Grand Inga - A Dam for Prestige, Not Poverty Reduction in Dem. Republic of Congo

Terri Hathaway
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cameroon -- "Access to affordable and clean electricity for the millions of Africans who today have none" is a fitting goal for the World Energy Council (WEC)’s energy planning in Africa.1 But their answer, the $50 billion USD Grand Inga hydropower scheme, is not the panacea project that the WEC would like it to be. The WEC is preparing to convene an International Forum on the Grand Inga Project "How to make the Grand Inga Hydropower Project happen for Africa" which will take place in Gaborone, Botswana, 16-17 March 2007.

"Grand Inga is not meant to benefit Africa’s poor," said Terri Hathaway, Africa Campaigner with International Rivers. "Once again, poor people are being used to sell a prestige project that will benefit industrial enclaves and urban elites." She adds, "Energy planning in Africa should be focused on meeting basic human needs and fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. Let’s see some more options to address the energy poverty of Africans."

In particular, International Rivers raises the following concerns about Inga’s ability to reach the WEC’s goal:

Lack of Poverty Alleviation: Over 500 million Africans live without electricity, the vast majority in rural areas. Plans to develop the costly Grand Inga scheme do not include the prohibitively expensive distribution networks needed to reach the millions of rural Africans, nor guarantee affordable electricity rates for Africa’s urban poor. Instead, Grand Inga is set to benefit mining and timber companies, foreign industries, wealthy and middle class urban residents, and un-transparent national budgets. A 2004 report co-produced by the WEC even states that:

"Investments in centralised, capital-intensive conventional energy enterprises such as [...] large dams largely benefit high- and middle-income urban communities, commercial establishments, and industries through electricity distributed through power grids. Poor, dispersed rural communities that are often far from the grid rarely benefit from such investments. [...] A growing number of studies find that renewable and other decentralised small-scale energy technologies [...] are important options for poverty alleviation."2

Magnet for Corruption: Export-oriented, multi-billion dollar projects foster corruption. The Democratic Republic of Congo does not have the stable and accountable governance that could absorb a project of this magnitude. Improperly handled loans could lead to massive, unmanageable debts. Even under the best regime, Grand Inga would be a development failure without an unprecedented, complex set of mechanisms for compliance with community and environmental safeguards, financial transparency, and project operation.

Inga’s Legacy: The much smaller Inga I and Inga II dams are currently in a state of disrepair, with social and environmental impacts still unresolved; benefits to local communities have remained negligent. The area is rampant with river blindness and most local villages still have no access to electricity. It’s impossible to imagine good management of further development without first resolving these long overdue issues with local communities.


  1. From the WEC’s press release, 8 March 2007, available online at
  2. UNDP, UNDESA, WEC. 2004. World Energy Assessment Overview: 2004 Update. P. 35-36, Available online at