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Massive Congo Hydro Project May Not Benefit Congolese

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo

A new report argues that a huge, potentially 40 Gigawatt, hydroelectric project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may yield no benefit to the country’s population, 80 percent of which have no access to electricity. The Inga III dam would be the biggest hydroelectric power station on the Congo, Africa’s second-longest river.

The project has been presented as the solution to the country’s power deficit but the new report from Resource Matters and The Congo Research Group (CRG) says that activity with respect to the project has been kept secret by the government agency tasked with the development and the developers themselves.

The research, released 28 October, raises a number of concerns with respect to transparency, management, inclusion and lack of public information since 2015 when the project was assigned directly to the office of the president. At that time funding resources were cut, with legal and technical studies being truncated and the World Bank's withdrawal from the project.

In October 2018, the Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project (ADPI) signed an “exclusive development agreement” with the China Inga Group and the ProInga Group, a largely Spanish consortium. Many stakeholders such as other relevant government ministries, the Congolese parliament, and civil society have been excluded from involvement; the agreement still is not available to the public, the researchers say.

The project is estimated to have a cost of approximately $14 Billion USD. To pay for it, the project will have to export most of its power, suggested to be to South Africa at first, with Nigeria and Angola in the future, benefiting the DRC mining industry and possibly neglecting domestic Congolese energy requirements.

Environmental activists welcomed the report. “It is unacceptable to break up an ecosystem like that of the Congo River just for exports, miners, and local elites. Dear politicians: let’s keep Congo’s resources for the Congolese. Congo’s natural resources belong to its people – not multinationals,” said Dr. Raoul Monsembula, Central Africa Regional Coordinator for Greenpeace Africa.

Before the agreement was signed in 2018, it was discussed that 3 gigawatts would be reserved for the country’s use but it was also believed that this share would be allocated to the mining sector, not to inhabitants. The 2018 agreement does not refer to such allocation and the report suggests that the reservation has disappeared altogether.

The research report calls for a revision of the project to ensure economic and development benefit for the Congolese people but primarily to ensure access to electricity.

The report calls on president Félix Tshisekedi’s government to act quickly to resume control of the project and to assure inclusivity and transparency.

The Bloomberg news agency this week reported Patrick Kabuya, head of communications for ADPI, saying that the project would proceed. “Negotiations are continuing with all sides".

A conference hosted by Congo’s presidency in August proposed scaling back the facility to a previous 4,800-megawatt version -- a design the Chinese and Spanish groups believe isn’t economically viable.