THE RIVER OF POSSIBILITIES: The Provincial Chairman of the Katanga Chamber of Commerce on the power-producing potential of the Congo.

Position:Interview: Eric Monga Chairman, Kipay, and Director at the Federation des Entreprises du Congo
 
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The Congo, Africa's second-longest river, is at the heart of Central Africa's sleeping giant--the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which covers an area the size of Western Europe.

Bubbling out of the highlands and mountains of the East African Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Meru, the river cuts through large swathes of dense forest in the Equateur and Orientale provinces before passing through the capital, Kinshasa, and spitting out into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the area where the Congo is pinched between neighbouring Angola and the Republic of Congo, the energy contained within the river's powerful waterfalls and rapids is choked off by a set of solid concrete walls, known collectively as the Grand Inga Dam.

With as much as 40GW in potential, almost 20 times more than the DRC's current installed capacity of 2.5GW, the project has long been touted as a powerhouse for the entire Southern African region.

Yet amid constant wrangling and the estimated cost of more than $100bn, the dam's critics believe it is no more than a pipe dream and completion remains elusive.

As the project trundles on, running the risk of becoming a white elephant, Eric Monga, Chairman of Kipay, a Congolese renewable energy firm with a focus on hydro, believes there is much more that can be done in the meantime.

OPPORTUNITY ELSEWHERE

"The Inga project is good for everybody, but it is only around 40% of the DRC's capacity," he comments from Kinshasa.

"The DRC is very large and we have a lot of opportunities here for smalland medium-sized enterprises."

In the DRC, only 1% of rural households have access to electricity, rising to 19% in the cities.

With a population of 85m, this leaves opportunities for firms looking to generate on- or off-grid capacity.

Monga reveals that the DRC has good prospects for solar in its eastern and southern regions; gas in Lake Kivu, coal in Katanga Province and biomass all over.

"We can even do nuclear," he half-jokes.

The sheer power of the Congo also means that although hydroelectric provides the bulk of the DRC's energy mix, the potential will only be tapped once 100GW of electricity has been drawn.

Besides the obvious difficulties of doing business in the DRC--poor energy infrastructure, areas of insecurity, lack of finance, public-sector risk and fiscal challenges--projects are under way and the energy sector has become "very dynamic", according to Monga.

Bringing 150MW online last year, the Zongo 2 hydroelectric plant in the...

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