WASHINGTON D.C.– There is a bill currently in the senate named the Energize Africa Act. The act, if passed, would provide 50 million people in Africa access to electricity by 2020. In February of this year, a photographer by the name John Stanmeyer, won the 57th World Press Photo of the Year award. His award-winning photo uses visual imagery to show why this act needs to pass.
His photo depicts African migrants raising cell phones towards the Somalia border in an effort to “catch” cell signals to contact their relatives abroad. This recent migration is the result of conflict and poverty, two social conditions that are exasperated by the lack of access to basic services such as electricity. This photo for National Geographic communicated many themes from global integration, poverty, access to humanity and desperation. Most relevant is that it also communicates the necessity for access to electricity in Africa.
Electricity would provide a necessary resource for the development of cell phone towers in rural areas and would further contribute to the interconnectedness of the African continent with the rest of the globe. The World Energy Organization describes access to energy services as a critical component for reducing poverty. The organization also notes that it is critical to social growth in the form of education, sustainability, equity and health.
Energy services are needed for access to the Internet, heating and cooling in homes, safe cooking facilities, sanitation, clean water systems and other key components of infrastructure. Electricity is a necessity for economic development and growth. Without this component, poverty aid is greatly limited in its effectiveness.
The International Energy Agency refers to this lack of access to electricity as ‘energy poverty’ and notes that there are more than 1.3 billion people globally that live without access to electricity and 2.3 billion who live without access to clean cooking facilities. Instead, these households use coal or bio products such as wood to heat and cook food. The resulting pollution kills an estimated 3.5 million people annually. Of the 1.3 billion people without electricity, 95 percent are located in sub-Saharan Africa.
Photojournalism has been utilized to capture both beauty and historical atrocities. From the Syrian revolution to the Vietnam War, photojournalism has continued to raise awareness in varying areas of social circumstance. In this case, John Stanmeyer’s photo communicates many themes, one of which is the need for energy services in Africa. Photos are a form of universal communication that require no previous comprehension of language, and can be worth a thousand words.
British Photography Journal editor Simon Bainbridge describes one meaning of the photo as hinting at the role technology plays in the story of migration and poverty. He notes “mobile phones, the internet and social media are bringing the so-called Undeveloped World closer to us in the West much quicker than the often arduous journey that migrants take to escape war or poverty.” The editor goes on to describe it as “a reminder that our wealth and opportunity can no longer remain hidden.” In addition, nor should this opportunity to assist Africa.
The Energize Africa Act is an opportunity to provide 50 million people on the African continent with electricity, people like these migrants and others who are in need of basic energy services, and the connectedness and growth that they bring.
– Christopher Kolezynski