South Africa Approves DRC’s Grand Inga Development

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The location of the Grand Inga dam (lower centre), along with the other Inga Dams.

South Africa’s Cabinet approved a draft treaty for the development of the Grand Inga hydropower project. Cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi said at a news conference that the project had the potential to supply reliable energy via hydropower that could meet the needs of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries.

This comes just six months after the announcement of Australian mining firm BHP Billiton announced that it would withdraw from building an aluminum smelter in the DRC indicating its financial commitment to the Inga 3 was also in jeopardy.

The Inga delay is nothing new, but it is strange that South Africa would consider this project again after previous issues – namely the snubbing of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It was reported that the DRC was attempting to obtain private investors rather than its neighboring SADC countries. Reaching out to South Africa seems like a last ditch effort to yet again revive the project after its private investor BHP pulled out. In February 2010, Westcor chairman (a JV composed of utilities from five SADC countries) Pat Naidoo said: “There were five governments behind this project and the DRC part always kept falling off the pedestal.” And with that, Westcor pulled out of the project.

Now the South Africa-approved draft treaty will head to the DRC to be signed. The development of the 40 GW hydropower scheme on the Congo River could impact the energy dynamic of the region, but only if it is actually completed.

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