Central governments naturally wish to publicize their major public works achievements. This is doubly so if they are repressive and have a reputation for corruption. Such untrusted regimes inevitably have unstable currency. All this, along with the normal cult of personality dictators cultivate, means that the image of dams often appears on their country’s untrustworthy money along with a portrait of the strongman.
Wouldn’t the pharaohs picture a pyramid and Ramses the Whatever on their bills if they had issued paper money?
Mobutu Sese Seko (whose much longer full name means ‘The warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest.’) with the help of the United States and Belgium overthrew Patrice Lumumba, elected ruler of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960. Mobutu shot Lumumba. In 1971, he renamed the Congo Zaire and shortened his name to Mobuto Sese Seko. Before he fled in 1997 to escape a rebellion that three other African countries supported, he amassed a personal fortune some estimate at fifteen billion dollars US.
One of the big construction projects Mobutu looted was the damming of the Congo River at the world’s largest by volume waterfall, Inga Falls. Inga Falls is an excellent location for dams, but the project lacked economic justification.Two enormously costly hydroelectric dams, Inga 1 (1972) and Inga 2 (1982), were built but have been plagued by shoddy construction, breakdowns, silted reservoirs and a lack of paying customers for their electricity. The thousands of natives displaced by the huge reservoirs have yet to receive their promised compensation. Inga 1 and 2 have still not recouped their costs, are producing 20% of their expected output, and are a continuing drain on the Congo’s economy.
In spite of these difficulties an even larger hydropower plant is moving forward. The Grand Inga Dam if built would produce twice as much electricity as China’s Three Gorges Dam. Apart from the environmental issues, it carries a cost estimate of eighty billion dollars, which is quite disproportionate for a public works project in a very poor country.