Amidst the perceived truths, half-truths and non-truths regarding the attackers who killed 67 people, the only enduring fact is that one year after the attacks, little remains known of the four men aged between 16 and 23 years.
As treaties are ratified and hopes rise for a sustainable solution to energy poverty, NGOs question who stands to benefit
Originally published in The Guardian
Jeff Radebe, minister for planning, monitoring and evaluation, made the announcement at a media briefing signalling progress between the two countries. If successful, this would be the world’s biggest hydropower project with the potential to power half of Africa.
But as boardroom deals are made, questions continue to linger on the viability of the project. Who stands to benefit most from it? Is it sustainable? 54 years after the ground was first broken (pdf) for project, can Kinshasa guarantee that the new phase will not become a financial burden?
The site for the project is in Bas Congo, a province at the extreme south-west of DRC. It is hoped that the potential 40,000MW output will power Africa’s industrial economic development.
“The Inga project capacity is almost double China’s Three Gorges dam – currently the world’s largest hydroelectric project producing 22,500 MW,” said Isaac Kalua, founder of Nairobi based environmental group Green Africa Foundation.
However, the dam is not without its critics. There are questions about its financing and what’s in it for the bankrollers.
The World Bank and several other financial institutions like the African Development Bank, are funding the project to completion through grants and loans.
“The project will strengthen DRC’s institutional capability by establishing an autonomous and transparent Inga Development Authority. The project will also finance technical, environmental, and social studies to develop the Inga III and selected mid-size hydropower projects sustainably,” said the World Bank in a press release earlier this year.
South Africa will also finance part of the project. In 2013 it was reported that R200bn has been set aside and state owned power company, Eskom, will receive 2,500MW of the 4,800MW produced by Inga III, the project’s first phase.
“The project will primarily benefit SA and mines in Katanga. Only 1000MW will be sold to national power company Société Nationale d’Electricité (Snel) for consumers in Kinshasa and surrounding areas,” said Ange Asanzi, Africa programme assistant for environmental lobby group International Rivers.
DRC’s prime minister Matata Ponyo Mapon has said the Grand Inga will provide the country’s blue print for a better future. But on the world’s poorest continent, where natural wealth has largely failed to catalyse development, can projects like these lift people over the energy poverty line?
“[The dams] will not solve the issue of energy poverty. Africa’s poorest live in rural areas. It is not cost effective to supply grid electricity to rural populations. Grid electricity is only cost effective in areas with a population density of at least 50 people per square meter,” Asanzi said.
The International Energy Agency estimates that globally over 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity and 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. More than 95% of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas.
Rather than cut poverty, Asanzi argues that the project could potentially have a negative effect on communities.
“People affected by Inga I and Inga II have never been compensated. Most of them will again be affected by Inga III. The resettlement action plan cites only five villages to be subjected to relocation, excluding many others.”
The livelihoods of local communities are also at risk as the river is a major source of income for them. Kalua suggests this fear could morph into something bigger: “Huge volumes of water will be diverted. Drying rivers can lead to political unrest, since communities living downstream face the brunt of the reduction in volumes.”
But the real elephant in the room is corruption. Inga I and Inga II were put up at a time of impunity among DRC’s political elite where there was little accountability regarding state expenditure.
“Many politicians in DRC are still as driven by personal interests as they were 50 years ago,” says Asanzi.
In a climate of mistrust and hope, Africa’s search for solutions to its energy deficit trudges on. Kenya and Ethiopia are betting on wind energy, while Ghana is banking on solar. South Africa is looking more and more towards importation. The need is great but experts remain cautious of the means employed to achieve a sustainable energy end.
“As a continent we need to interrogate all these approaches that will result in an energy gain. We have to assess the environmental and humanitarian impact that these grand projects will have,” Kalua concludes.
Kennedy Nganga has survived two near death experiences. All self-inflicted. The latest one, three months ago on his 41st birthday. He never sets out to kill himself, but a series of unfortunate events have made sure to land him in the emergency rooms of private hospitals for resuscitation and a subsequent stab at life.
“I have tried to get clean. I have been to different centres, to church…taken sabbaticals in the country side… none of this has worked,” he says.
The rumour among his friends is that he once used to work for one of the major cement companies in the country in a management position.
“We used to meet up on Fridays and hang out. He would have tales of meetings in almost all the major capitals of the world. He had a wife but no child. But he got in too deep and started missing work. Eventually he was sacked,” Steve Maingi, Nganga’s friend for more than two decades told the Standard on Sunday.
“The drugs messed him up. He can’t stay clean for more than a day. As his friends we have even tried to lock him up just to get the drugs out of his system,” Maingi says.
