BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining corporation, wants to build a $5 billion aluminum smelter at the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Atlantic coast. The massive smelter would consume 2,500 MW of electricity, more than DR Congo’s entire current power supply. Prerequisites for the smelter include construction of the proposed $3.5 billion Inga 3. But Inga 3 and the smelter would cost Congolese citizens electricity, jobs and development.
Building Inga 3 to power BHP Billiton’s planned smelter would derail the government’s commitment toward widespread electrification for its citizens. Increasing access to electricity from 6% today to 60% of the population by 2025 will require concerted state action. But the government has earned little trust to develop an energy sector which serves the people. Despite available funding, an urgent rehabilitation of the national power grid has languished since 2003 with little explanation.
BHP Billiton’s proposed aluminum smelter would also create very few jobs relative to the electricity it would consume. Non-transparent power and investment contracts would further cost the Congolese people by giving undue preference to BHP Billiton. The terms of similar deals have revealed BHP Billiton’s ability to short change the residents of its host countries, including South Africa.
In February 2006, BHP Billiton signed an agreement with the Congolese government to develop the aluminum smelter, which would produce 800,000 tonnes per year. In 2007, BHP Billiton agreed to finance feasibility study for the 4,500 MW Inga 3 project. BHP Billiton negotiated the proposed smelter despite the 2004 Westcor agreement between the Congolese government and four other African countries to develop and equitably share Inga 3 power. The eventual cancellation of Westcor’s agreement in favor of BHP Billiton’s has led to strained relationships between the Congolese government and other Westcor members.
Read our Aluminum in Africa case study (2007)
Download our 2005 activist toolkit, Foiling the Aluminum Industry