Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

This plain-spoken answer—from a father who lived in a village without access to electricity—came in response to the question: What is life like without electrical power?

For most of the world, electricity allows business to flourish, students to study, and clinics to run long after the sun goes down. But for 600 million Africans, these opportunities simply don’t exist.

As a result, a sick child in Nigeria is unable to take antibiotics because the medication has to be refrigerated. A farmer in northern Ghana purchases a cell phone to connect himself with the world, but every other day he has to walk to the nearest electrified village and pay to charge the phone—a waste of time and money.

These difficulties are repeated on a large scale across the continent. Nearly half of all businesses try to cope with frequent power outages by using expensive stand-alone diesel generators that also pollute the environment. These stop-gap measures are no basis on which to build a modern economy.

In order to shape a brighter future, we cannot rely on donors alone. African countries must have transparent, accountable, and streamlined systems that attract private investors and developers. To help shape this environment, the United States, together with African governments and the international business community, is kicking off an initiative to bring more reliable, clean power to Africa. Announced by President Obama in Cape Town, Power Africa will create the conditions needed for long-term investments in energy infrastructure – generators, transmission lines and distribution systems. In ten years, we’ll bring 10,000 megawatts on line – and bring power to millions of African homes and businesses.

At its core, Power Africa represents a new model for development that is beginning to define the way we work around the world. Like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and the Call to Action in Child Survival, Power Africa harnesses public-private partnerships and demands greater accountability from our partners to deliver incredible results.

On his trip to Africa, the President recognized the profound potential of this new model. “[Power Africa] is representative of my new approach when it comes to development,” President Obama explained in Tanzania. ”I believe the purpose of development should be to build capacity and to help other countries actually stand on their own feet… Instead of perpetual aid, development has to fuel investment and economic growth so that assistance is no longer necessary.”

Through Power Africa, we will help create incentives and reduce risk for American investors in Africa, while working with African governments to modernize inefficient old networks and establish fair and transparent partnerships with the private sector. We will also be working with businesses themselves – American, African, and others. Investment specialists will analyze barriers to investment and then work with all parties to remove those roadblocks.

Once the first Power Africa projects succeed in bringing electrical power to African communities, the impact of those examples will encourage other ventures to follow in their footsteps. Electricity provides the countless opportunities and freedoms that define development.  It will take a great deal of commitment and patience to solve this problem, but today we know it can be solved.

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