By Rudo Sanyanga
A blog by Rudo Sanyanga. Rudo is the Africa Program Director at International Rivers, one of our partners within our freshwater portfolio. This is the second of three blogs by Rudo that looks back on a scoping trip that was undertaken as part of the project we are supporting – Protecting the Congo River. Part One of this blog can be viewed here.
Visiting dams and communities:
I travelled to Matadi, a port city on the Congo River, 150km from the Atlantic Ocean. Matadi is 100km downstream of the Inga dams site. From there I visited Mvuzi III, one of the communities identified for relocation once construction on the Inga III dam project starts. What was the mood and attitude to the project in this community? It is sad to report that, despite being in the path of this huge dam project, the people here had very little information about the dam and the impacts it will bring to their lives. This situation is the same everywhere in Africa where poor communities are being relocated to make way for huge infrastructure projects. The governments and developers thrive by providing little or no information to the affected. The villagers knew that they would be relocated when Inga III construction starts but had no details of how the exercise would be conducted. They reported that the World Bank had carried out a survey in 2007 to establish the size of the affected communities and at the time informed them that they would receive US$900 compensation per household to relocate. The government and World Bank officials later informed me that a plan for the relocation would be developed to ensure fair compensation to the affected people. But the devil will be in the details—most especially how and if it will be implemented properly. The communities believe that they cannot go against the government’s wishes but would like a compensation package that does not compromise their lifestyle and livelihoods. They also hoped that the project would create employment opportunities for them.
A few days after the signing of the treaty, the World Bank president and the United Nations Secretary General visited the DRC to discuss, among other things, energy developments. I set out with the hope of meeting the World Bank president to whom we had sent a letter
asking several questions about this project. Hoping perhaps to hand the letter in person and get a response to our questions on the local population’s access to electricity and job creation prospects of Inga III versus renewable options; climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as issues of governance. To these questions we received an unsatisfactory response reaffirming the World Bank’s commitment to the development of Africa and no direct response to any of the questions we had posed. We were also hoping that the local World Bank office in Kinshasa would arrange a civil society forum to meet their President, but nothing of the sort took place. The presidents and officials held closed sessions with the DRC government.
My visit also included a site visit to Inga I (351 MW) and II (1,424 MW) built in 1972 and 1982 respectively. These two have never operated efficiently since they were commissioned due to lack of maintenance – partly a result of years of war, partly a problem of lack of local skills, partly a problem with the corrupt and mismanaged state energy utility.
At the Inga I and II hydropower stations, I met contractors who were carrying out refurbishing and maintenance work. This work is presently estimated to cost $883 million dollars when completed in 2016. This is four times the World Bank’s original 2003 estimate that put the project’s costs just under $200 million dollars. The rehabilitation of the power stations will include replacement and refurbishing of turbines, construction of a second transmission line to Kinshasa that will enable 35000 more consumers to be connected. The Inga –Kolwezi grid, which is operating at 25% capacity, will also be rehabilitated.
The World Bank embarked on the rehabilitation project in 2003 with a justification that the rehabilitation of the two power stations and transmission line would enable the DRC to earn $40 million yearly through exports of electricity. Ten years down the line this dream has been marred by slow, barely satisfactory progress and huge cost overruns.