Monday 28 April 2008

Grand Inga Project: Another White Elephant for Black Africa

For bigger for badder

When I read of the instigation of the largest dam project in the world being planned for Africa in a hydro-electric configuration last week, I skipped the news as one of those grand schemes of delusion.

The excitement of being able to produce twice the energy of the Three Gorges Dam does nothing for me, but I would note a number of issues with this matter.

There are doubts that this project offers much to poor Africans who probably have no need for electricity in their survival quests much as we all know that despite the business and energy benefits giving people the glint in the eye; it would be the dispossession of lands of people who have been there for generations, the destruction of precious African habitat – human and ecological apart from other unforeseen consequences, probably the damage of the Three Gorges Damn too..

For Africa from London

I find it interesting that for a project that would affect so many African countries, as it also involves 7 African countries with the intention of distributing electricity from DR Congo to Egypt in the North, Nigeria in the West and South Africa down South is coordinated by the World Energy Council in London.

This represents the Genesis of why this project probably serves no particular purpose to Africans in general, it is a project that would cost $80 billion and a good deal of that would not go to Africans but we would be saddled with the debts.

The token natives

The architects and designers would be knowledgeable about dam projects and come from abroad, the heavy machinery manufactured in countries outside Africa would be brought in to build the grand construction and all shipped out once the deed in done.

Project Managers would probably be affiliated to the World Energy Council with contractual agreements that break the bank.

A token native would head the project and the politicians would assume all the political kudos, Africans would be dotted around the project but the strategy tasks would go the “experts” whilst all the spade work would be done by longsuffering Africans glad that they have a job at all.

Maintaining the incredible

After commissioning, if things go wrong, at great expense a consultant on better that UN-diplomatic status terms would have to be shipped in to sort things out – technology transfer? Dream on.

This Inga Dam project was first mooted about a generation ago but could not be realised because of political turmoil in that area.

Before you accuse me of blind cynicism, Nigeria probably has one of the largest petroleum infrastructure in Africa, but it is not producing anywhere near its capacity, in fact more of the infrastructure is being shut down.

As a commercial concern, the project is very viable, in terms of technology, it is probably well up with any you can find anywhere else in the world, in terms of qualified personnel, they are not lacking in that expertise.

Politics drives conduciveness

The problem is our political system has been unable to address and resolve socio-economic issues that affect the people in the proximity of that entire infrastructure.

Anytime there is a problem in that area, the consequences are global in their effect, world markets get jittery and oil prices begin to escalate.

Logically, one would think the force of global markets and the economic responsibility on our political system would compel them to find ways to resolve the issues in the Niger Delta but it would appear they have not cottoned onto that crucial responsibility issue to be able to gain the impetus for engagement and resolution.

Conversely, one might say the government is unable, incapable or complete bereft of ideas to begin to find solutions to the Niger Delta crises.

Cynically, I would contend that certain power brokers are fuelling the conflicts to mark territory and exercise undue influence without consideration for the consequences to either the locals or the world at large – I would take this line of thought as the main reason for the Niger Delta crises.

But the point I am trying to make is where a government cannot provide the necessary political atmosphere that addresses the socio-economic issues that allow people to have the confidence to establish businesses or run projects, we end up with white elephants everywhere.

The little things yet undone

The area that is to accommodate this dam is not far off from communities that could use electricity from those currently operating dams – Inga I & Inga II – but they have no electricity and power lines were built to supply electricity to the Katanga mining province 2,000 kilometres away, most definitely for the mines rather than the people.

There is no people-driven element about this grand scheme, it is a résumé boosting project that would be completed by 2022 and would probably collapse in 3 years with the big names involved having moved on to another grand white elephant.

A different energy plan

If we were really to consider a real energy plan for Africa, we probably do not need another hydro-electric dam and we probably cannot manage a nuclear power station but with sun, wind, oil and gas, a lot can be done to use what we have to meet real energy needs.

I have a thumbs-down regarding this project and I hope that good sense prevails over the excitement around this project to abort it before the kickbacks start enriching malevolent actors pretending to be interested in the energy needs of Africa – I am really not impressed at all, we do not need that dam.

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