By Paul Ndiho,
President Barack Obama announced that the United States and partners will commit nearly $33 billion dollars in new financing to promote U.S. investment in Africa. The money will be spent to develop clean energy, improve infrastructure and help financial institutions and other sectors.
Observers wonder whether this event may be the beginning of a new narrative, changing perceptions in U.S African relations.
Seeking to strengthen America’s financial foothold in Africa, U.S President Barack Obama announced $33 billion in commitments this week aimed at shifting U.S. ties with Africa beyond humanitarian aid and more toward equal economic partnerships.
More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity and more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lack access to power. The power Africa initiative is expected to build on Africa’s enormous power potential, including new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas. Africa also has the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy. Andrew Herscowitz, the U.S. coordinator for power Africa, says that life is extremely difficult without power.
“Power is essential for any society – Africa, United States, anywhere, we take it for granted but if you don’t have power children can’t study at night, health clinics can’t provide essential services, life-saving equipment can’t operate, companies can’t compete when they have to run on expensive diesel generators so we look at all the constraints to growth in Africa and the developing world and it must always come back to power. “
President Barack Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is aiming to add 30,000 megawatts of additional capacity and expand electricity access to at least 60 million households and businesses. Tom Coogan, regional program director for African Development Foundation says that his organization is partnering with general electric and USAID in six African countries.
“We’re funding off grid energy projects that are funding both business related projects but also schools and other facilities, so it could be solar, it could be wind- powered, it could be micro hydro, it could be bio gas to so people can have access to electricity when they’re not connected to the grid.”
The world bank forecasts Africa’s economic growth will accelerate to more than 5 percent in 2015 and 2016, but estimates that one in three Africans, or 600 million people, need electricity. Speaking to African and business leaders at the U.S-Africa business forum, President Obama said he wants to capitalize on new opportunities on the continent.
Internationally known Hip-Hop and R&B artist “Akon” is also doing his part to power Africa. His initiative “Akon Lighting Africa Project” is striving to bring electricity to more than one million households in Africa by the end of this year.
“Our vision is to actually power Africa, the conversation has been happening for the last 5, 10 years. And it’s just not happening fast enough so we wanted to be able to put ourselves in position to get to the people. Because ultimately the people of Africa have to do it, and me being African I’m part of the people so i wanted to be in a position where i create an initiative to where no matter where and how or what you may be able to be facing there is a way to make it work.”
The U.S. is hardly alone in visualizing Africa’s economic potential. China, India and Europe are moving aggressively to tap into the continent’s growing markets. China, in particular, is hungry for oil, coal and other resources. The Asian nation is eager to develop the roads, bridges and ports needed to build up Africa’s infrastructure.