In March 2014, the World Bank Board of directors gave final approval for a grant of USD$73 million towards the construction of the Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River in the Bas Congo Province of the DRC. Inga 3 represents the first phase of a vast programme to create the largest and most powerful hydroelectric network in the world, even surpassing the China’s Three Gorges Dam.
Comprising one dam wall and six hydroelectric power stations, it will lead to the flooding of the Bundi Valley, turning it into a gigantic lake lying parallel to the Congo River.
The foundation stone for this project is due to be laid in October 2015, with construction planned to start in 2016.
On its own Inga 3 is expected to cost between 23 and 30 billion US dollars, and central to the government’s financing strategy are plans to sell much of the 4800 MV of electricity thus produced to South Africa, to the mining industry in DRC’s Katanga Province, and in the longer term, to Nigeria. While there are plans to lay two new power lines to carry the electricity to South Africa and DRC’s capital Kinshasa, there are no plans to distribute this Congolese-produced electricity to the majority of the Congolese, 90% of whom are currently off the grid.
A worrying aspect of this vast project is the threat it poses to between 12,000 and 20,000 people living in and around the Bundi Valley within SNEL’s (government electricity company) concession area, many of whom will have to resettle. This local population includes both Basangela people, who are indigenous to the valley, along with many other groups whose forebears arrived during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to work on the construction of the Inga dams 1 and 2. With the permission of traditional clan leaders, these migrants established their own field and plantations, and have been there ever since.
Since March 2015, no official or written notices have been provided to these local people about their fate, according to FPP research. Community representatives we spoke to expressed serious fears and concerns about what was going to happen to them. Speaking of their history, local people recounted to us tales of the various logging companies who exploited/removed their forests during the pre- and post-colonial period, and how they were then forced to give up ancestral lands when Inga 1 and 2 were first constructed. At least one of the major clans lost almost all of its lands, and other communities ended up moving to other parts of their traditional territory to establish new village sites where they thought they would remain safe from further pressures against them and their rights. None of all the affected communities received any compensation for the loss of their traditional lands, and for the negative impacts on their communities.
This cycle appears set to repeat itself with Inga 3, but this time with more devastating, permanent consequences. One villager from Lubuaku village said: “Inga 1 and 2 took our lands and we received nothing, and now we are being told that we will have to leave our ancestral lands completely, and forever. What will happen to us? Where will we go?” Another villager chipped in, saying:” If we have to move, we must be able to stay within the same area, on the lands of our ancestors, to keep our livelihoods, and our cultural identify.” Another woman, who was born in Camp Kinshasa, to parents who worked at Inga 1 and 2 sites when they were being built, was very clear: “We raised our families here, and educated our children but they were never employed by SNEL. They used to talk about jobs in Inga 3, now they say we must leave - but I am not going anywhere.”
Although many communities who are going to be forced to leave the SNEL concession area will not be flooded themselves, many will lose fields and plantations to the lake. But instead of being offered employment in a project that will require thousands of Congolese workers, or the development of a new vibrant economy linked to the new lake, they are to be pushed out. It is said Camp Kinshasa has an estimated population of 9000 who will be pushed out to make space for an estimated 7000 workers who will be moved in. A notable finding from FPP’s preliminary visit to Inga was the consistent explanation of local land tenure rules. These land tenure rules stipulate that control of all lands belong to the six original clans, and immigrants to the area must pay annual tribute to them in order to maintain their land holdings - which they cannot sell or otherwise transfer to third parties. These widely recognised rights would disappear if people were moved out and, as one clan leader noted to us: “If we are moved out and onto other peoples’ lands we will have to pay tribute to their leaders forever - and we do not want that.”
World Bank funding towards this massive project means that World Bank safeguard policies protecting community rights should be recognised. When we explained some of these rules to community delegations in the Bundi Valley, eyebrows were raised, and one community leader asked us: “ These rules protecting our rights - do you really think that the World Bank will apply them here?”