Congress passes 'Electrify Africa Act'

The United States initially committed $7 billion for the project, but it has since leveraged nearly $43 billion.

Themba Hadebe/AP/File
Electricity pylons cross the skyline of Johannesburg city, background

After two years of failed attempts, Congress has passed the Electrify Africa Act, which seeks to address the massive shortage of electricity in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa

The bill, which will now go to President Obama for his signature, was introduced in the House last June by Rep. Ed Royce (R) of California and Rep. Eliot Engel (D) of New York, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Karen Bass (D) of California and Rep. Chris Smith (R) of New Jersey, the chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

The House first introduced similar legislation in June 2013, led by Congressmen Royce and Engel. The bill had nearly 120 bipartisan co-sponsors, and passed the House in May 2014 by a vote of 297-117, but the clock ran out on the 113th Congress before the Senate could pass their bill, according to the Center for Global Development.

The US Senate passed the bill last December, after Senators Bob Corker (R) of Tenn. and Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland led the charge, along with more than 20 other co-sponsors.

The bill directs the president to “establish a multiyear strategy to assist countries in sub-Saharan Africa implement national power strategies and develop an appropriate mix of power solutions, including renewable energy, to provide access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable power in order to reduce poverty and drive economic growth,” according to the Hill.

“It is a direct response to the fact that today 600 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa — that is 70 percent of the population — do not have access to reliable electricity,” Rep. Royce told Voice of America.

According to the Economist, only seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa — Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa — provide electricity to at least half of their population. 

President Obama launched the Power Africa initiative in June 2013, a project led by private businesses that aims to double electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa. Its initial goal was to add more than 10,000 megawatts of new, cleaner electricity generation capacity and to increase access to electricity up to 20 million household and business connections by 2030.

The US initially committed $7 billion for the project, but it has since leveraged nearly $43 billion, according to USAID. The contributions are mainly from the public and private sectors, including more than $31 billion in commitments from USAID private sector partners. The public sectors include the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank Group (WBG), the government of Sweden, and the European Union (EU), and have collectively committed nearly $12 billion in support of sustainable energy activities across the region.

Power Africa has so far “signed new partnerships with the Governments of Norway and the United Kingdom (UK), the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA),” according to the organization.

The bill drew a lot of support from international organizations that are advocating for actions to end extreme poverty in the world.

“This is a powerful moment in the fight against extreme poverty,” said Tom Hart, the US executive director of ONE, an international campaigning and advocacy organization that has been championing the bill.

“This bipartisan bill will leverage partnerships with the private sector to bring first-time electricity access to 50 million people, powering schools, hospitals, factories, farms, and businesses in underserved parts of Africa," Mr. Hart added. "The Electrify Africa Act will bring us one significant step closer in our fight to end extreme poverty."

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