Halfway into President Obama’s 5-year-plan to bring electricity to Africa through a $7 billion project coordinated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it appears that this main signature policy for Africa is more of an ambitious discourse than an effective program. When announced in 2013, this initiative—called Power Africa—claimed it would double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa and provide “light where currently there is darkness.”
Although USAID’s 2015 report claims that the first year of Power Africa “had exceeded expectations” and that Obama would be tripling the project’s goals, African locals say otherwise. In a 2015 New York Times article, “Obama’s ‘Power Africa’ Project Is Off To a Sputtering Start,” Nigerian beauty salon owner, Anike Juliet said, “We are used to the power going off, but it’s gotten so much worse recently.” Despite rambunctious claims by the White House, by July 2015 there had still been no electricity delivered.
Two-thirds (590 million) of Africa’s sub-Saharan population lives without electricity and even in Africa’s largest country, Nigeria, power outages are constant. These weak electricity grids are problematic, not only in that residents and business owners lack reliable energy, but the absence of power also leads to the death of 3.5 million people per year from indoor air pollution. Obama’s policy had good intentions, but has been executed mediocrely in a continent where infrastructure is poor and the broken governing system coupled with public and private interests is breeding grounds for corruption. The dichotomy continues to lie in Power Africa’s annual reports of claiming to have delivered tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity, even though the power has yet to be actually delivered. Even the small grants, awarded to entrepreneurs for innovative energy projects in Nigeria, are still in the planning stages.
Though progress has been dismal, some remain hopeful. Former Nigerian ambassador, John Campbell, remains supportive of the program. In the same New York Times article, they quote Campbell: “He said signed deals should not be used as the sole measure of progress. He pointed out that most power plants promised for Africa never get built.” However, Nigerian officials are not as convinced. The article also states:
“Nigerian officials say that while they welcome the Power Africa initiative, they have only had conversations about potential projects.
‘I am not aware of any concrete plans for power plants that have emerged as a result of Power Africa,’ said Sam Amadi, chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, the country’s electric power regulator.”
Although annual reports say otherwise, with the next one to be released this summer, skeptics remain in regards to the efficiency of Power Africa and how realistic its goals are. Judging by the trend thus far, it seems unlikely that Power Africa will accomplish its 5-year-plan that was set out over two years ago.
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