The people of Kananga in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been waiting more than 50 years for a hydroelectric dam to be built near their town.
This month engineers started work at the Katende Falls above Kananga, where expatriates like to call it the biggest city in the world without electricity.
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That is not strictly true. However the man in charge of the town, the governor of western Kasai province, Katulondi Kabasu Babu, reckons it probably is the biggest city in Congo that gets all of its electricity from diesel-powered generators.
The current from generators costs up to 10 times more than hydroelectric power so very few of Kananga’s one-and-a-half million inhabitants have electricity.
There have been numerous and lengthy delays in getting this city power from the abundant water in the region. But those problems appear to be over.
Last year India’s Exim Bank and other Indian investors signed a deal to invest $168 million at Katende Falls, with the government pledging $112 million. There is now real commitment to the project, said Governor Kabasu Babu.
“The president Joseph Kabila himself is very committed, determined. He went to that place twice, so he’s determined, and he himself said that the story of Kananga is a very sad story with regard to electricity," Babu said. "But now the president, the government, the Indians, Exim bank they are very committed.”
French energy analyst Benjamin Augé believes the key elements for a successful hydroelectric project are having investors with a long-term objective, and having political will.
Augé said the fact that Indians are investing in several dams in the Congo shows their objective is to export minerals to India, particularly diamonds for their cutting and polishing plants. Because there is significant financial motivation, Augé thinks India will increase investments similar to those China has in the Congo, where they trade infrastructure for minerals, with no finance from the Congolese.
The 64 megawatts of electricity that is expected to be produced at Katende would go some way towards meeting the DRC’s current and future needs.
According to a World Bank report, the country will need to install extra generating capacity of at least 1,000 megawatts to meet domestic demand in the coming decade.
Most of the power from the new hydroelectric dam would be for industrial use but up to 20 megawatts may be for households.