Program Illustrates Trade Benefits of Aid
The Obama administration’s Power Africa Initiative came to increase the number of people with access to power on the continent through a partnership that brought together technical experts, the private sector, and governments from around the world.
The program also operated under the assumption that Africa presented business opportunities for US workers and companies. Those opportunities come in the provision of goods and services to the African power sector and in the development of economies that could better produce products of interest to US consumers and markets in a position to buy American products.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted a program on the initiative last month.
There is a large disparity in the access to power among countries on the African continent. For example, Nigeria, a country of 200 million people, produces 400 megawatts of power per year, while Cote D’Ivoire, with a population of 24 million, produces 200 megawatts.
“The program was motivated by the lack of access to affordable power in Africa,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of the CSIS Africa program. “The power sector was lagging and weak governments were not planning infrastructure improvements.”
Obama announced the initiative on a trip to Tanzania, at which time he set a goal of installing 20 megawatts by 2020, generated 75 percent by gas and 25 percent with renewable. “It’s been an opportunity for US companies,” said Nilmini Rubin, former senior adviser, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and currently vice president at Tetra Tech. “Sixty companies are involved in the effort which has created a thousand US jobs and thousands more to come.”
“It was important that the private sector was brought to participate,” said Leocadia Zak, the former director of the US Trade and Development Agency. “The private sector has spent more on Power Africa than governments. It’s a platform for bringing in investments to Africa from the US and around the world.”
The next phase of the program is to expand distribution of electricity to homes and businesses. “The goal is to unlock the capabilities of the private sector even more,” said Katherine Steel, director for Power Africa at USAID.
The importance for the global economy is that the ability to produce competitively requires access to power. “Without power, it doesn’t matter if you open markets,” said Mima Nedelcovych, former US executive director of the African Development Bank, and currently CEO of the Initiative for Global Development. “We need to get African leaders to understand how bring in private money and provide investors with a return.”
That’s why, added Rubin, “we need to make sure the program is funded going forward.”