On 19 September 2015, the Salvatorians in the D.R. Congo held the official inauguration of their rural electrification project ELKAP. In the presence of the Governor of Katanga, the Ambassador of the European Union, and local authorities, they celebrated together with thousands of local residents.
It was a memorable event with visits, traditional songs, dances, and speeches – and made its way into the national news.
The Congo Missionary Pro-Province started ELKAP (ELectricity for KAPanga) in 2011 thanks to substantial funds from the European Union and generous financial and logistical support from the Province of Katanga. The Salvatorian Relief Action in Hamont (Belgium) was the third funding partner. While Fr. Jaak Henkens developed and implemented the project, Arnout Mertens and SOFIA took care of the overall management.
Fr. Jaak Henkens, a Belgian Salvatorian missionary living in the Congo since 1976, designed the province’s flagship project and made it all happen: the construction of the dam and the hydroelectric power plant, the design of the transmission line, and brought the local population into tune by raising awareness. With the support of external experts and his community, he managed to bring this ambitious endeavour to a happy end.
The lives of 45,000 people have been changed by ELKAP. It produces 200 kW of green energy and has an electricity grid connecting Musumba, Ntita (where the Salvatorian convent is) and Kapanga. Managed by the Salvatorians as a separate non-profit entity, ELKAP enables hospitals to store medication in fridges and carry out emergency surgeries at night. Children and teachers can now study after sunset. Radio stations operate on a permanent basis. People are able to set up small businesses and workshops dependent on electricity, with activities such as crop transformation and welding. The telephone antenna provides stable communication, and, not least, the population of this isolated part of a difficult country can now enjoy a little extra comfort.
The electrification rate of the D.R.C. is about 11% - only a third of the average for sub-Saharan Africa - a rate which, because of frequent power cuts, is also not stable (Global Status Report 2012 REN21). Only 1 % of the people living in rural areas, which is after all home to 77% of the 65 million Congolese, has access to electricity.
Opportunities for electricity generation are enormous, but remain virtually untapped. This project shows that it is possible in the D.R.C. to develop rural electrification projects despite the lack of basic infrastructure for transport and a transparent legal and institutional context. By using the existing hydroelectric potential and by relying on local labour one can realise these sort of projects as long as one has the financial and logistical support of the local authorities and a partnership with an international organization, such as the EU.
The inauguration celebration commenced with a visit to the dam, where Fr. Jaak explained the construction details to the attendant authorities, the festive party then proceeded along the penstock pipes. After a short intermezzo of chants and dances presented by a number of local elders, the distinguished guests inspected the machine room and the starting point of the transmission line. The celebrations concluded in the centre of Musumba, where a huge crowd listened eagerly to the words of praise from the authorities.
Overall, this project is a wonderful example of successful cooperation between the Fathers in action in the missions and SOFIA, the Salvatorian Office for International Aid in Rome. Beware, the Congolese Pro-Province is already dreaming of ELKAP 2…