Photograph — African Environment

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has received a joint bid for its ambitious 11, 000megawatts hydropower project and expressed plans to kickstart the long-delayed project this year. But as elections draw near and tensions continue to rise about the possibility of the current president extending his 17-year reign, the political environment still poses a big risk.

One consortium led by China Three Gorges Corporation and another that includes Spain’s ACS (Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA) submitted a joint bid on June 6 for the $13.9 billion project which will generate 11, 000 megawatts, a Bloomberg report said quoting Bruno Kapandji, director of the Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project on Wednesday.

“Our aim is to start Inga this year,” the Director of the agency said. “The two consortia have given us a document in which they committed to creating a single consortium. We are in the process of preparing, discussing and negotiating the exclusive collaboration contract which will allow the single candidate to go to the market to find the financing.”

The Inga 3 project, the first part of the mega-project, is being fast-tracked by the DRC government and will span one channel of the vast river Congo at Inga Falls. But subsequent phases, estimated to cost about $100bn, could eventually span the Congo river, the world’s second largest by volume. When completed, the whole project is expected to have an electricity-generating capacity of nearly 40,000MW – enough to provide over 40 percent of Africa’s power needs.

The government had planned that this first phase would only generate 4,800 megawatts but the Director in charge of the project has confirmed an expansion. “The project has changed because the demand has changed,” said Bruno Kapanji. Kapanji also explained that the energy deficit in the mining industry had increased from about 500 megawatts to 1,300 megawatts in the years since the project was initiated.

But the long-delayed project initiated since 2013, which the government says would help address power shortage which crippled the mining industry’s growth, may be caught in the midst of rising political tension in the country.

While the constitution bars Joseph Kabila from seeking a third term, he has refused to rule himself out publicly as a candidate in a vote scheduled for December 23. Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala, however, said in an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum of the Americas, Conference of Montreal that “The elections are going to take place without the participation of President Kabila who will abide by the spirit and the letter of the constitution.”

This is not the first time the elections have been scheduled to take place. The president in an attempt to extend his 17-year rule had postponed the elections since 2016, and this had, in turn, increased the tension in the fragile state; and it risks further destabilizing Africa’s biggest copper producer, which hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

So far, the hydropower project has lost the financial backing of international organisations like the World Bank and could risk further delay in the event of any breakdown in the political environment.

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