Obama’s ‘Power Africa’ Initiative Showing Results, Draws Criticism

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Written by D.A. Barber

Since US President Barack Obama announced “Power Africa” last summer, things seemed to have moved painfully slowly. But that doesn’t mean they’re not moving.

“A lot of those things are things that they are working on and they are at different stages of the process,” Adi Raval, Communications Spokesperson for Power Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told AFKInsider. “Obviously, as you know, you can’t just snap your fingers and have a power plant suddenly appear.”

In his June 30 speech in South Africa, President Obama launched “Power Africa” with a pledge of $7 billion in government funding – with another $9 billion of private money – over five years to double access to electricity in the six sub-Saharan countries of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania using “clean energy” to support economic growth.

Now, some eight months later, a few success stories have begun to emerge.

On February 14, the African Development Bank affirmed its continued support for Power Africa with a commitment of more than $600 million.

Then on  Feb 19, it was announced that the first GE Africa-USADF Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge is beginning to yield results as one of the winners of the contest; Green Village Electricity Project, recently completed the pilot phase of its off-grid community electrification project in the Egbeke community of Rivers State, Nigeria.

And when the White House hosts 47 African countries for the first US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 5 and 6 to advance U.S. trade, investment and security ties with Africa, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and U.S. Agency for International Development will jointly host an African energy and infrastructure investment conference to bring investors, developers, and companies together with U.S. and African government officials to demonstrate the resources available from the U.S. government and other partners.

With USAID acting as the lead agency, there are 12 agencies involved.

“Power Africa and the US government is playing more of a convening role in making sure it’s one-stop shopping, so if you talk to the Millennium Challenge Corporation and you have questions for USAID, the information from MCC will get to USAID,” Raval told AFKInsider.

From the US government, the $7 billion in funding is broken up among six sources:

USAID will provide $285 million; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will commit up to $1.5 billion; the US Export-Import Bank will make available up to $5 billion; the Millennium Challenge Corporation will invest up to $1 billion; OPIC and the US Trade and Development Agency  will provide up to $20 million in feasibility and technical assistance grants; and, the US African Development Foundation  will launch a $2 million Off-Grid Energy Challenge.

An additional $9 billion will be leveraged from private sector partners that will support the development of more than 8,000 megawatts of new electricity generation in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the USAID Power Africa website, “For sub-Saharan Africa the scale of investment needed to achieve universal energy access is about $15-$20 billion per year, every year, through 2030. The only way to achieve that is to use public fund to leverage private investment. Ultimately, Power Africa depends on the successful engagement of the private sector to address Africa’s energy needs.”

Of the current 36 private sector partners, U.S.-based General Electric and Washington D.C.-based Symbion are the two largest energy participants. Nevertheless, the list of the 36 firms and their planned projects is impressive as is the current list of success stories that have been funded.