The prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says his administration plans to invest about US$50bn in power generation both for domestic consumption and for export.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon said it is part of the government’s effort to lift living standards by transforming the country’s economy and infrastructure.
“The first phase should mobilise up from $7bn to $10bn, and the DRC will be obligated to partner [with] other financiers both in the public and private sector. This aims [to provide funding for] phase one of the Inga [dam] project,” said Ponyo Mapon.
The country has an estimated hydroelectric power generating capacity potential of about 100,000 megawatts.
Ponyo Mapon said he has entered into a partnership agreement with the private sector in the effort, known as the Inga power generation project. It’s expected to produce about 50,000 megawatts of electricity.
“This will enable us to resolve a key problem of electric power consumption. There is an energy deficiency in parts of the country including Katanga province, so a project that aims at increasing our power generation is a project that should go together with the development of our country. It also goes together with poverty alleviation [and] to foster industrialisation of the country,” said Ponyo Mapon.
Ponyo Mapon said the Inga dam project has the potential to generate power at a relatively reasonable cost to the government in Kinshasa. Easing the expense are the expected revenues likely to be earned by exporting energy to the DRC’s neighbours.
“We are busy working on a model that will help us determine the exact cost as well as the exact benefit. But I can assure you that social benefits of the project are high because here is a project that will enable us to sensibly improve the provision of power to the population,” said Ponyo Mapon.
Until now, the DRC has not produced enough food for its population or for export though the country enjoys fertile lands, fresh water bodies and conducive climatic conditions.
However, Ponyo Mapon said his administration wants to diversify the economy with investments that could make DRC the breadbasket for the Great Lakes region and beyond. He said the government wants to transform small scale farming activities, which are estimated to employ about 70% of the rural population.
“I have been busy working in order to make agriculture a priority sector not on a small scale, but into an agro-based industry,” said Ponyo Mapon. “We are in partnership with experts who are coming from all over the place, even from Harvard University, to help us to set up agro-industrial machinery that will be capable of facing the future challenges.”
He said the administration aims to use agriculture to boost employment among youth.
“Agriculture can also help us resolve the issue of macroeconomic stability because today, we spend about $1.3bn to import food stuffs. So, if we produce everything we consume today, we are capable of saving $1.3bn per year,” said Ponyo Mapon.
The DRC is rich in untapped deposits of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold and copper, as well as coltan. Experts have linked mining activities to the security challenges the country faces. They say various armed groups use the illegal sale of natural resources to fund their insurgencies.
But Ponyo Mapon sharply rejects the notion that the country’s resource wealth has been a curse rather than a blessing to the people. He said the country has made great strides in increasing mining revenue due to what he said has been the visionary leadership of President Joseph Kabila.
“Today the DRC is [experiencing] an 8% growth rate [despite the war in the eastern part of the country]. This shows President Joseph Kabila’s exceptional leadership which has led to a great increase in mining activities and revenue generation,” said Ponyo Mapon.
Peace and stability
The government and representatives of the M23 rebels are currently engaged in peace talks to resolve the conflict in the restive North Kivu province. Officials say the conclusion of the talks in Uganda’s capital Kampala could pave the way for peace, stability and the protection of lives and property in the region.
Ponyo Mapon said peace and stability are essential to the success of government efforts to improve living standards. He said the government is committed to achieving peace at home as well as in other parts of the Great Lakes region.
“Investors are really afraid of conflicts, and that is why President Kabila has made peace and stability top priorities, and he has involved himself since 2001 and since this war started,” said Ponyo Mapon. “In the long term, all efforts are being made for professional reform of the army, of the police and of the intelligence service in order for the DRC to be equipped with a professional army capable of guaranteeing security of the people.” – VOA