Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents



Electricity production is concentrated in Bas-Zaïre and Shaba regions, and about 95 percent of all electricity is sold in Kinshasa and Shaba. An estimated 73 percent of SNEL's sales are made in Shaba, 57 percent of the total to the mining parastatal Gécamines. In early 1992, SNEL experienced considerable losses following the destruction and looting in the country. It also lacked spare parts. By late 1992, the electrical system was nearing breakdown.

Home consumption of electricity and public lighting account for only a small percentage of electricity produced; most electricity consumption is closely tied to the copper market. Demand stagnated during the slump from 1974 through 1979, recovered slightly in 1980, and then dropped again in 1982 and 1983 before recovering and reaching a record high of 5,455 gigawatt hours in 1986. Demand again declined in the early 1990s.

Zaire has tremendous hydroelectric potential (estimated at 100,000 megawatts), accounting for half of the hydroelectric potential of the entire African continent. Installed capacity was estimated at 2,486 megawatts in 1987. Hydropower, in fact, accounts for 95 percent of all electricity produced in the country, the rest coming from small thermal units.

The largest hydroelectric site is on the lower part of the Congo River, forty kilometers upstream from its mouth, where the river drops 300 meters to sea level. One hundred meters of this drop is located in a twelve-kilometer stretch at the site of the Inga dams barrage. Sketchy colonial plans to tap this source of power were postponed because of the political uncertainty at the end of the colonial period and the dearth of customers for the immense quantities of electric power to be produced.

Inga I, a dam and generating facility built on this site in 1972, has a generating capacity of 300 megawatts. The adjacent Inga II dam has a generating capacity of 1,000 megawatts. In 1986 the two produced 3,100 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

The high-voltage transmission line from the dams to the Shaba mining region was the longest direct current line in the world at the time of its construction. It stretches 1,725 kilometers from the Inga I and Inga II dams in Bas-Zaïre to Kolwezi, the northernmost mining center in the Shaba copper-cobalt mining area. The project was chosen over competing ideas for power delivery to Shaba, including the construction of a new dam in Shaba itself. The high-voltage transmission line was intended to transmit about 1,200 megawatts of power to Shaba. However, it is grossly underutilized, with installed capacity at only about 560 megawatts and actual transmission to Shaba at about 200 megawatts. By late 1992, observers feared that the vital Inga-Shaba power line could not long remain operational. Its upkeep has been problematic since the departure in late 1991, following widespread rioting and looting, of the foreign technicians and mechanics (mostly Belgians and Italians) who provided most of its maintenance.

In the late 1980s, the Zairian state again demonstrated its fascination with hydroelectric schemes. A small hydroelectric power station was opened at Mobayi-Mbongo near Mobutu's birthplace in a remote section of Équateur Region near the border with the Central African Republic.

In July 1992, Zaire and Egypt reached agreement on the construction of a high-tension electric line from the Inga dams to Egypt, to transmit 600 megawatts of electricity to Egypt. Observers believe this plan is unlikely to be realized, however. The Inga power stations do supply some power to neighboring Congo, and the potential certainly exists for Zaire to export electricity to other neighbors should its economic situation ever be normalized.

Data as of December 1993