Regional co-operation reigns at Rusumo Falls

6 January 2015

An ambitious trans-boundary hydropower scheme in Africa looks set to fulfil acute electricity needs, under the expert guidance of the Nile Basin Initiative.

"This project has been awaited for more than 20 years. I congratulate all those who have been working hard to ensure that studies are complete. We are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel." These comments were given by Jean-Marie Nibirantije, former Burundi Minister of Water, Environment, Land Management and Urban Planning in July 2012.

Speaking about the Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project (RRFP), Nibirantije was referring to the fact that the scheme had been identified as a potential area for hydro power generation as early as the 1970s. Although the three partner states involved (Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania) had had discussions, conducted a series of feasibility studies, and negotiated with development partners at all stages, implementation of the highly needed project was not forthcoming due to a number of reasons. These included:

  • Lack of commitment from the partner states.
  • Lack of investment finance.
  • Civil conflict.
  • Absence of a joint institution to coordinate the project.

Now however, construction of the Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project (RRFP) power plant and its associated transmission lines is slated to start in the first quarter of 2015, with commissioning of the first power unit expected in December 2018. The US$470M project will be financed through a World Bank loan of US$340M for construction of the generation facility, along with US$130M from the African Development Bank and other development partners for constructing the associated transmission lines.
Once operational, the project will bring 80MW of relatively low-cost power to the national grids of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania with each receiving an additional 26.6MW. The additional power will benefit an estimated 1.2M people in the three countries and will increase electricity access rates by an estimated 5.4% in Burundi, 4% in Rwanda and 0.34% in Tanzania.

A shortage of electricity in Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania, and indeed the entire Nile Basin region, has resulted in an underdeveloped manufacturing industrial sector with:

  • Limited options for business development necessary to increase income and reduce poverty.
  • Limited opportunities for modernising and improving the quality of key infrastructure.

The project will also enhance regional cooperation and peace as well as support the sustainable management of the Kagera River Basin.

Run-of-river development

The 15m high and 40m wide Rusumo Falls are located on Kagera River on the border between Rwanda and Tanzania. A sequence of rapids after the falls leads to the stream dropping an additional 6m over the next 800m. Kagera River Basin is shared by Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda and is the most remote headstream of the River Nile, as well as the largest tributary to Lake Victoria, the world's second largest freshwater lake by surface area.

The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project has been designed is a run-of-river development with a normal operating water level of 1320masl. Run-of-river was selected by the beneficiary governments because:

  • It maintains the natural flow of the river and does not significantly modify the natural environment.
  • It minimises environmental and social impacts of the project and provides for the least cost implementation for environmental management and resettlement.

The project design includes construction of power lines connecting the plant to the electricity grids of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. A 220 KVtransmission line-single circuit running 161km from the power plant to the substation in Burundi (at Gitega), a 119km double circuit system with one circuit strung line to Rwanda (at Shango), and a 98.2km double circuit system with one circuit strung line to Tanzania (at Nyakanazi).


One of the flagship infrastructure projects planned under the Nile Basin Initiative, the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program Coordination Unit (NELSAP-CU) will be responsible for the overall implementation of the project during the construction phase of the power plant. During the operation, the Rusumo Power Company Ltd (RPCL) that owns the power plant will hire a private company to manage and operate the power plant. Transmission lines will be constructed and operated by the three power utilities.

"This project is very important to us in Rwanda and the region at large," said Rwanda's Minister of Natural Resources Stanislas Kamanzi, speaking in 2012. "We are in dire need of power. We should now combine our forces to ensure that the project translates into an asset that is beneficial to our populations."

The project is described as being recognised by the three energy-strapped beneficiary countries as being "a good buy" that will share its socio-economic benefits. These include:

  • Inexpensive electricity. This will contribute to foreign exchange savings and improved balance of payments since the power generated will replace imported petroleum products.
  • Improved access roads.
  • Employment opportunities during and after construction. It is estimated that 1000 people will be employed by the project.
  • At a regional level, the transmission lines will form a 'backbone system' that will link the Great Lakes region allowing power exchange with Eastern DR Congo as well as other East African Community countries and later to the Southern Africa Power Pool. This will facilitate power trade among member countries and beyond that improve regional power supply reliability.
  • The project will support regional and political cooperation and enhance regional integration. It will also facilitate trade, peace and stability among the Nile Equatorial Lakes countries through shared facilities and development of common energy and water policies.


Nile Basin Initiative

Trans-boundary in nature, the Regional Rusumo Falls Hydropower projects caught the attention of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), which is interested in investment projects of regional significance.

Through its Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program Coordination Unit (NELSAPCU), NBI provided a platform for regular dialogue and information exchange, creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence among the three governments and building an enabling environment for joint investments.

To enable the countries to dialogue, NELSAPCU invested resources in building capacity in Burundi and Rwanda given that the two countries had not yet established their departments for water resources. Associated with this is capacity building of staff to support project preparation, which is key to comply with timelines and agreed deliverables while improving the quality of the outputs.

NELSAP-CU further coordinated the preparation and signing of several important agreements by the three beneficiary countries.

The NBI approach, which emphases integrated and coordinated planning, created good relations among all the three countries' relevant ministries of water, energy and agriculture at the technical and political level - as well as local government, civil society and the communities.

Launched in 1999, NBI is a regional inter-governmental partnership of ten Nile riparian countries. Eritrea participates as an observer. For more details contact the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat, P.O. Box 192 Entebbe - Uganda, Email

The Mayor of Kirehe district in Rwanda, His Lordship Protais Murayire welcomes Members of Parliament from the Nile Basin countries on a field visit to the Rusumo project site, in July 2012.
Ministers Ministers in charge of Energy Affairs (L-R) Come Manirakiza of Burundi, Sospeter M Muhongo of Tanzania and Silas Lwakabamba of Rwanda sign project agreements
Aerial view of the project site
Falls Rusumo Falls are located on the Kagera River between Rwanda and Tanzania
Locals The project will bring much needed electricity to local people

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