Border communities reap from Rusumo hydro power project

Border communities in Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi are reaping from the 80 MW US$340 million Rusumo Falls Hydro-Electric Project financed by the World Bank whose construction commenced early this year.
Aileen Uwayezu, right, poses for a picture inside her group's tailoring shop. She and others are determined to make it big in their business. / James Karuhanga
Aileen Uwayezu, right, poses for a picture inside her group's tailoring shop. She and others are determined to make it big in their business. / James Karuhanga

Border communities in Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi are reaping from the 80 MW US$340 million  Rusumo Falls Hydro-Electric Project financed by the World Bank whose construction commenced early this year. 

The transmission lines that will connect the power plant to the national grids in the three countries is financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) at a cost of US$121 million. 

Among the numerous benefits, the project will provide an additional 26.6MW to each of the three countries but households resettled to pave way for construction are already gaining from the hope of an improved livelihood and lifestyle. 

Janinah Mbabazi, the social and resettlement officer of the regional Rusumo hydro-electric power project told a team of visiting donors that on-going programs include a three-year Livelihood Restoration Program (LRP) whose implementation started in January with a budget of US$670,000. 

Then there is the Local Area Development Program (LADP) that started in July and August with a budget of US$15.5 million for affected communities in the three countries. 

Mbabazi said: “Beneficiaries to LRP are households affected by the project and that suffered economic displacement. The plan is to turn them into project beneficiaries by improving their livelihoods. The on-going livelihood restoration program is made of three main components; livestock, agriculture and off farm activities. 

Livelihood restoration program proposals were developed in a participatory manner together with affected households and based on each particular household’s preference in the three components”. 

In Rwanda, affected communities opted for cattle, poultry, piggery and beekeeping projects in the livestock component while others are into agriculture, with mushrooms, soy beans, vegetables and beans as their target produce. Under the off farm activity component, locals took advantage and are using gained skills to enhance their restaurant and hair dressing businesses, among other things. 

Aileen Uwayezu, a mother of five, is in a group of 10 who opted for tailoring and are now building a prospective business at the Rusumo border. 

“Before were relocated, there were people who cultivated in the area while others were brick makers, land owners and sand diggers,” she said.

“My husband owned no land but he was into sand excavation and bricklaying. For us who had no claim to land but were labourers, we received a package of Rwf150,000, but that was not all. 

Later on we were informed that a husband and wife must register such that further arrangements are made so that families don’t suffer because their source of livelihood was taken away”. 

Her husband then joined a vegetable trading group while she joined the tailoring group. 

“We went through six months of training in tailoring and we were given machines that can make various designs,” she said, adding that they have now started making uniforms for pupils attending a primary school in the area.

Tailors busy at work inside a 10-member workshop at the Rwandan side of the Rusumo border. / James Karuhanga

Abdallah Rubibi, 45, and Djafari Nsengiyumva, 38, are proud owners of a small but blossoming restaurant on the Rwandan side of the border crossing. 

The building from which they operate is rented by the regional Rusumo Falls Hydro-Electric Project and the duo and their other partners pay no rent. 

Rubibi said each owned a smaller restaurant before they were required to move. He too, was given Rwf150, 000 as a logistics package to move his business as well as an extra Rwf100, 000 to support his family at the onset. 

“Everyone was given differing amounts depending on the sources of revenue and situation. I didn’t own the premise I worked from so my situation was different from home and property owners who got bigger packages,” he said. 

“Despite the fact that our restaurant is still new we don’t see any problem. Things start small but we are very optimistic”. 

His partner, Nsengiyumva, a father of seven, says their restaurant has all the looks of a prospering venture. The training workshops they attended, he said, are bearing fruit.

“These trainings and ideas generated therein are money in a way,” Nsengiyumva said. They have not only been taught to cook better but also serving their customers better, he said. 

They also learnt how to close up accounts at the end of an accounting period, by bringing the totals of their debit and credit sides into agreement, and thus ably determining the profit or loss made, which are all very valuable abilities in business management. 

Madina Karere, a widow with six children, is happy she was given a chance to decide her preferred business – poultry farming – and especially the skills to help her make it. 

“Among others things, we were taken to a field tour in poultry farms in Kigali. The lessons learnt were invaluable,” she said. 

Her group – five women and four men – was assisted to construct an Rwf10 million chicken coop and, a month ago, they bought 1,040 chicks from Belgium. 

“In the next four months, we expect to start earning from this project. Before this regional project started, all the affected families were really badly off. People were very poor and toiling here and there without any hope. That has changed,” she said. 

“One really cannot put a monetary value to all we have achieved. All my six children are in school and I have no fear about the future, financially.” 

On the power project side of things, after the ground-breaking ceremony at the end of March, there were some challenges, including a slow start by the civil contractor but the manager of the regional power project, Peter Jewitt, on Friday said nothing was insurmountable. 

Among others, Jewitt said compensation of the 156 households in the three countries directly affected by necessary resettlement operations to pave way for construction is complete. In Rwanda alone, 53 households were resettled. 

Furthermore, according to Mbabazi, besides the individual affected household projects, there is more in as regards communities’ gains.

In Kirehe district, she said, the Cyagasenyi-Gasarabwayi-Nganda murram feeder road is up for development, in addition to the construction of a health center in Kigina Sector. 

Two other projects are being implemented under LADP in Ngoma District as well: construction of a 28.7 kilometre water pipeline supplying a population of 10,500 people in Gatonde and Gahima cells; and construction of the Mugesera-Rukumberi irrigation project, a 1,500 hectare zone farmland with 10,212 household beneficiaries. 

Construction of the Power Plant is expected to last three years, until 2020.