Obama unveils $7bn Africa power initiative


JF-Expert Member
Apr 24, 2012
Barack Obama unveiled a multibillion dollar initiative on Sunday to help Africa tackle its crippling power deficit, with an ambitious target of doubling access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa as the US president pledged to form a partnership with the fast-growing continent.
Mr Obama, who is on the second leg of a three-nation tour of Africa, said the US would start by committing $7bn“Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age, it’s the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business,” Mr Obama said in his main policy speech of the tour. “It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.”
The chronic deficit of power generation in African nations is one of the constraints hampering development and stymying investment into the continent, which boasts some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
Only about a quarter of sub-Saharan Africa’s population has access to electricity, compared with about half in South Asia and more than 80 per cent in Latin America, the Middle East and Northern Africa, according to the World Bank.
The president’s tour of Africa comes four and a half years after his election as the US’s first black president inspired hope among many Africans. But since then, there has been a sense of disappointment among some about the perceived lack of attention by Washington on the continent.
Over the same period, there has been increasing debate about Beijing’s burgeoning role in Africa, with China overtaking the US as the continent’s largest bilateral trading partner. China has looked to the resource-rich continent to help satisfy its thirst for energy and commodities, but it has also been heavily involved in infrastructure projects across the continent.
But Mr Obama promised a “new model” of partnership between the US and Africa that would move beyond the “simple provision of assistance” to a “partnership of equals that focus on your capacity to solve problems and your capacity to grow”.
“More and more Africans economies are poised to take off and increased trade and investment from the United States has the potential to accelerate these trends,” he said. “So I’m calling for America to up our game when it comes to Africa.”
But while acknowledging the positive steps many African states have made in recent years, he also warned that this “progress rests on a fragile foundation” and was uneven, as he spoke out against corruption and poor governance.
“There’s no question that Africa is on the move, but it’s not moving fast enough for the child that is still languishing in poverty in forgotten townships, “ he said. “History tells us that true progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people and not the other way around.”
The “Power Africa” initiative will initially focus on countries that include Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, where Mr Obama is due to visit a power station on the final leg of his trip.
Ahead of Sunday’s speech in Cape Town, Mr Obama visited Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, spent 18 years behind bars during apartheid. Mr Mandela, 94, remains in a critical condition in hospital and Mr Obama met members of his family on Saturday.
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