Does the DRC Hydro Project Hold Water?

The Presidents of South Africa and of the DRC have this week given a push forward to one of the largest projects the African continent will ever see – the next stage of the Inga hydroelectric scheme on the Congo river. The attractions are numerous – in terms of clean electricity generation, pan-African cooperation and meeting the growing future demand for electricity. Of course, there are challenges as well, given the continuing instability in the DRC, a country at war with itself, and the challenges of securing the very long transmission lines from the project to customers elsewhere in Africa. What do our experts make of it?

Independent Economist Ian Cruickshanks::

SA has offered to take 50% of the power from the first stage of this project. Over decades this will be twice the size of the current biggest hydroelectric project in the world This could transform the continent and provide 50% of the continent’s power. Of course there are risks in finding the capital, and around the security of the transmission lines. If we get this extra power it could be very, very useful.

Duane Newman from Cova Advisory:

The Grand Inga has been on the cards for many years. It is a fantastic vision to have the largest hydro power project in the world, which can be used to drive economic growth on the continent. One of the biggest challenges to economic growth in Africa has been access to electricity. It is also positive that South Africa has signed a co-operation agreement with the DRC government which I do expect to create large business opportunities for SA construction and engineering companies. For the SA economy to benefit from this green power we need to ensure that we start working on a strong electricity distribution network from the hydro power station to SA.

Trade analyst and strategist John Mare:

The news that SA and DRC have signed an agreement to cooperate in making the Grand Inga a reality must be one of the most exciting bits of news from Africa in recent months. It will be a major accomplishment and one of the “greenest” hydro-power projects in the world to date as it uses the head of water in a natural gorge to give the power generation. SA engineering/mining skills are crucially needed to tap this head of water at the base of the gorge and in parallel to build tunnels to bring the waters of the Congo River into what can become a vast network of irrigation projects in the vicinity of Inga, which is close to the Atlantic Ocean where Angola (Cabinda)/Republic of Congo and DRC converge, as well as into northern Angola. It will become the platform for a major new hub of development on the Atlantic coast of Africa facing Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico as well as Atlantic shipping routes. The fact that it is close to such major metropolitan centres as Kinshasa, Brazzaville and even Luanda helps add to its impact on a variety of sectors. This bodes well for growing stability in Central Africa along with improved regional integration in the Central African region, which is vital for African stability as a whole. The potential for SA to play a major role in almost all of these sectors that will be supported by Inga’s energy supplies and the knock-on effect of both Inga and its logistical development is enormous. Apart from engineering, mining and energy matters there would be a variety of logistics, urban development and especially agriculture in the region along with beneficiation of mineral and agri-resources. Improved air-linkages with a new air hub for Africa and tourism are other probable spin-offs. The enormous funds needed have been a major problem, along with diplomatically managing all stakeholders in such a mammoth scale project, but possibly the time has come for these to be overcome

Comment:

It would be encouraging to see some practical cooperation within Africa on such a grand scale, and while the risks are there, the rewards make this project one to watch.

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