Africa’s grand projects that never came to be

Posted: June 18, 2014 in General

Today we delve into ambitious projects in Africa that either never started or that died midway during development.

4 Lane highway from Mombasa to Lagos
Back in 1969, the Japanese government proposed extending the Mombasa Highway to Lagos, Nigeria, on the Atlantic Ocean. The four-lane, 4,400-mile paved highway would be slightly longer than Interstate 90 running from Boston to Seattle across the United States. It was to bring modern trade to six African countries.

By 1971, the deal had the support of the six countries, nine other rich countries and six international aid agencies. They hoped to have at least two lanes of all-weather road open by 1978.
It did not take long for problems to emerge. Dictator Idi Amin took control of Uganda and threatened neighboring Kenya, which then closed the highway.

Lake Turkana fish processing plant, Kenya
Funded by the Norwegian government at the tune of $22 million this project was designed in 1971 to provide jobs to the Turkana people through fishing and fish processing for export. However, the Turkana are nomads with no history of fishing or eating fish. The plant was completed and operated for a few days, but was quickly shut down. The cost to operate the freezers and the demand for clean water in the desert were too high. It remains a “white elephant” in Kenya’s arid northwest.

Nyayo Pioneer cars
Former president of Kenya,Moi one came up with a dream to manufacture a Kenyan car.He put together a team of engineers and academics from the University of Nairobi, Kenya Railways Corporation and the Department of Defence and challenged them to produce a car.

Five years later, the Nyayo Pioneer car was ready. But one afternoon, during the official launch of the car at the Kasarani Sports Complex in 1991, the car broke down. It could not even complete a journey around the athletic track.

Why did it fail? The engineers did not get the proper casting for the engine. The body was too heavy. The transmission system kept breaking because the engineers did not get the right metallurgy for gears.

King Mswati-III International Airport.
Swaziland’s King Mswati III started a $280-million airport in the tiny nation.11 years down the line, the project is years away from being operational and has been dubbed a “white elephant” by critics.Locked between Mozambique and South Africa, Swaziland remains one of the world’s poorest countries, though its monarch is estimated to have a fortune of around $200 million. The cost is equivalent to almost 10 percent of the impoverished mountain kingdom’s 2012 Gross Domestic Product.

‘Africa Tallest building’-Kenya
Back in 2011, Public Works minister Chris Obure read a government statement to announce government plans to put up the tallest building in Africa, a 60-storey tower, in Nairobi.The building was to be constructed in the city’s Upper Hill area at an estimated cost of Sh24-Sh32 billion.

The estimates were contained in a press release by officials of the National Economic and Social Council but the documents were soon withdrawn.The construction of the building was to demonstrate the country’s capacity to deliver on huge projects.No more details were provided. It was not clear what the building,to be shaped like a shield, would be used for.

Zaire space project
The story first begins back when the DRC was known as Zaire back in the late 1970s. A German company by the name of Orbital Transport und Raketn Aktiengesellschaft (OTRAG) decided to set up a rocket testing and launch facility in the Shaba Province of Zaire and signed an agreement with the government in 1976. To sweeten the deal, Zaire would be given one experimental satellite and a reduced rate for any future rocket launches. Logistical reasons that Zaire was chosen were the low population density near the launch site and because it was near the equator where rockets are just a tad easier to put into orbit.

The idea of actually attempting space travel from Congo didn’t originate there, but rather with a West German company called Orbital Transport und Raketn Aktiengesellschaft (OTRAG). Founded in Stuttgart in 1975, OTRAG had a corporate vision of “space trucking,” or a “throwaway” method of transporting communication and other peaceful satellites into orbit at bargain-basement prices. The company had one major hurdle to overcome, however—mainly the amended 1954 Treaty of Brussels, which prohibited the development and launching of missiles on German soil.

OTRAG-1, consisting of four propulsion modules, a nose cone, and four fins, was launched from Zaire on May 18, 1977, and achieved an altitude of 12 miles before the four engines broke off and OTRAG-1 plummeted back to Earth.Two years after OTRAG-1 launched, President Mobutu bowed to pressure from the Soviet Union (who’d gathered “intelligence” tracing OTRAG to World War II-era Nazi scientists and were convinced the company was a front for gathering military intelligence) and cut its ties with OTRAG.

The German company took their $150 million and moved to Libya for a time before going belly-up.

Mobutu’s Lost Jungle Palaces
At the height of his power, Mobutu had replicas of the French palace of Versailles and the Chinese forbidden city built in his hometown, far in the remote north of the country (Zaire). As well as a Coca Cola factory, an airport large enough to accommodate a Concorde jet, and a nuclear bunker that could fit up to 500 people.

In the collapse of Mobutu’s regime around 1997, the palaces – and indeed much of Gbadolite – was abandoned to the looting of mutinous Congolese troops. But the structures of the palaces – and presumably the bunker and other buildings – still remain, alone in the middle of the Congolese jungle.

Libya’s Nuclear Program
Libya began an ambitious nuclear project – like Israel – in an attempt to defend the interests of the Arab people and/or his personal hegemony, the so-called Islamic nuclear weapon.Right after the 1969 revolution Khadafi,Libya prime minister had sought – without succeeding – the assistance of the Chinese to produce and/or acquire an atomic weapon.

Banking on successes of projects like The Great Man Made river that transformed the 90% desert nation into a water secure nation, Khadafi never envisaged failing in this new project.However, Libya bowed to pressure & agreed to rollback its clandestine nuclear program in late 2003.The decision, taken by Khadafi, was favoured by two events in particular: the attack against Saddam Hussein, accused of producing weapons of mass destruction, and the arrival in Tripoli of a container – that was emptied during its stay in an Italian harbour – that originally contained material used in the building of nuclear centrifuges.

The Libyan leader had realized that he was being watched closely and that he risked becoming in the near future the target of further international military actions. The accord for the suspension of the program was also due to an opening by the US to co-operation in the field of security, both military and economic. In practice Libya was expecting kickbacks from the suspension saying that the material sent to the US was valued at about $100 million.

Libya had spent an overall $200 million in the program, which had failed to develop for lack of management personnel, structures and technology.Countries mentioned among those who helped libya build the program include: Germany, Pakistan & North Korea.

Zaire’s Inga dam project
Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku wa za Banga, as he was called — which translates as “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake” still had another grandiose project up his sleeve. His largest of the projects, the Inga Dam, which alone was slated to produce one-third of the world’s hydroelectric energy, and the construction of an 1,100-mile high tension power grid to the copper-producing Shaba region, proved to be disastrous.

The launching of bids for these grandiose public works projects caused Mobutu to be courted anew by Western capitals and their countries’ largest construction firms and banks. But the debt crisis brought on by costly borrowing and the collapse of world copper prices ultimately thwarted those projects.


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