Engineers’ Dreams: Africa’s Central Lake

I have been reading a book called Engineers’ Dreams: Great Projects That Could Come True by William Ley that was published in 1954. I had first heard about it from an American Scientist article years ago, but I finally got my hands on a copy through my library’s inter-library loan program as the book is long out of print.

The book is a collection of fascinating, mega-scale engineering projects that have been dreamed up over the years. Some of them, like the Channel Tunnel have actually come to pass, but a few are so grandiose they are unimaginable today.

One in particular was a plan to totally reconfigure the interior of Africa by creating a series of huge inland seas. The plan was originated by the German architect and engineer Herman Sörgel in 1935. His plan was to dam the Congo River where it passes through a string of deep, narrow gorges after it merges with one of its tributaries, the Kwa River. It would create a lake 350,000 square miles in area - larger than the areas of California, Nevada and Oregon combined.

Once the lake filled, it would be forced to overflow from another one of its tributaries, the Ubangi, into the Shari River which is one of the feeders for the present day Lake Chad.

Lake Chad would swell to the dimensions it was thought to have had over 10,000 years ago, spreading across the Ahaggar plateau. A river would then be created that would lead through Algeria, turn east into Tunisia and then eventually empty into the Mediterranean Sea at the Gulf of Gabes. This river could made navigable allowing ships to directly access the interior of Africa.

To get a sense of how much times have changed, the biggest issues that Ley sees are geo-political, and he has nothing to say about the environmental impact. In fact, he sees it as a way of “improving” a largely inaccessible, disease-ridden area. It would allow easy ship travel between areas of Africa that would require a journey by train or plane.

» Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 | Comments (12) | Permanent Link


A terrible idea…

» Posted by Alexandre on October 17, 2006 09:53 PM

what a great idea…

» Posted by Bob on February 19, 2007 10:59 PM

On a smaller scale, this would be a wonderful idea. Diverting tributaries of the Congo River (not the whole River) north to the Ubangi River would restore the shrinking Lake Chad and fill the desolate Bodele Depression with badly needed water for the desperate people of the Sahel.

» Posted by Nick on September 24, 2008 11:20 AM

Wonderful Idea - But unfortunately no Political Will.

» Posted by John De Silva on October 8, 2008 07:33 PM

What an awful idea. They didn’t take into account that there is a forest in the middle of continent that would be wiped out by the lake. what about the Fauna over there. what the population already settled in this area. I supposed this is colonialism for you.

» Posted by Anonymous on October 21, 2008 04:35 PM

Great idea. We should do the same with Death Valley, too, and to perdition with the eco-freaks opposing it.

» Posted by Darkwing on April 12, 2009 10:43 PM

Interesting idea, but a quick look at any topo map of the region shows that (without extensive canal building) it would never make it to the Mediterranean. It would flow into the Niger River, via the Benue River, and then into the South Atlantic.

» Posted by Martinsen on January 11, 2010 01:32 PM

Looks like a more likely route for the outflow, if the Benue were dammed, would be through the Libyan Desert to the Gulf of Sidra.
Also, did these guys consider damming the Zambezi above Victoria Falls to achieve a similar effect in Okavango? I seem to remember seeing a map somewhere…

» Posted by Doug on February 15, 2010 09:56 PM

North-central Africa forms a huge endorheic basin so once any water flowed in, there’s really no way out. I’d have to reread the passage to understand how Sörgel proposed forcing the water back up the Ubangi, which is what the plan requires.

» Posted by winter on February 16, 2010 09:41 AM

Great idea, lets get started.
I wonder how long time it will take to fill the lakes and how much it will lower the ocean level.
Filling the Qattara Depression in Egypt will as an example lower ocean levels with 7 mm (1/4”).
More here:

» Posted by Anonymous on August 26, 2011 05:12 AM

There are a lot of advanteges:
1. End the arrid Sahel-Zone
2. Creating 120 million ha farmer land. This 1 % of all farmer land of today
3, energy farming (for Europa)
4. Jobs for Africans amd Europeans
5. inland water lowers the sea-level
How is the intret of UNO?

» Posted by Anonymous on May 26, 2012 01:31 PM

For all those who support the idea, think about the fact that some countries would lose probably half their land mass, millions of refugees would be forced to higher climes and the lack of infrastructure means millions would die on tiny islands with water (often filled with crocs and poisonous snakes) slowly rising around them. Entire cities would disappear and it would be chaos for the entire continent, the only places that could hope to benefit would be in Libya (drains into Gulf of Sidra), because they are far away from the hell hole that was just created and have plenty of new farmland, their own Nile on the graves of millions killed in the flood waters. It would mostly become a poisonous swamp and might even fill in as life grows and dies, like a bog.

» Posted by Anonymous on August 18, 2012 12:38 AM