Only a tiny fraction of the Selous Game Reserve will be used to build the proposed hydropower dam, the president stated at yesterday’s formal signing of the landmark project deal with and the Egyptian construction firm Arab Contractors at State House in Dar es Salaam.
“We had enough consultations before arriving to a final decision to go ahead with the project… we have agreed that everything should be done as planned,” he further asserted.
Magufuli cited four main reasons which make it a must for the project to be implemented, including low implementation costs and much-expected massive benefits.
Hydropower is much cheaper compared to other energy sources, he pointed out, costing 36/- per unit as against 65/- for nuclear power, 103/- for wind energy, and 114.5/- for geothermal energy.
The biggest benefit of the project is that it will generate 2,115 megawatts of electricity, which is more than all the electricity generated from all other available sources (1,560MW), he said.
According to the president, at least 15 per cent of the contractor’s fee is already available for disbursement into the company’s bank account after all procedures have been completed.
The Egyptian delegation to the signing was led by the country’s prime minister Mostafa Madbouly, who described the project as a symbol of his country’s commitment to supporting Tanzania in its development endeavors.
The Minister for Energy, Dr Medard Kalemani, said the Stiegler’s Gorge project is scheduled for completion within 36 months.
Also present at the signing was the Speaker of the National Assembly, Job Ndugai.
The project has attracted intense scrutiny with conservationists both at home and abroad calling for a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) before it is implemented in the Selous Game Reserve, which is a recognised world heritage site.
Supporters of the project see it as the answer to all of Tanzania’s power availability problems, with the potential to ensure provision of cheap and abundant electricity countrywide.
Magufuli himself has insisted time and time again that his government sees the project as a key game-changer in its own ambitious industrialization drive.
Officially known as the Rufiji Hydropower Project, the idea was initially conceived during colonial times in the early 1900s, and was later taken up by the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, although it never saw light of day during the father of the nation’s presidency.
The original idea is widely attributed to a German engineer named Stiegler, who had a plan to build a bridge and dam over the gorge deep within the Selous. Stiegler was killed by an elephant in 1907, reportedly falling into the gorge which was then named after him.
Successive governments after the Nyerere era, under Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, also failed to build the dam over the past 30 years for various reasons including a lack of funding, political capital and will.
But President Magufuli revived the project after taking office in November 2015, making it one of the flagship ventures of his administration’s long-term development agenda for the country.