In May 2016, Rwanda launched its 26 MW Kivuwatt gas power plant. They extract methane from Lake Kivu and use it to generate electricity which is then sold to the Rwandan electricity utility (RECO). The project is owned and operated by ContourGlobal, a United States corporation. Last week, Symbion Energy (power) and Highland Group Holdings Ltd signed a $100 million deal to develop a 106MW gas power plant to extract methane from the lake. Symbion Power also acquired Kibuye power plant 1 (a 3.6MW methane gas extraction plant) which it plans on rehabilitating and expanding.
Lake Kivu is located on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, 58% of the lake lies within the DRC borders. It contains large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane (according to an article on newtimes.co.rw, the lake contains an estimated 55 billion cubic meters of naturally occurring methane gas) making it a limnically active lake and a possible danger to human and animal life. There are fears that the water could become heavily saturated with CO2 which would then cause a Limnic eruption. These occur when dissolved CO2 suddenly erupts from deep lake waters forming a lethal gas cloud, however, utilising the methane in the lake to generate electricity has led to a degree of CO2 degassing. Considering the fact that Rwanda has an electricity supply shortage, it is basically killing two birds with a single stone.
This is great in so many ways except for the fact that the main stakeholders in these deals are not African corporations and that the gas that is extracted from the lake is then sold back to Rwanda as electricity. An article on esi-africa.com states that ContourGlobal signed a 25-year gas concession and power purchase agreement with the Rwandan government to extract up to 100MW of electricity from Lake Kivu’s methane gas. I obviously don’t know the finer details of these deals but to me, the average onlooker, it seems like Africa is being exploited again. I don’t see the empowerment factor. I would’ve liked to know about how these foreign corporations are equipping Rwandan corporations with the skill set to some day extract the gas themselves or how they have invested in Rwandan companies giving them the capital to undertake such projects. I have no qualms with foreign investors, they are good for African economies, it’s the dependency on them for basic necessities such as electricity that bothers me.
So when Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, told African leaders last week that “Africa has tremendous business potential. I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich……. For American firms it’s really become a place that they have to go…”. I have no doubt he meant well but considering how Europeans and Americans have been exploiting our natural resources for years, I’m not surprised by the response (or lack thereof) he received.