'Under the guise of bringing power to poor Africans, development banks are looking to put tens of billions of public money into a flight of fantasy that would only benefit huge Western multinationals and quite possibly feed African energy into European households,' said Anders Lustgarten, Counter Balance/Bretton Woods Project (UK), which scrutinises the World Bank and IMF.

This is the story of what may be the world’s largest dam, an $80 billion, 40,000 megawatt (MW) megalith in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) called Grand Inga, and the oddities that surround it: not least the 6,000km long electrical transmission line that would be built through the tropical rainforest, across the Sahara Desert and Darfur, through Egypt and the Mediterranean to bring the electricity to its destination—not poor Africans, but wealthy European consumers.

'Wat – apart from the prospect of massive corporate profits – is really motivating Grand Inga is the terror of the leaders of the European Union at running out of energy', adds Anders Lustgarten, Counter Balance /Bretton Woods Project (UK). 'The project fits into a web of colossal gas and oil pipelines, solar energy rings and high voltage electricity grids, altogether costing in the hundreds of billions, that the EU is seeking to construct in Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus to keep energy flowing into Europe'.

Grand Inga fits perfectly into the long and storied history of Western self-interest disguised as benevolence that Joseph Conrad dissected so surgically in Heart of Darkness—based of course on his experiences sailing the Congo River (site of Grand Inga), and the oddities and hypocrisies he encountered working for a trading company seeking to ‘develop’ the heart of Africa. And in that sense, development capitalism seems to us the twenty-first century direct descendant of nineteenth century colonialism. Under a rhetoric of enlightened aims and grandiose goals, many of whose exponents genuinely believe what they do makes the world a better place, ‘development’ is central to maintaining our artificially inflated standard of living. But it is equally crucial to our self-perception not as exploitative of poor countries but as humane, as trying to help: as trying to make the world a better place. The question is, for whom?

2009 Conrads Nightmare title page

The world’s biggest dam and development’s heart of darkness

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