Cooperation on hydropower projects on international rivers – The Ruzizi cascade and Rusumo Falls projects

This project was part of a Country Working Group (LAG) as part of the Postgraduate Training Programme. Looking at three examples in the water power sector of Sub-Sahara Africa, the team identified possibilities and obstacles for multilateral cooperation in this area.

Project Team:

Participants of the 48th postgraduate course:

Julia Bastian
Daniel Däschle
Simon W. Heisig
Johannes Peters
Christian Vosseler

Time frame:
2012 - 2013 / completed

Project description

Hydropower is high on the agenda of many African governments. In Sub-Sahara Africa only 5% of the estimated hydropower capacity is developed, and access to electricity grids is extremely low in most rural areas. At the same time, hydropower may play a role in climate change mitigation by providing a non-fossil source of energy and reservoirs may contribute to climate change adaptation. However, many of Africa’s potential hydropower projects are located on internationally shared rivers. Furthermore, in particular large dams with significant environmental and social effects remain controversial. This raises the questions under which conditions we may expect cooperation on international hydropower projects, how such projects can be conducted in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner and what mechanisms exist for benefit- and cost-sharing at international and sub-national level.

These issues was studied using the case of Africa’s Great Lakes Region. Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have been operating a joint hydropower plant on the Ruzizi River (Ruzizi II) since 1989, and are currently planning two additional run-of-the river hydropower projects. Ruzizi II has a capacity of 36 MW and is operated by an organization jointly owned by the three countries. It has been successful in the sense that it has always delivered electricity to the three countries, even under conditions of interstate conflict, but it faces severe financial constraints. This is one reason why Ruzizi III (147 MW) is being planned to be built and operated by a private investor. The feasibility studies have been completed and a tender for an investor has been issued. Relocation requirements will be limited to six households. Project preparation is coordinated by the EGL, l’Organisation de la Communité Economique des Pays des Grands Lacs (CEPGL) pour l’Energie des Pays des Grands Lacs (located in Burundi). The project is inter alia supported by the European Investment Bank and the KfW Development Bank. In addition, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania are preparing a hydropower project at Rusumu Falls on the Kagera River, a tributary of the Nile River. The countries recently rejected a medium-size alternative of 90 MW, as it would have involved the resettlement of 5200 households. Therefore, a feasibility study is now being prepared for a run-of-river alternative of 80 MW that would reduce relocation requirements to approximately 100 households. The plant will be government owned and privately managed. The preparation of the project is coordinated by the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program (NELSAP) within the Nile Basin Initiative (located in Rwanda) and it is supported by the World Bank among others.

Against this background, research questions included:
(1) How has cooperation progressed in these three cases and which factors promote, which factors inhibit cooperation on international hydropower projects?
(2) How can benefits and costs of such projects (including social and environmental costs) be shared equitably among national governments, private investors and the local population?
(3) How can the institutional arrangements be designed in order to ensure the financial sustainability of such projects?