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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Grand Inga Project, 2nd Edition

The Grand Inga Project is not dead. Last month President Zuma (RSA) signed a deal with President Kabila (DRC) in the first step of the project designed to "save Africa". The project could dwarf China's Three Gorges Dam  is meant to come onstream by 2025. Still in the feasibility stages, the Grand Inga, expected to generate 40,000 megawatts, could be a long-term solution to all our power problems, but investors have held back due to political risk and its $60 billion price tag.  A fascinating article explores whether the project could finally come fruition. 


  1. Giant project to benefit giant investors. The price tag has already ballooned to an estimated $90 billion ($80B for the structure and a further $10B for long distance power lines to transport the bulk of the power generated as far from the centre of the continent as possible), with no planned allocation to build local distribution grids in the DRC or neighboring countries. Source:

    While the Three Gorges Dam was being built in China, worldwide supplies of cement were diverted to the project for years, driving up the cost of housing for poor people worldwide (Habitat for Humanity indexes home building costs to cement prices for a reason, it is the single greatest variable in the process). A massive amount of fuel, explosives, steel and other materials which are far from carbon neutral will be consumed in the construction of Grand Inga. A huge region of dense rainforest will be flooded, resulting in massive releases of carbon into the atmosphere as all that organic matter rots, not to mention the persons displaced in the process (I am just following a trend here, persons displaced by mega-dam projects are almost never mentioned).

    One of the justifications for the Three Gorges Dam was flood mitigation for the vast downstream populations of the Yangtze River, Grand Inga is already downstream of most population centres in the region. The flow of nutrient rich silt to the delta regions of the Congo River will be severely reduced, with unknown long term effects on coastal erosion and fishery stocks both freshwater and offshore.

    Spending $90 billion on infrastructure within Sub-Saharan Africa could transform the lives of hundreds of millions. Broad distribution of such projects would provide likewise broad-based benefits. Concentration of resources into a single giant project will have the predictable result of narrowly focused benefits to the private investors and political elites that have been pushing this project for decades. Mega-Dams are not environmentally friendly over the long term, which is why they are increasingly being removed from areas in the more developed parts of the world where local citizens have more say over how their resources are used.

    Definitely not a panacea, and probably a major disaster in the making.

  2. Ethiopia has launched a hydropower plant project 20,000MW at a cost of US$12 Billion over a 25 years. Ethiopia has a capacity to produce 45,000 MW. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be one of the 10 largest Dams in the world.
    Unlike The Grand Inga which has virtually no politics in its way, the Ethiopian project is a subject of intense regional politics. The Ethiopian launch of this hydropower plant project came after a Nile treaty was set for ratification by six African nations excluding Egypt and Sudan to their dismay and disappointment.
    The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a body formed by Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and lately Burundi, intends to legislate an agreement to allow Nile river diversions and projects to be implemented without prior consent from down-stream countries like Egypt.
    Egypt has Veto power over decisions by up-stream countries on Nile water matters due to treaties signed in the 20s and 50s.
    The addition of Burundi to the NBI makes the signatories six, the number required for a ratification of a treaty that might strip Egypt of its long-held power over Nile waters.


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