The latest Kenya AIDS Response report survey estimates that up to 18 per cent of people who inject drugs (PWID) in Kenya are living with HIV. According to the report, an estimated at 18,327 people, largely concentrated in Nairobi and Mombasa are living with the virus contracted from needle use. On a normal day, Nganga can be found walking along Nairobi’s Kirinyaga Road with an old but neatly folded 16 page double ruled exercise book. On the books cover are the words ‘Medical Appeal’ written in a neat handwriting with a blue felt pen.
Whenever he sees a new face seated outside the numerous tyre shops along the road he approaches.
“Tafadhali, nipe dakika moja tu nikujulishe yaliyo nipata. Nina mtoto kidato cha kwanza na jana nimepigiwa simu na mwalimu mkuu akiniambia kuwa nisipo maliza kulipa karo, mwanangu atafukuzwa shule. Ninakusihi, kama unaweza kunipa chochote hata ikiwa shilingi kumi, utakua umenisaidia sana kumweka mwanangu shuleni.”
He then opens a page in the book on which random names are written on together with coinciding sums from well-wishers. He is well dressed with a navy blue dust coats with the name of one of the many tyre sellers on that street. He would pass for one of the many attendants. His daily target is Sh500, enough to cater for his daily rent and a fix of a cheap cocktail of injectable drugs.
For many years, it seemed Kenya was winning the war on new HIV infections, the prevention of mother- to- child transmission through various methods. Public awareness campaigns took credit for most of this win particularly on transmission through sex.
There were other battle fronts though like intravenous drug usage. Battlefronts that if left undefended could cause runaway infection rates.
At the end of the day, which to Nganga, is when the days target is achieved, he neatly folds his dust coat, put it in a yellow PIL paper bag and heads off disappearing into the maze of human beings, and cars all covered by brownish smog. His destination is a lodging on Accra Street where he pays his daily lodging fees of Sh300. With the rest he walks down towards Voi Road where an old storied building stands unsuspiciously Coast Bus offices. The building may pass for any other exhibition mall in town but within it lies a haven for shooters and peddlers.
The urban legend in the area is that people walk into the building and walk out even a week later.
“It all depends on how much you have on you,” Maingi, Nganga’s friend says. “This place just eats you up.”
The ground floor of the building is lined with different shops. Mobile money transfer shops, movie shops, mobile repair shops and a few stalls selling clothes. The first floor has fewer stalls with much more open space. It is here that men and women are huddled in groups of three or four. At first glance they would pass for individuals just taking a break from a hard day.
But after a few minutes one notices their incoherent conversations, shrieks and their blank stares. Others hunch too far forward and eventually tumble over. Sleeves rolled up. Ties, belts, shoe laces tying off upper arms as if preventing snake poison from moving from imaginary bites on the lower arms. Trouser legs are folded thigh high. The conversation is silence. Each to their own demons.
Nganga finds a spot against a pillar at the back of the room. As he settles down, a light skinned man in a brown hood walks up to him and hands him a sachet of a brownish powder. Nganga hands him a Sh200 note. The man walks over to a group of four, three men and a woman, and returns with a stained spoon and a used syringe.
The recently launched report says that about 3.8% of new HIV infections occur among PWIDs.
Statistics from NSCOP show that other HIV prevention measures among this group are also low with only 28.9 per cent of them adhering to condom use, while 51.6 per cent use safe injecting practice such as the needle exchange programme.
Nganga pours the contents of the sachet onto the spoon and with a hand held lighter puts on a little flame under the spoon. The contents melt and after a few seconds he draws the liquid into the syringe. His grabs a strip of rope next to him and ties of his left arm just above the elbow. He sees a vein pop up and pushes in the needle at an angle. Draws some blood then gently pushes the content back in. Slowly. A lady a couple of metres away stares lustfully. She is next in line for the syringe and as the drugs take control of Nganga, she slowly walks towards us and with the gentlest of touches undoes the thin rope from Nganga’s arm, unlatches the syringe, finds a place to lean on and goes through the motions.
In early 2008, the country initiated a programme to prevent HIV infections among the PWIDs mainly in Nairobi and Coast regions. Through this programme, about 271,941 needles and syringes were distributed over the last 12 months reaching about 2,000 users, which translates to about 135 needles and syringes per person per year.
This programme, according to government statistics, reaches only about 15 per cent of the total estimated number of PWIDs. 85 per cent remain unreached by this potentially lifesaving intervention in a vulnerable group that has an HIV prevalence rate of 18 per cent in comparison to the country’s 5.6 per cent. Nganga says he has heard of the needles exchange programme form some friends.
“But I do not know where to get them,” he says. “I once walked into a city council hospital to ask for a needle and syringe. They chased me away.”
In all his years of IDU, 18, he has never been tested for HIV or any other condition such as Hepatitis.
“I don’t have a reason for not testing. And I don’t have a reason for testing. I just want to be left alone,” he says and walks away.