By Timo Shihepo
Windhoek - South Africa risks the wrath of other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries after it has emerged that the regional economic powerhouse allegedly cheated its neighbours out of the US$14 billion Inga III power project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Over a decade ago, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Angola signed an Inter-Utility Memorandum of Understanding and an Inter-Governmental Memorandum of Understanding with the DRC to develop the Inga III power project and to generate and transmit power through the western corridor to those countries.
The Inga III project is part of the massive US$80 billion Grand Inga Project, which once fully implemented, would be able to produce about 40,000 megawatts of power to light up the entire SADC region and half of the African continent.
Two existing projects, Inga I and II, have been in operation since 1972 and 1982, respectively, and generate nearly 1,800 MW of electricity.
Despite having signed the regional pact, South Africa is said to have gone behind its neighbours’ backs to sign its own Inga project agreement with the DRC, leaving them to count their losses.
“That project is no longer under our control. I raised the issue last year in Botswana. Somehow we have been done under. I don’t know by who. Diplomatically speaking, we lost a pole position in the command of that project. But it seems like we were just pushed out through the back door,” Obeth Kandjoze, who until a fortnight ago was Namibia’s energy minister, told The Southern Times.
The DRC’s decision to partner South Africa has not only angered other SADC countries but is also said to have irked the World Bank, which had undertaken to fund the project. The World Bank is said to have withdrawn its US$73.1 million grant towards the project due to DRC’s decision to take a different strategic direction to that agreed between the bank and the DRC government in 2014.
The World Bank had initially committed to providing the funds because the project would benefit the SADC region.
South Africa, together with the DRC, is said to have even managed to dupe the SADC Secretariat. In a move that can be classified as a way of stalling the initial agreement, the DRC in 2009 wrote to the SADC Secretariat informing them that the country was no longer willing to provide the region with electricity under the 2005 agreement.
Since 2009 and until 2014, the SADC Secretariat was still waiting for the DRC to provide them with new terms. It, however, became clear that no new terms were forthcoming after South Africa’s cabinet in 2014 approved its own plans with the aim of importing electricity from the Inga dam.
When asked to elaborate more, Kandjoze could not hide his disappointment.
“We have sent our people to support the DRC militarily. Countries assist each other through other means. We assisted these guys during their time of need when there was war.
“We spent a fortune. You see, we are politicians and we have to sanitise what we say because there is a future. You don’t throw salt in the eyes of those that someday would roll out big rocks out of your way, so you sanitise that message.
“We acknowledge the fact that some political developments have happened and the project now has a new focal point and command centre and that doesn’t seem to be us,” he said.
Contacted for comment, the DRC Ambassador to Namibia Anastas Kaboba Wa-Kimba said: “Yes, I know about the Inga Dam project issue but I cannot comment now because the Energy Minister has already spoken to you. I might contradict him. It is fine you can go ahead and publish what you have gathered, then next week we can have another comprehensive interview.”
The agreement signed by South Africa and the DRC in October 2014 allows South Africa, together with the DRC, to develop the project, with the help of a Chinese consortium. Part of the agreement between the countries is that South Africa would power the villages and mines near the Inga Dam. In return, South Africa would get 2,500 megawatts and would sell any surplus to Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, Pretoria seems to have a guilty conscience for bundling its neighbours out of the Inga project.
During the SADC Energy Summit in Swaziland last year, the then South Africa energy minister, Mmamoloko Tryphosa Kubayi-Ngubane, reacted angrily when asked by The Southern Times to comment on the matter.
Instead, she directed that the questions be sent to her via email. But two hours later, her personal assistant approached the reporter and remarked that “the minister will not be responding to your questions. If that’s what they sent you from home to come do here, then tell them that we won’t be answering those questions”.
Also during the summit, the DRC energy minister Jean-Marie Ingele Ifoto said his country was in the process of developing the third phase of the Inga dam project but told this reporter that he was not comfortable answering more questions about the project in English.
Approached for comment, the SADC Secretariat’s acting director of infrastructure and services, Phera Ramoeli, was diplomatic in his answer saying that it was still a SADC project.
“Yes, there have been some delays but what I can tell you is that the last time it was discussed, it was still a SADC project.
The DRC was still working with us. We are still discussing how the region can benefit from this project.”