Inga 3 and Gran Inga complex hydropower project on Congo river, DRC

World Bank withdrew from what might become the largest hydro scheme in the world per generation capacity. A first step towards stopping ever more centralized energy control and promoting micro schemes

The hydropower exploitation of the Inga river is a complex power generation scheme, which comprises the Inga I and Inga II hydroelectric facilities (already been built), the Inga III, and finally the Grand Inga. The first two schemes were constructed respectively in 1972 and 1982 and provide today the largest amount of grid electricity, despite their poor maintenance conditions. The third one is still at exploration stage, as the first phase in the construction of the 5 dam complex Grand Inga hydropower scheme, located 225 km from Kinshasa, and 150 km upstream of the mouth of the Congo into the Atlantic Ocean. The dam complex has an expected generating capacity of 42,000 MW, with 52 turbines each with a capacity of 750 MW, which will make it the world’s largest dam in terms of hydro-electric production. This is more than Congo can use today and much of the energy will be exported. It would be developed in seven phases beginning with Inga 3, which itself would have two phases. According to International Rivers, its two components would displace about 35,000 people (10,000 for Inga 3 “Basse Chute” and 25,000 for Inga 3 “Haute Chute”) [1]. In addition to building the dam wall and Inga 3 hydropower plant by 2022, the project proposes a power line that would stretch more than 5,000km from the project to South Africa, through Zambia and Namibia.  The costs are estimated around $14 billion only for Inga 3 and between $100 and $150 billion for the entire Grand Inga complex.  Plans for the Inga dams date back to the '50s, when investors from France, Belgium, China, Brazil and also some African countries expressed interests. In 1972 and 1982, the Mobutu government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire finalized the construction of the first two schemes, Inga 1 and 2, with a total potential generation capacity of 2,132MW. Up to now, these two schemes have never operated to full capacity; according to International Rivers, in 2013 the dams were reported to have produced only 40% of their capacity. At the end of the civil war in the DRC and the peace deal of 2003, the country revived its plans to construct Inga 3. In 2004, the Western Power Corridor (Westcor), a consortium of national utilities from five southern and central African countries (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo), organized and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DRC government to build the plant, with its power to be distributed to all signatory countries through the Southern African Power Pool. However, in 2009 DRC withdrew from the consortium and the remaining partners decided to open up the tender to private companies. The international mining corporation BHP Billiton won the tender, with its proposal to develop Inga 3 as well as a 2,000MW rated aluminum smelter in the vicinity of the hydropower plant. BHP Billiton also finally  withdrew from the deal in 2012, and this is when the World Bank and other financial institutions came on board (May 2013). South Africa sealed a power-purchase agreement with Congo in 2013 and committed to buy 2,500MW of the 4,800MW to be generated, making South Africa the key purchaser of the Inga 3 electricity.  The treaty binds SA to a huge financial liability to help the dam to be built. Assuming 90% availability, SA’s uptake with normal maintenance and no droughts would be worth about $500m-$600m a year. [2] The development of Inga would be implemented as a public-private partnership (PPP) deal. The African Development Bank, World Bank, French Development Agency, European Investment Bank and Development Bank of South Africa have all shown interest in financing Inga 3. In December 2013 the United States, through its development agency USAID, also expressed interest in contributing to the financing of Inga 3. As of now, the pick is between a consortium headed by China Three Gorges Corporation, Sino Hydro, and Snel, the state-owned power utility; or a consortium comprising ACS and Eurofinsa of Spain [2]. Chinese firms are also suggesting the construction of an aluminum smelter near Inga III to process bauxite imported from Guinea. The winner is to be announced in October 2016, and director of works hopes construction can begin in November 2016, even without due environmental impact assessment studies [4]. Interest in providing technical and political support also came from Egypt, both countries aiming at connecting the North Africa and South African grids [5]. According to International Rivers, "The development of this hydropower project raises a number of concerns. Firstly, the power production from the Inga 3 is mainly for industry users and will not improve the access level for the more than 90% of the DRC population who have no access to electricity. Most of Inga 3’s power will travel long distances to the industrial and urban centers in South Africa and large mines in DRC, bypassing Congolese who are not served by the nation’s limited grid. The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) has suffered decades of civil war, during which corruption has become entrenched in the socioeconomic fabric of the nation. By many accounts, the country has acquired a reputation as a failed state. It is sad to note that, in this vein, the Inga 3 stands to become a large-scale infrastructure of false ideals. People will have to be relocated and agricultural land in the Bundi Valley will be lost. The development model for the project does not appear to make any considerations to meet the expectations of the locals. On the contrary, the project will only add national debt burden, with very strong prospects of promoting corruption and allowing powerful companies to cheaply exploit and export Africa's vast natural resources. Large volumes of research carried out worldwide have shown that grid-based electrification is not cost-effective for much of rural Sub-Saharan Africa where the population density is low."[1].  