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Infographics: Southern Africa’s hydroelectric dams, state of play and potential

By Laura Angela Bagnetto, Camille Chauvin

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Posted on July 13, 2023 14:20

 © A general view of the DR Congo’s Inga dam with eight massive turbines, only three of which work. (REUTERS/Marlene Rabaud)
A general view of the DR Congo’s Inga dam with eight massive turbines, only three of which work. (REUTERS/Marlene Rabaud)

In light of the power crisis in Southern Africa, Presidents Ramaphosa and Tshisekedi urged world leaders in Paris to invest in the Grand Inga Dam.

“[…] Let us now put money on the table and collectively say we are going to address this mega project; a mega project which will, in the end, generate electricity for up to 12 to 15 African countries,” said Ramaphosa, referring to an estimated 40,000 megawatt capacity.

The Grand Inga project was conceived in the 1960s to harness the Congo River, the deepest waters in the world.

This would be the continuation of Inga I and Inga II, which were constructed during the period of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko at a time when prestigious projects received big money to create big monuments to power and modernity.

While Inga I and II still limp along at a greatly reduced capacity due to mismanagement and lack of repair, Southern African leaders have pushed for this new project. However, the venture, estimated to cost $80bn, has stalled due to the World Bank pulling out in 2017 due to lack of transparency.

While places like Botswana only use thermal power, those countries still clamouring for electricity through hydropower may have a more rosy prospect.

In 2021, the AfDB provided financing to the Southern African Power Pool for construction of the Baynes Hydropower Plant, to be located on the borders of Angola and Namibia.

It would service, when fully running at 600MW, 12 African countries (see infographic below) – perhaps a cure-all for electricity demand in Southern Africa, which is expected to triple by 2040.

However, with climate change, forced displacement of populations to build dams, and environmental destruction of flora and fauna…perhaps alternative measures are needed.

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