SEATTLE — Power Africa is an initiative focused on changing the reality that two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity.
Launched by President Obama in June 2013, Power Africa focuses efforts on three areas: technical experts, the private sector and world leaders. These groups collaborate to increase the number of people in Africa with electricity.
According to Power Africa, “Access to electricity is an opportunity.” And electricity in Africa is an essential opportunity, one that will connect the continent to the global economy and increase internet access, communication, education and medical advancements.
Power Africa’s goal is to increase access in two ways: add 60 million new home and business electricity connections, and generate 30,000 megawatts of new, clean power. Since the onset of the program, 26,843 megawatts have been generated.
Several African governments are working to unlock potential energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower, natural gas, biomass and geothermal resources. Twelve government agencies, including the World Bank and USAID, offer “a range of resources to advance key projects on the electricity grid.” USAID highlights the importance of collaborating with African governments to enable African people to take charge of their own future.
The Beyond the Grid sub-initiative enables Africans to take charge, directing more than 40 partners in the private sector to develop power services in rural or peri-urban populations. This ensures people living outside of cities are not forgotten.
Power Africa also strives to empower women and individuals facing extreme poverty. A gender-neutral approach does not take into account the difficulties women may face. Instead of assuming all benefits will “trickle down” and help everyone, the program intentionally decreases inequalities. Power Africa works with governments and partner companies to actively support gender integration, ensuring that improvements in energy will provide opportunities for all.
Power Africa has made incredible strides, but the ambitious goals set in 2013 are facing political and economic roadblocks, causing critics to wonder whether President Obama’s plan for Africa will be fulfilled.
In September 2016, the Obama administration allocated an additional $1 billion of funding to Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. Power Africa Coordinator at USAID Adam Herscowitz explained to Bloomberg Politics that they did not expect to change the continent’s electricity status overnight. Rather, “the goal was to persuade the private sector to tackle Africa’s power shortages, not simply provide a government handout.”
Despite its chance of running out of government funding in the near future, Power Africa is built for success. Its ties to the private sector and technical experts mean it can still achieve its goals, and the program has been successful in procuring funds from a number of companies that will continue to invest.
In a speech about Power Africa, President Obama said, “an undertaking of this magnitude will not be quick. It will take many years. But working together, I believe we can bring electricity to more than 60 million African homes and businesses and connect more Africans to the global economy.”
– Rebecca Causey