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Rusumo hydropower project; A case of the Nile basin’s shared destiny

River Kagera near the point where the run-of-the-river dam will be built. The river will change the lives of over a million people in three countries thanks to cooperation under the NBI


March 30, last week was a historic day in relations between the ten countries that form the Nile basin.  More than 99.5% of Uganda total geographical area lies in the basin.

Construction of an 80MW hydro-power dam was flagged off at Rusumo falls located at a common border between
Tanzania-Rwanda and about 20KM from Burundi on the Kagera river. When completed, the dam connect more than a million energy-strapped communities in Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Although conceived as far back as the 1970s, the Regional Rusumo hydropower project’s progress was hampered by the collapse of the Kagera Basin Organisation (KBO).

Revived in 2006 by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), the commencement of the project’s construction has been hailed as a historic moment in the management of trans-boundary water resources especially between countries that share the Nile basin. The successful launch of the project was also hailed as one of the fruits of the NBI as an agency that clinched the project through coordinating the member countries but also for helping to source for its financing.

“Although the three partner states discussed over several years to move Rusumo falls project forward, implementation of the highly needed project was not forthcoming due to a number of reasons. These included among other; lack of commitment from the partner states, lack of investment finance, civil conflict as well as absence of a joint institution to coordinate the project,” NBI proudly remarked in a statement to the media.

When finished, each of the three beneficiary countries will share 27MW of renewable power, besides enabling the three countries to tap into the region’s expanding electricity pool thanks to interconnection projects.

Construction of the Power Generation Plant is financed by the World Bank at a cost of USD 340 million  while the transmission lines that will connect the power plant to the national grids in the three countries is financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) at a cost of USD 121 million.

Perhaps more importantly, as the NBI notes, the Rusumo hydro power project, which is just one of the 30 projects under consideration across the ten-country Nile Basin, demonstrate the potential benefits of cooperation among member countries in the management of water resources.

How it was achieved

The three beneficiary countries jointly mandated Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program Coordination Unit (NELSAP-CU), the investment arm of the NBI, to coordinate the development of studies and later the implementation of the Rusumo Falls Hydropower project.

The commencement of the project goes a long way in the realisation of the NBI’s principles outlined in the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) of a harmonious, equitable and reasonable conservation, management and development of the Nile River Basin and its waters.

The CFA, which has been signed by six of the ten member Nile Basin countries, seeks to replace the rights-based colonial era agreements to a collaborative approach in the utilization of the Nile resources.

The cooperative framework seeks to replace the rights-based colonial era agreements of 1929 and 1959 that gave exclusive rights to Egypt and Sudan over the waters of the Nile. The rights-based approach pushed countries to pursue unilateral and conflicting approaches to the utilisation of shared water resources that bred constant squabbles between upstream and downstream countries particularly Egypt.