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DRC conflict imperils Inga vision

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Picture: GCIS/June 23, 2023 – President Cyril Ramaphosa, right, participates in the closing ceremony of the New Global Financing Pact Summit in Paris, France. The summit aims to build a new contract between the North and the South nations, to facilitate access to finance by vulnerable countries.

By Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks at the closing ceremony of the summit for a New Global Financing Pact in Paris last month witnessed a man who had found his voice. Among the issues he touched on, the electricity crisis that South Africa and many other African countries have been facing for many years, with no sustainable solution in sight, was raised.

“Having, say 600 million people in Africa without electricity and yet we have all the resources to generate electricity, particularly the mighty Congo River. And that there have been plans to build several power stations that will generate, in my calculations, up to 70,000 megawatts,” Ramaphosa said. “That’s to prove that this summit is not a summit with just talk, flowing from the Paris COP summit as well as others. Let’s now put money on the table and collectively say we are going to address this mega project.”

Ramaphosa called for “a mega project which, in the end, will generate electricity for up to 12 to 15 countries all in one go”. “And this is a project that I think the Multilateral Development Banks here working together, the call that you have made (French) President (Emmanuel) Macron, can fund. And as we rise from this, we will be able to say the Inga Dam is now going to be developed into an Inga power station.”

Presenting the mighty Congo River potential for the generation of an estimated 70,000MW, making Great Inga the biggest hydroelectric plant in the world – larger than China’s Three Gorges Dam, and, by the same token, solving the energy shortage in several African countries, will give gatherings, like in Paris, more credibility.

It has to be said, though, that in the interactions between the North and South, and the once much vaunted G7-African partnerships, many promises remained unfulfilled.

But back to this great African potentiality. The Great Inga Dam is a series of six hydroelectric dams of which three have been in operation since 1972. If completed, electricity would be exported to southern Africa, Nigeria in West Africa and Egypt in the north, providing up to 40 percent of Africa’s energy needs, experts say. The pan-African project has been identified by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the World Energy Council as a priority. The biggest stumbling block has been the chronic insecurity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has been going on since that country became independent.

Without the leadership that South Africa, under then-president Thabo Mbeki’s administration, displayed in 2002, by hosting Congolese politicians from all political persuasion in Sun City for a dialogue that brought peace for two decades, the DRC wouldn’t have been able to organise three electoral cycles, in 2006, 2011 and 2018. The process led to the first peaceful transfer of power from an outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, and an incoming elected president, Félix Tshisekedi. Unfortunately, the DRC has plunged back into the same turbulence that it was able to overcome, thanks to concerted efforts by the international community, led by the SADC, with South Africa playing a pivotal role.

This is due, in the main, to Tshisekedi’s ill-conceived diplomatic initiatives that allowed five countries to deploy their armies – South Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya – in eastern DRC on a bilateral basis before sending more troops in an eastern African country contingent.

The situation has resulted in a hyper-militarisation of an area that was under siege, with the Congolese army (FARDC) handling the administration and running the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, in addition to the Monusco, which has been operating in the area for the past 20 years, to fight the more than 120 armed groups, looting the natural resources.

A quadripartite summit was held in Luanda, Angola on June 27, with the AU, the East African Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the SADC in attendance. Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta, DRC President Tshisekedi, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, the head of the UN Office to the AU and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres were also in attendance.

Among the recommendations of the Quadripartite Summit, one notes the adoption of a “Joint Framework on Co-ordination of Peace initiatives in eastern DRC by the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the SADC and UN under the auspices of the AU”. The initiative is supposed to harmonise the initiatives of the quadripartite, in line with their relevant instruments and decisions, with a clear division of responsibilities and agreed timelines.

One thing that is not clear is the funding for all the initiatives. The summit took note, with concern, of the lack of predictable, adequate and sustainable funding, directing the AU Commission chairperson to undertake resource mobilisation for the efficient and effective implementation of the Comprehensive Master Peace Plan. The AU and the EAC pledged to contribute $2 million (R37m), Angola and Senegal €1m (R20m), and Gabon $500,000. An appeal was sent to AU member states to voluntarily contribute to the peace process in eastern Congo.

Considering the magnitude of the task of bringing peace to the region, the quadripartite summit paid lip service, with no serious indication that this kind of initiative would result in a resolution of the crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Ramaphosa and leaders from Egypt, Senegal, Congo Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia and Uganda embarked on a peace mission beyond the Continent to help resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

It was hailed as historic by some and a waste of time by others, citing the fact that President Vladimir Putin rebutted key elements of the peace plan presented by the African delegation. Some mainstream Western media ridiculed the initiative, suggesting that African leaders went to Russia and Ukraine simply because the war was responsible for a shortage of about 30 million tons of grain and fertiliser on the Continent. Any initiative to end the Russia-Ukraine war is welcome. But simultaneously, efforts must be directed at solving the conflict next door in the DRC, as well as those elsewhere on the Continent. Decisive commitment, like the one South Africa showed in resolving the war in eastern DRC in 2002, is desperately needed.

Picture: GCIS/June 23, 2023 – President Cyril Ramaphosa, right, participates in the closing ceremony of the New Global Financing Pact Summit in Paris, France. The summit aims to build a new contract between the North and the South nations, to facilitate access to finance by vulnerable countries.

The Nairobi and the Luanda processes have shown their limits. Come December, Tshisekedi’s mandate comes to an end. Electoral years are always explosive in the DRC. The SADC and the international community need no early warning. This is an early warning. Now is the time to take serious and drastic preventive measures to avoid yet another bloodbath and an influx of refugees in the region.

The building of the remaining power stations of the Great Inga Dam is dependent on long-term peace in the DRC. Peace will only be attained if South Africa takes the bull by the proverbial horns, as it did in February 2002. Lasting peace will allow projects, like the Great Inga Dam, to become reality, solving, once and for all, the energy woes of the Continent and beyond. If not for the African Renaissance, President Ramaphosa, do it at least for your own country’s national interest, and that of the region and Continent.

Prof Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi is a Research Associate at the Centre for African Diplomacy and Leadership at the University of Johannesburg