist, as yet, but it really should. The idea for it has been tossed back and forth for decades now and seems to make such common sense that it’s hard to counter. The Congo River is one of the most powerful in the world, and two previous attempts to “mine” it for hydroelectricity have failed, with the Inga 1 and Inga 2 dams in varying states of disrepair. These are minor endeavours, however, compared to the Grand Inga which, as envisaged, would be the most powerful dam in the world, producing nearly twice as much electricity (35,000MW) as the Three Gorges Dam in China, currently the world’s largest. It would, at a stroke, add a full third again to how much electricity Africa is able to produce for itself.

Read the full article here, or at Daily Maverick.

Further reading:

World’s No. 1 hydropower needs $80bn to take off

World’s Biggest Hydropower Scheme Will Leave Africans in the Dark

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