The 200MW Manantali dam in southwestern Mali has generated power for the first time, 13 years after completion. To date only one of the planned 5x40MW turbines has been installed. The 40MW unit is supplying power to Mali’s capital, Bamako, some 300km east of the dam. When the project is completed, 52% of the energy produced will go to Mali, 15% to Mauritania and 33% to Senegal.

In 1972, the governments of Mali, Mauritania and Senegal set up the Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Senegal (OMVS) in order to promote irrigation, power generation and navigation in the Senegal valley. Under the auspices of the OMVS, construction of the Manantali dam began in 1981. The purpose was to irrigate an area of 3750km2, to generate hydro power and allow navigation between the cities of St Louis and Kayes. At the same time, the Diama dam was built at the river delta to prevent saltwater intrusion into the lower valley.

The Diama dam was completed in 1986, and the Manantali civil works in 1987. Although the civil works were completed, the installation of the generation equipment at Manantali was not undertaken due to funding and political difficulties experienced by the three countries developing the project. A World Bank loan for US$38M was procured in 1997 to pay for the installation and commissioning of the generation equipment, while nearly US$400M was funded by a consortium of donor countries and banks.

The project consists of the Manantali dam on the Bafing river, a tributary of the Senegal river, a 200MW power station and a network of 1300km of transmission lines to the capitals of Mali (Bamako), Mauritania (Nouakschott) and Senegal (Dakar). The dam is 1460m long and 65m high. It created a reservoir with a storage capacity of 11.3B m3 and a surface area of 477km2.