The Grand Inga project in DR Congo will be like the colonial train and road system

The setting is perfect for a good development story for Africa; its script is worth any prestigious award. Africa has enormous capacity to increase the production of hydro electricity, and to supply it to more than 500 million people on the continent, or so documents state.
The Congo River (a Naza picture)
The Congo River (a Naza picture)

The setting is perfect for a good development story for Africa; its script is worth any prestigious award. Africa has enormous capacity to increase the production of hydro electricity, and to supply it to more than 500 million people on the continent, or so documents state.

This reminder comes in the wake of two electricity deals whose negotiations were announced last week between major insurance and investment companies in Europe as well as several African countries, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

According to the two deals, the increased power will be generated on the Grand Inga Dam project in Kinshasa, which is on the powerful falls of River Congo and is set to begin next year.

The other plan is in the Sahara desert where another project is to tap the solar extracted from the scorching heart of the sun to produce electricity.

The Grand Inga project was announced in 2008, but only then the information given at its launch indicated that it will significantly increase access to electricity by more Africans than ever before.

The Europeans were not mentioned as potential backers and customers of the new solution to Africa’s energy shortfall.

Figures representing the power distribution were dropped, and sufficient interest and alarm was raised.
In DR Congo for example where the new Grand Inga electricity project is to be established, only 8 percent of the population is and will remain connected to the power grid according to the World Energy Council even with the end of the project.

And while the country is currently grappling with several wars, the idea of electricity wars is likely to feature also.

The second deal is also equally important but not controversial; it is undertaken by Desertec a solar energy specialist in Morocco and Algeria.

The electricity generated from here as well as from the Grand Inga will mostly be exported to Europe.

The Grand Inga is most crucial as it can and will be connecting largely settled parts of the continent to the electricity grid and therefore lighting up Africa and increasing investment opportunities in Africa. While the later is ideal because it will be established in the very sparsely populated Sahara region.

That at least is the rule book of the African Development Bank and the World Bank.

Sadly, it is these two organizations that are the ones working on plans to generate the hydro electricity from DR Congo and export it to Europe.

The two institutions have in fact worked out a deal with Europe such that investors, can start on the Grand Inga as early as 2010, and then sell it to a market that can afford.

And these people are in Europe, they have proven credibility to be trusted to pay for the power and they have a negotiable currency with which to negotiate and pay.

The mistrust of Africans and the absence of any effective mechanism financial or administrative, with which to negotiate such a deal ensured that the only people worthy of ‘credit substance’ to satisfy investors are in Europe. And so African electricity will supply and light Europe.

At current numbers electricity supply in most African countries including giants like South Africa, is limited to only urban areas while the average 80 percent of Africans that live in rural areas have never had electricity.

This is what created the notion of the ‘dark continent,’ and the announcement in 2008 of the Grand dam, was seen by many as a good attempt at solving energy problems.

Sold as a possible success story for the public private partnerships, the new deal will most probably start from where the road construction and railway network system stopped at the helm of colonialism in Africa.

Where the railway and road system passed by human settlements and interconnected only minefields, government agencies and international exits.

People that discussed the business of the transportation networks were mainly visitors. Africans saw vans cruise by with visitors that never stopped, they never even spoke their language, and these visitors were in most cases government, colonial and investment officials.

But while the African leaders during the time of the colonial deals were easily hustled by humble men driven by greed and racial superiority, the Africans that discuss the new deals as the two power projects in the week are a smooth talking bunch of advisers, consultants, negotiators and experts.

The earlier generation of African hustlers came at their will and did as they willed; today’s hustlers are encouraged to come and asses Africa and then invite appropriate hustlers, kind of trouble-shooters.

It is difficult identifying between the fleecier and the fleeced. In Rwanda, the cost of sustaining their services in 2007 was Frw 73 billion, 4 percent of the entire GDP.

And the figure is not much different in other African countries. And they will not solve our problems. The bottom-line is that however well marketed the Grand Inga will be, it is not worth being given to the service and management of Europeans.

The rightly stated reason for  transferring this otherwise crucial project to Europe-irrespective of the moral arguments Africans and our sympathizers will-is that Africans do not have a have viable creditability or mechanism to uphold commitment to pay for the investment.

To develop this credit history, there needs to be a private sector that is competitive, diverse and sizable.

It will help with the creation of a stable financial market and an efficient, peaceful and stable central government system.

So Africans now alongside microfinance need to start the process of learning about equity, shares, management of trading and investment institutions as well as moving from mere consumption to participation in the management of the economy.

This will involve at the start, a debate to move away from fighting for land to what we can use the land for. That is the challenge presented by the two deals in my simple opinion, not the arrogance of the Europeans to fleece away resources from Africa again.

The recent offer of Kenya’s Safaricom shares for East Africans to purchase was a right step.