The Congo River can be the bloodstream of Africa, powering the entire African continent, if the African governments can raise $80 billion. But it is not a good idea, writes Simon Onyango.
Matadi Town is on the Congo River, about 150 km from the mouth of the River on the Atlantic East Coast.
Matadi Port is the main Port of DRC. Beyond Matadi Town, the river is not navigable because of several rapids and the 95m high Inga Falls just 45km upstream; the site of the installed Inga I and II dams as well as the site of the proposed Inga III and the dream Grand Inga Dam.
You must have heard that the Congo River can produce enough electricity to power Africa. The best site to install the Hydro-Electric station would be at the Grand Inga Dam, estimated to have a hydropower potential of 43.5GW.
Matadi Town is also home to the only bridge over River Congo, called the OEBK Bridge or The Pont Marechal that sits on the rock to the left of the bank of the Congo River. The dams, the bridge, and the Pont Marechal make a confluence of human intervention and nature at its most extravagant.
That is so much for the eye in one day - at least 4 outstanding things to write about. The name Matadi itself means a rock in Kikongo.
River Congo is the world's second largest river by discharge (amount of water flowing per second) after the Amazon River and the world's deepest and fastest river. For Homo Aquaphiles, like me, there is no place more beautiful on earth than sitting by the banks of the Amazon or, if you fall slightly short, the Congo.
For starters, the average discharge of River Congo is 41,000m3/s. Now that is mind-boggling. I have been lucky to travel to 46 out of 47 counties in Kenya on water-related issues and I have had the privilege of studying the Nzoia River and the Tana River. The Tana, at Garissa, has an average discharge of 134m3/s and the Nzoia, at Mundika Bridge, has a discharge of 118m3/s. Now that is to say Congo River has the same flow as about 320 River Tanas at Garissa and 350 River Nzoias at Mundika Bridge!
Kenya had to buy KES 20 million worth of towels for throwing in just in case of failure of the very small Arror and Kimwarer dams, how many towels will have to be bought for throwing in were the Grand Inga to fail?
Yet, the Congo River at Matadi is only about 700m wide. You would expect a river 320 times the Tana to be very wide, but it is not because 700m wide is not unusual. Let me tell you why it is not very wide. This is because of its unusual depth and unusual velocity. The average depth of the Congo River is about 80m and maximum depth 220m. Its average velocity at Matadi is 7m/s. Now that is mind boggling for a river. If you accidentally fall in it, your family would have to bury a banana trunk. It is so mind boggling that even fish are not able to cross from one bank to another and there is different evolution within the same species living on different sides of the river. River Congo sends a plume of water flowing 500km into the Atlantic Ocean.
The mostly majestic and misty, mighty Congo River.
The Inga Dams
Because of the sheer discharge of the Congo River, coupled with a fall of 95m, the power potential at Inga if fully developed will be 43.5GW. That would have powered the whole of Africa by 1995 and can still power over 80% of Africa in 2020. However, the cost of developing it would be $80B for the dam and another $20B for interconnecting National Grids, a sum Africans will never afford. Besides, hydropower projects can adversely affect the environment, not just the fiscal strain but the economic environment of borrowing countries.
Furthermore, if in Kenya we had to buy KES 20 million worth of towels for throwing in just in case of failure of the very small Arror and Kimwarer dams, how many towels will have to be bought for throwing in were the Grand Inga to fail? It is not worth it.
The Pont Marechal
This bridge was built by the Japanese in 1983 and for over 30 years was the reigning longest suspension bridge in Africa at 700m and 520m clear span. The bridge was designed with a camber so that when the steel of the bridge expands in the heat of the day, the deck has a camber and when it cools it contracts and becomes flat. Driving over the bridge feels like crossing into Canaan. The design and the construction were done by the Japanese and the Japanese are so mean that they took back about 80% of the cost of the development back to Japan.
The only thing they bought in Congo was sand. In short, the Japanese wouldn't even spit makamasi (mucus) for a dying plant. And then they were so proud of it that they reported it in many of their journals as the success of their diplomacy and development. No wonder they are a failing nation in international diplomacy.
The Matadi Port
It is very beautiful seeing ships in a River. However, the purpose of the Port Development was slave trade and exploitation of lumber from the Congo forest and illegal, exploitative mining in Congo. The worst thing, the Port is owned and run by Lebanese just like the Port of Mombasa will be proudly owned and operated by the Chinese in circa 2030.
Simon Onyango, a self-confessed limnophile is an Engineer working in the Democratic Republic of Congo.