Tanzania on Friday launched the construction of the 2,115MW hydropower plant over Rufiji River, defying protests by wildlife and nature conservationists about the “desecration” of the Selous Game Reserve, a Unesco Heritage Site.
President John Magufuli laid the foundation stone for the Rufiji Hydropower Project (RHPP) at Stiegler’s Gorge, and told off the lobbies opposing the project, whom he accused of seeking to benefit from hunting and accommodation businesses inside the reserve.
“There are 47 hunting blocks and several lodges charging up to $3,000 per night, from which the government gets nothing or just peanuts through taxes,” the president said.
“Today we save the people of Tanzania from shortage of power. Our envisaged industrial economy needs adequate, cheap and reliable power supply through hydrogeneration.”
President Magufuli said that foreign lenders had refused to release funds to implement the project.
“This project has stalled for many years. We will build it with our own money,” he said.
The RHPP will cost $1.38 billion (Tsh6.5 trillion) and is set to be completed in 2022.
Cairo-based JV Arab Contractors Company and the El Sewedy Electric, an Egyptian engineering firm, won the tender to implement the project.
But conservationists say Selous Game Reserve could be removed from the list of premier and sensitive conserved areas listed by Unesco.
Shadow minister for energy John Mnyika said the project is costly and will have an adverse economic impact. He said in parliament that construction of the power plant could take nine to 12 years, contrary to the government’s insistence that it is a three-year project.
He said that costs are likely to jump from Tshs 6.5 trillion ($1.38 billion) to Tsh22.9 trillion ($9.8 billion) as a result of cost overruns.
Mr Mnyika added that the mega power project will also destroy the Selous Game Reserve’s ecology.
In January, Germany’s parliament raised concern over the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project asking their government to find alternative ways of assisting Tanzania to produce much-needed electricity.
Members of the German Parliament said in a debate over a bill that the project would jeopardise the Selous Game Reserve’s status as a World Heritage Site.
Germany is the leading donor in various conservation projects, including anti-poaching operations in Selous Game Reserve.
The massive project is part of Tanzania's power master plan, which envisions Stiegler’s Gorge helping interconnect the grids of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
The dam will be fourth largest in Africa and ninth in the world.
—Additional reporting by BBC