I’ve spent a good amount of time on Capitol Hill, but I have to say that today was the first time I got to witness a hearing that featured the testimony of a ONE staff member.
Senator Chris Coons and the Senate sub-committee on African Affairs invited ONE US Executive Director Tom Hart to testify at a hearing entitled “Powering Africa’s Future: Examining the Power Africa Initiative,” on the need for US investment in addressing the issue of energy poverty across the continent.
This is particularly exciting, as ONE members know, because not only is Power Africa taking the first crucial steps in alleviating this energy disparity in six countries, but we hope the bipartisan Electrify Africa Act in the House (with 82 cosponsors!) will soon be considered on the House floor.
As advocates, we couldn’t be more excited that this issue is getting its time in the spotlight. The scope of the problem in Africa is massive. 7 in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to modern energy sources, and that grows to 90 percent of people living in rural areas.
But what is the real human impact? “For a small farmer in Ethiopia, what difference would cool storage make in preserving her hard-earned crop on the way to market?” asked Tom during the hearing. “For a furniture maker in Kenya working by hand, what difference would a power saw and lathe make to his small business? For a mother in Nigeria, what difference would an electric stove and lighting mean to making a meal or lighting and heating her family’s home?”
His testimony begins at 1:32:30
“Each year more than 3 million people worldwide die prematurely from breathing toxic smoke of indoor open fires and kerosene used for cooking, heating and lighting. That’s more deaths than AIDS and malaria combined. As a career-long advocate in the fight against AIDS and malaria, this fact made me realize I couldn’t not work on this issue.”
Perhaps as a testament to the wide variety of stakeholders in the fight, representatives from the US government and the private sector were also there to testify. Nigerian businessman and investor Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings and the Tony Elumelu Foundation, flew from Nigeria just to express his support and admiration for the Obama administration’s Power Africa Initiative and to call on Congress to pass the Electrify Africa Act.
Mr. Elumelu noted that the African people themselves cite lack of electricity as a major concern. He said, “Many African countries had already begun to prioritize and address their electricity-access needs before President Obama’s announcement of the Power Africa Initiative…so local ownership and local momentum were in place.”
Yet the US government has a vital role to play in helping African led-plans succeed. “As the global leader, when the US government pays attention to an issue, the world pays attention too. The US government’s elevation of this issue, and coordinated approach to tackling it, has galvanized the private sector in the US, and other countries, to examine the African power sector as an opportunity for viable investments.”
Others from the US government were there, representing their programs – including Earl Gast, Assistant Administrator for Africa at USAID, and Mimi Alemayehou, the Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC): two individuals and organizations that will play a huge role in making these efforts a reality. The private sector also had a presence, with representatives and partners from General Electric and Symbion Power offering remarks on how investing in energy on the African continent will reap rewards for all parties – benefitting those in rural and urban areas alike.
All of this was particularly exciting, because as many of you know, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may soon consider legislation to build on Power Africa. While we’ll be updating ONE members over the next few weeks on any new developments.
As Tom noted at the end of his remarks, “The world has made dramatic progress in reducing extreme poverty, cutting it in half over the last 20 years. And it is possible to virtually end extreme poverty in our lifetime. But I am reminded each day that African leaders, nurses, farmers, business owners, teachers, and citizens say that reliable electricity is one of their most urgent daily needs… and the engine that can drive the economic growth and poverty reduction that we, and most importantly, the people of Africa strive for.”
Congress has a bill that could provide 50 million people in Africa with reliable electricity. Sign the petition now and let them know it’s time to electrify Africa.