Today, the Electrify Africa Act was passed out of the Senate. This is a huge victory for the fight against poverty in Africa and it has been a long time coming.
The first version of this bill was introduced in June of 2013 in the House by Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel. It was successfully passed out of the House, but was never taken up by the Senate and so it died with the close of the Congressional session at the end of 2014. In 2015, we have tried again, and Members of Congress re-introduced the bill in both the House and the Senate.
The Senate sponsors of the bill are Senators Corker and Cardin – the Chairman and Ranking Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After months of work by them and their staff, the bill has finally passed out of the Senate! A very special thanks for this victory go to Senator Coons, who was a key champion and did everything he could to get this bill done by the end of the year. His tireless commitment made a huge difference and supercharged all of our advocacy efforts this year.
To recap: this bill will help provide first-time electricity access to 50 million people and increase sub-Saharan Africa’s electricity generating capacity by 20 Gigawatts. To understand why this is meaningful, let’s review a few facts:
- Nearly 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population does not have access to reliable electricity. That is around 620 million people – double the entire population of the United States.
- The electricity generating capacity for all of sub-Saharan Africa is 28 Gigawatts, not counting South Africa. What is it for the U.S., you might ask? 415 Gigawatts.
On a small scale, this means not knowing if you will have light in the evening; not being able to keep any food that requires refrigeration; and only being able to prepare food over a dirty fire—whether you are using wood, coal, or plastic (yes, plastic), this option is bad for your health.
On a large scale, it means factories that never get built, jobs that are never created, because without reliable and affordable electricity, there is no way to compete in the global economy. It means large cities getting bogged down with the worst traffic in the world, because traffic lights function only intermittently. It means hospitals that can’t provide adequate medical care much less save people’s lives and schools that have difficulty educating their students.
This bill aims to increase electricity access in a number of ways:
- The first is it will harness the power of the private sector by directing the U.S. government to provide them with more information and support for doing business in Africa.
- The bill will also work with governments in sub-Saharan Africa to improve the way they manage their electricity utilities and regulate their power markets to make them more attractive to investors and companies like the ones that come from the United States.
- Finally, the bill directs the U.S. government to be more strategic in how it spends its foreign assistance dollars, to ensure that valuable U.S. tax dollars gets spent on smart projects that will help the most people for the longest amount of time.
And the support of ONE members has been critical to the progress we have made so far! More than 135,000 people signed our petition, and that petition was delivered to 325 House and 100 Senate offices. Our leaders have heard you and are taking action because of it. Thank you for all of your hard work and commitment to this cause!
Next up: the U.S. House of Representatives! In the new year, our mission will be to get the House to vote on S. 2152, pass it, and send it to the President for signature. At least one of our New Year’s Resolutions is already tee’d up for us. Now that this Congressional session is over, let’s all get some rest and get ready to make 2016 the year this bill becomes a law.