ONE, OPIC & African Ambassadors express support for Electrify Africa on Capitol Hill

ONE CEO Michael Elliott and OPIC President Elizabeth Littlefield with several African ambassadors.Photo credit: Elizabeth Brady

More than 100 individuals from the public, private, and non-profit sectors gathered yesterday on Capitol Hill to attend ONE’s event “Seizing the Opportunity to Increase Access to Electricity in Africa.”

ONE CEO Michael Elliott was joined by OPIC President Elizabeth Littlefield to discuss the enormous need for reliable access to energy in Africa. The African Ambassadors Group, which co-hosted the event, had several of their members in attendance. Many of those members also signed on to ONE’s recently announced Statement of Principles along with more than 40 African and American politicians, dignitaries, thought leaders and academics.

Ambassador Cyrille Oguin of Benin, who spoke on behalf of the African Ambassadors Group, affirmed that our efforts to increase investments in the energy sector are direct responses to the needs and wants of Africans on the continent. The African ambassadors’ message to the attendees was that Africa is a continent of opportunity and collaboration on energy access would be of mutual benefit. Ambassador Oguin also stressed the importance of making sure that US investments in energy reflect the priorities in African national power plans, the need for increased US personnel on the continent to help facilitate the power deals, and the inclusion of opportunities for small and medium enterprises to participate in these power deals.

“In Benin,” he said, “Only 25 percent of the population has access to electricity. In Africa, 90 million children go to school without power. Millions of tons of food are lost because of spoilage. This also makes food more expensive. For people to work their way out of poverty and into prosperity, Africa needs energy access.” He underscored the fact that while Africa has huge renewable energy resources, many countries still need technical assistance. Also there to show their countries’ support were the ambassadors from Senegal, Cameroon, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Cape Verde.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, R-Calif., the lead sponsor of the Electrify Africa Act, acknowledged that the US can be an instrumental partner in providing that much-needed assistance.

“It is high time that this Electrify Africa project goes forward and I like the way that a bipartisan initiative has been put together to do just that.”

The Chairman‘s bipartisan co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Rep. Chris Smith,R-N.J., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., all agreed that promoting first-time access to electricity for 50 million people by 2020 should be a top priority for government officials and the public and private sectors. “I recently saw a news story about women giving birth by candlelight. Vaccines are unable to be refrigerated. And when you’re talking about issues like that you’re seriously talking about life and death,” said Congresswoman Bass. “I’m very proud… that the private sector and the public sector would partner with nations in Africa to expand electricity.”

The private sector has already begun to lead the way. Elizabeth Littlefield, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) spoke about the role that the private sector has had in encouraging investment in sub-Saharan Africa. OPIC – the US government’s development finance institution – funds development programs around the world. As Littlefield pointed out, OPIC funds projects that other banks won’t—they take risks that creates US jobs and helps countries in emerging markets. “We return money every single year back to the taxpayer which is then recycled and cross-subsidizes other aspects of the 150 account… we create both exports and jobs in the US. For every job a US investor creates in emerging markets, two and a half are created back here at home.”

Littlefield acknowledged that infrastructure is one of the biggest development challenges today, but that progress is already being made. “In Togo, we financed a 100-megawatt facility using three kinds of fuel: light, heavy and gas. When the facility came online in 2010, it made Togo not only shift from being an energy importer to an exporter, but the country became completely self-sufficient in power itself and began selling power.”

Littlefield’s speech also underscored the idea that a mix of energy sources were necessary in order to achieve the goals laid out in the President’s Power Africa initiative. “These goals are going to be difficult to achieve in the short run without embracing a broad range of energy solutions,” she said, which include “distributive power, grid connected power, and… natural gas in low-income countries where that’s the only solution for critical power in the very short run.”

The event rounded out with a lively question and answer session. The success of the event underscored the fact that our efforts to electrify Africa have just begun. We are thrilled to have such incredible, bipartisan advocates beside us – but we need your help to do more. To learn more about energy poverty and how you can help electrify Africa, sign our petition here.

Write a letter to your member of Congress asking to pass a bill to bring electricity to 50 million Africans for the first time!