SEATTLE — On Feb. 1, 2016 Congress passed H.R. 2847, the Electrify Africa Act, and on Feb. 9, President Obama signed the bill into law. The act is projected to bring electricity to 50 million sub-Saharan Africans by 2020, empowering them with lifesaving technologies, refrigeration and the tools they need to join the global economy. Among the region’s 800 million residents, over 580 million people do not have access to electricity.
The Christian-Science Monitor reports that continent-wide, only seven African countries provide power that reaches more than 50 percent of their population. They are: Gabo, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Namibia, and South Africa.
To address this situation, President Obama launched the Power Africa initiative in 2013. This project partnered private companies with U.S. and African governments, along with development agencies to bring electricity to Africa. Launched with a $7 billion commitment from the U.S., the private sector has since contributed $31 billion to the project. The World Bank, African Development Bank, Sweden and the EU have also contributed a total of $12 billion.
The Electrify Africa Act not only provides a legal framework for the Power Africa initiative, it also ensures that the program will continue even after the next president takes office. Essentially, the act makes it official U.S. policy to work with African countries and international organizations to bring electricity to Africa “in order to unlock the potential for economic growth, job creation, food security, improved health, education, environmental outcomes, and poverty reduction.”
One promising aspect of the Electrify Africa Act for anti-poverty groups is the bipartisan way it was introduced. In the House, Republican representatives Ed Royce of California and Chris Smith of New Jersey, as well as Democratic representatives Eliot Engel of New York and Karen Bass of California took the lead. In the Senate, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland paved the way; 23 Senators co-sponsored the legislation, including presidential candidate Marco Rubio.
A major reason that the bill received bipartisan support is its promise of creating jobs in America and goodwill in Africa. If an additional 580 million Africans enter the global economy, America gains another large export market, creating more American jobs. And increasing prosperity can help boost goodwill among governments, which can help the U.S. in international endeavors.
The Electrify Africa Act is now U.S. law, but it is only one step in a long process. Its goal of providing power to 50 million people by 2020 will make an impact, but 530 million will still be left in the dark. While $43 billion is a lot of money, McKinsey & Co. estimates that it will cost $835 billion to electrify the entire region by 2030.
The U.S. government will need to continue to be a leader in foreign development. Through private/public initiatives like Power Africa, the U.S. can benefit the world at little cost to taxpayers. In passing laws like the Electrify Africa Act, America shows that it is willing to take on the mantle of global leadership in a hope for a better future for all of humanity.
– Dennis Sawyers