Africa Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Africa Water, Sanitation Jan -Feb 2014 Vol.10 No1 - Page 37

Energy Power Africa tiptoes around Inga 3 dam By Michael Igoe How do you support a massive energy development project without “officially” supporting it? In Africa, the U.S. government may have found a way. Construction of the Inga 3 dam in the Andrew Herscowitz, coordinator of Power Democratic Republic Africa. U.S. President Barack Obama’s energy initiative will not “officially” endorse of the Congo, while the controversial Inga 3 dam project in the controversial, could, Democratic Republic of Congo. by some experts’ estimation, achieve U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambitious goal for Power Africa in one fell swoop and provide 40,000 megawatts of energy to a power-starved continent. A chorus of African developers want Inga 3 to happen, but the dam is riddled with risk and could “tarnish” the U.S. initiative’s brand. So Power Africa will not “officially” endorse the massive and controversial dam project, but instead support a process by which African leaders will prioritize and “rally around” their top regional power priorities, likely including the megadam project on the Congo river. Governance challenges and regional conflict further complicate the project — and bestow increased risk on any potential supporters or investors. “We don’t want the Power Africa brand to be tarnished by one major project that’s going to fail,” Herscowitz said during the Summit, in reference to Inga 3 and other highrisk projects investors might be considering. Herscowitz noted that Power Africa is playing a “supporting role” as African leaders identify their own high-priority projects. That the topic of Inga 3 came up in the first panel discussion of the summit’s first day is hardly surprising. The long-imagined Grand Inga dam complex, of which Inga 3 would be a part, has been held up as the silver bullet to defeat energy poverty on a continent where 622 million people lack access to electricity. The discussion of Inga came on the heels of a conversation about Power Africa’s measurable accomplishments to date. Some observers have questioned whether the initiative has contributed significantly to Africa’s energy production, or whether it is simply “repackaging” power deals that would have proceeded anyway and stamping them with the Power Africa brand. Herscowitz called some of the assertions in a recent Reuters article, criticizing the initiative’s slow start and general lack of demonstrable success, “not true at all.” Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz — “at the risk of … making an announcement” that was not really his to make — told attendees at recent Powering Africa Summit in Washington that African delegates currently assembled across the Atlantic for the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa are likely to announce soon a few priority energy projects for the continent’s leaders to focus on, as part of an ongoing strategic Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa. Paul Hinks, CEO of Symbion Power, a major Power Africa partner, similarly defended the initiative against its detractors. Herscowitz offered the information in response to an audience member’s question about why Power Africa has not gotten involved in In