The twisted tale of Inga 3

By Michael Igoe, Paul Stephens 17 April 2014

An aerial view of the existing semi-functional Inga dam on the Congo River. A new dam, the Grand Inga Dam, is being proposed and is currently the world’s largest hydropower scheme. Photo by: International Rivers / CC BY-NC-SA

In the lush southwest corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a massive dam project on one of Africa’s largest rivers has created a twisted tale of political maneuvering and heated debates on the tradeoffs of economic development that has tripped up foreign aid leaders in Washington as they decide whether to support a project that is hailed as a solution to Africa’s “energy poverty.”

World Bank President Jim Kim says the project, known as the Inga 3 base chute, the next step in what would become the largest hydropower complex in history, is exactly the type of “bold” initiative a revamped and reenergized World Bank ought to support, and he is vying for U.S. support.

The debate about whether the U.S. government — the world’s largest bilateral aid donor — should support the project has mostly been waged behind closed doors. But as Kim, who was nominated for his current job by President Barack Obama, tries to negotiate U.S. support for the controversial project, he has set off fierce debates and met strong resistance from the halls of Congress.

The lack of a clear U.S. policy on the dam and other energy projects raises tough questions about how thoroughly the Obama administration has thought through its Power Africa strategy, which aims to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

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About the authors

Igoe michael 1
Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.

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Paul Stephens

Paul Stephens is a Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. His coverage focuses on Latin America and World Bank affairs, as well as Washington's global development scene. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia - one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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