Democratic Republic of Congo President Félix Tshisekedi is planning to hold a conference in Kinshasa next month, in what officials said would be the first step to seek regional political support for Africa’s biggest proposed water project.
The DRC leader, with the support of the African Union, has invited leaders from Angola, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya to discuss the feasibility of the Grand Inga Dam project on the Congo River.
A preliminary programme for the April 28 meeting shows that Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and potential investors have been invited to help kick of the project that was mooted 10 years ago.
The AU special envoy for Infrastructure and Development, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, had been tasked with speaking to leaders directly about the meeting.
AUDA-Nepad had been behind the project it sees as the ultimate solution for Africa’s power shortage and green energy.
When the leaders converge in Kinshasa, they will be required to define the funding sources, contractors and timelines for the project — the three key issued that delayed it.
The Grand Inga Project could have up to eight separate dams, with a power output of 43,500MW (4.35GW), or more, at a cost of $80 billion that will include establishing transmission lines. That would be enough to power east, central and southern African countries.
Former DRC president Joseph Kabila, under whose tenure the project was proposed, oversaw a tense political environment and delayed elections.
In 2016, the World Bank pulled the plug on the project, accusing Mr Kabila of inviting tenders before feasibility studies were completed. The Bank had funded the studies.
Last year, a suggestion by local authorities to have competing firms form a joint venture was resisted. Spanish firm ACS withdrew from a possible consortium that included Chinese firm China Three Gorges Corp.
The firms were supposed to build Inga 3 dam at a cost of $14 billion, with funding from the African Development Bank. Once finalised, its potential output would be 11,000MW, according to a revised design by the Congolese Agency for the Development of Inga (ADPI, the authority that oversees the project.
In a recent State of the Nation speech, President Tshisekedi announced that AfDB had agreed to fund the redesign, which would raise the output from the initial 4,800 megawatts “to reach 11,000 megawatts or more”.
“Our latest studies show that we can go as far as Inga 10 to reach 40,000 megawatts,” he said, adding that Inga could make DRC “the heart of the world’s clean energy production system”.
With AfDB’s permission, the DRC says they are now inviting bidders.
General Electric, which has signed an agreement to renovate the dilapidated Inga 1 and 2 dams, had expressed interest in working on Inga 3. The memorandum of understanding signed was worth $1 billion, according to the Water Resources and Energy Ministry.
Congolese Minister of Water Resources and Energy Eustache Muhanzi Mubembe said the new deal with the Americans “will not prevent other partners from being part of this project”.
He said this week that US and Chinese contractors are both present on the project. Inga has the potential to generate 88,000MW.
“There has been an Inga 3 development agreement for a few years now. But we can go from Inga 1 to Inga 8,” Mr Mubembe told a news conference.
“The development agreement remains open. We have had Chinese and Spanish contractors since 2016 on the Inga 3 development agreement. And there are Spanish contractors who have left the agreement. Nobody chased them away. The DRC would like to have everyone in it. Americans, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians…are all welcome.”
DRC officials say they are in talks with the AfDB for an agreed date for construction to start. A confirmation should come in the next few days, Mr Mubembe said.
Peter Pham, special envoy of the US for the Great Lakes, said the agreement signed between the DRC and General Electric is the largest US investment in the Congo.
However, some analysts are dismissing the project’s potential, arguing that lack of proper planning could make it a white elephant.
“The DRC has never had a real plan, neither for Inga I nor for Inga 2 and even less for Inga 3. It is external pressure, in this case pressure from South Africans, that we started trying to structure a project,” said Al Kitenge, a senior Economist in Kinshasa.