Magufuli’s phone call to Egyptian president sparks new controversy

24Oct 2018
By Financial Times Reporter
Financial Times
Magufuli’s phone call to Egyptian president sparks new controversy

THE government has finally picked a preferred bidder for the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower dam despite strong pressure from environmental groups who opposethe project.

But the big announcement came from an unexpected source more than 6,000 kilometres away from Dar es Salaam -- the presidential palace in Cairo, the Egyptian capital.

Arab Contractors, a Cairo-based construction firm, has apparently outbid over 50 other international companies to build what is officially known as the Rufiji Hydropower Project at Stiegler's Gorge along the Rufiji River.

President John Magufuli telephoned his Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, on Sunday to formally inform him about the decision to award the tender for the mega project to the Cairo-based construction company, according to a statement from Egyptian presidential spokesman BassamRady.

Al-Sisi has accepted Magufuli’s invitation to attend a ground-breaking ceremony to mark commencement of the construction work at a date to be announced later, Egyptian media reported yesterday.

However, the Tanzanian president’s office is not aware of any deal to award the tender for the construction of the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project to the Egyptian company, Ikulu spokesman GersonMsigwa told the Financial Times.

“I haven’t seen those reports. I’m actually hearing this for the first time from you,” Msigwa told the Financial Times when asked to comment on the reports from the presidential palace in Cairo.

The Minister for Energy, DrMedardKalemani, and the Egyptian embassy in Dar es Salaam were not immediately available for comment.

The Tanzanian government invited bids last year to build a 2,100-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric plant inside the Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage site renowned for its animal populations, despite opposition from conservationists to the long-delayed project.

The Arab Contractors company announced on Monday that it has won a tender to execute the biggest hydroelectric dam in Tanzania, in partnership with Egyptian cable maker ElSewedy Electric.

The two companies submitted an offer to build a 2,115-megawatt hydroelectric dam in the Stiegler’s gorge, with investments worth $3 billion, according to latest media reports from Egypt.

Environment concerns

The projecthas courted local and global controversy, with conservationists calling for a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) before the project is implemented.

“The impact on Tanzania’s largestriver would affect many ecosystemservices it provides. It would affecttourism in Selous downstream insome of the most abundant wildlifeareas in the game reserve,” conservation group WWF said in a report last year against the project.

“Theseimpacts could also negativelyaffect a further 200,000 peoples’livelihoods, such as farmers andfishermen, as far away as the Rufijidelta and the islands beyond.”

President Magufuli has dismissed the concerns, saying only a tiny fraction of the Selous would be used to build the proposed hydropower dam.

A hydropower dam at Stiegler’s Gorge was considered by the Tanzanian government since the 1960s, but the project never took off due to lack of funding.

But Magufuli considers the project as key in solving the country’s energy needs, saying it would lead to the generation of cheap, abundant electricity to power the government’s industrial drive.

President Magufuli recently slammed a new environment audit of the project by a team of Tanzanian experts and ordered his government to change recommendations of the report in favour of broader "national interests."

“I have already issued instructions that they should change the recommendations of the report by the so-called Tanzanian environmental experts," the president declared in Dar es Salaam last month at the launch of a flyover at the TAZARA intersection.

The president dismissed recommendations of the experts, which he said call for environment screening of all construction materials and other objects brought to the site of the project to minimise any possible impact to the surrounding area.

He also took issue with a recommendation that any future mechanical repairs at the proposed hydropower dam should be done away from the site to avoid contaminating the environment.

Magufuli said any Tanzanian who opposes the project aimed at solving the country’s electricity shortages lacked patriotism.

The Arab Contractors is one of the leading construction companies in the Middle East and Africa, according to its website.

“Our employees work in collaboration with our customers, partners, and suppliers in more than 29 countries. Our experience is widely diversified and covers a wide spectrum of the construction industry and its ancillary services,” it said.

The company said it has experience in handling public buildings work, bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, housing, water and sewage projects, power stations, dams, hospitals, sports buildings, restoration of monuments, irrigation, producing ready-mix concrete, shipbuilding, electromechanical projects, engineering consultancy, manufacturing and assembly of steel structures.