In 2014, the World Bank approved a $73 million grant to finance preparation of Inga 3, including the environmental, social and technical studies. Two years on, these studies have not even begun because of irregularities in the procurement process. In May 2016, the Project Director of Inga 3 proposed that construction of the dam could commence next year even without these studies. However, on July 25, the World Bank finally suspended its support for the giant Inga 3 Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joshua Klemm, Policy Director of International Rivers, comments: “The World Bank’s withdrawal illustrates that Inga 3 violates basic environmental and procurement standards. Any other investors should think twice about getting involved in this white elephant.” From Congo, Rudo Sanyanga, Africa director of the International Rivers, reported last May 2016 that "civil society and the government have wildly different views of Inga 3 and Grand Inga. [...] many suggest that it is the only vehicle that will spur meaningful development in the country and encourage economic interest in the continent as a whole. [...] The government is also fiercely proud of the fact that the DRC has the largest potential for hydropower in Africa — estimated at over 100,000MW including the mighty Congo River and small microhydro sites in smaller watersheds around the country. The Inga site alone has a potential of 50,000MW,"[2]
Basic Data
NameInga 3 and Gran Inga complex hydropower project on Congo river, DRC
CountryCongo, Dem. Rep.
SiteIt will be located 225 km from Kinshasa, and 150 km upstream of the mouth of the Congo into the Atlantic Ocean
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
The Grand Inga scheme would have a generation capacity of 40,000MW and would be developed in seven phases beginning with Inga 3 (of 4,800MW), which itself would have two phases. Its two components would displace about 35,000 people (10,000 for Inga 3 “Basse Chute” and 25,000 for Inga 3 “Haute Chute”).
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Level of Investment (in USD)14,000,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population35,000 displaced people by Inga 3 (around 60,000 by Grand Inga)
Company Names or State EnterprisesSinohydro Corporation Limited (Sinohydro) from China - The company is still a bidder in the project as of August 2016.
SNEL from Congo, Dem. Rep. - Bidder in the project, together with Sinohydro
Grupo ACS (ACS) from Spain - Bidder in the project together with Eurofinsa
Eurofinsa from Spain - Bidder in the project with ACS
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank from United States of America
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (USAID) from United States of America
African Development Bank (AfDB)
French Development Agency (AFD) from France
European Investment Bank (EIB)
Development Bank of South Africa from South Africa
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersInternational Rivers
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Infectious diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
OtherTransparency International, in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, ranked RDC as one of the world’s most corrupt countries and stated that the country suffered one of the most deadly conflicts of the twenty-first century.
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesThere is a growing lobby within and outside the DRC that holds that a widely distributed series of small renewable energy projects is more sensible. International Rivers hold that "The potential for microhydro is there, [...] The recently published Renewable Energy Atlas for the DRC [3] clearly shows the tremendous potential renewable energy options for each of DRC’s 11 provinces. Such energy projects would be much cheaper and quicker to build, and would supply electricity to more communities and households spread through the country much sooner than Inga 3 ever could. The national grid network is antiquated and not extensive enough, but microhydro does not need to rely on it to begin supplying power locally. Unfortunately, there is insufficient effort to obtain financing for renewable energy projects."[2]
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Although the World Bank announced its withdrawal from the project, other founders are still in.
Sources and Materials

[3] Renewable Energy Atlas, created by UNDP, Netherlands Development Organization SNV and the Congolese Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity
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International Rivers - Whose Dream is Inga 3?
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International Rivers 2013 - Congo’s Energy Divide Factsheet
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International Rivers 2016 - World Bank Suspends Support for Inga 3 Dam in the Congo
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[1] International Rivers - The Inga 3 Hydropower Project
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[2] Business Day 13th May 2016- Congo’s Grand Inga plan faces a watershed
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International Rivers - NGO Letter on the World Bank's Return to Mega-Dams in Africa
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IPS news - World Bank Clears Congo’s Controversial Dam Project
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[5] Al Monitor - Will the Democratic Republic of Congo be Egypt's newest ally in dam disputes?
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[4] The Guardian, May 28th 2016 - Construction of world's largest dam in DR Congo could begin within months
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Media Links

France 24, The controversial potential of the huge Inga Dams
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Interview to ESKOM
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BAS-CONGO - Remise en service du groupe 12 du barrage dInga 1 (8th April 2013, in French)
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Other Documents

Inga3 first phase Source: International Rivers
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Meta Information
ContributorDaniela Del Bene - ICTA UAB
Last update11/08/2016