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”) . 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.  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 . 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 . Interest in providing technical and political support also came from Egypt, both countries aiming at connecting the North Africa and South African grids . 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.". 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,"
Decades after the construction of the first
dams within the complex (Inga I + II) the governments promises have yet materialized:
For the villages of Kilengo, Lundu, Lubwaku & Mvuzi within a 20km radius of
the project, electricity access and job promises have proven elusive . Even
worse, none of the villages have running water. An economic analysis conducted
in 2017 states that the Inga III extension rather plunges DRC deeper into debt,
while worsening the living conditions of the local community around the proposed
region . Nevertheless, the DRC government, together with South Africa, presses
ahead with Inga III dam in the midst of the covid19. In a conference on the
Grand Inga Dam Project held in June 2020, South Africa is restating its
commitment to purchase 5000MW of electricity generated from the project .
However, SA government still lacks a feasibility study and Caroline Ntaopane,
South Africa’s National Campaign Coordinator, concludes: “It is in the interest
of the SA government to put its citizens first by focusing attention on economic
recovery rather than on costly projects that have no benefit to the economy,
and energy-poor communities and women and which will further push the country
into debt” . Despite, Inga III would generate 11,050 MW which primarily are
meant for South Africa, other African markets and Congo’s copper and cobalt
Early this year a new agreement over the
construction of the project states that its developers comprise six Chinese companies,
including China Three Gorges Corp and AEE Power Holdings from Spain . The
Spanish building firm ACS withdrew. Furthermore, Congo’s president announced a
consortium of African Heads of State to promote Grand Inga, and thus to encourage
calls for national interests to purchase energy . African private organizations
and UN agencies were invited as well in order to accelerate the continental
efforts towards the worldwide largest hydroelectricity project.