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Equipping Africa to Support Its Own Development

Thanks to Power Africa, increasing numbers of Africans can continue working well beyond daylight hours, helping increase their productivity and potential earnings. This Tanzanian man can sew at night thanks to a d.light solar lantern provided through Power Africa. / USAID

Thanks to Power Africa, increasing numbers of Africans can continue working well beyond daylight hours, helping increase their productivity and potential earnings. This Tanzanian man can sew at night when he uses a d.light solar lantern provided through Power Africa. / USAID

Every so often there are moments when you know you are watching history unfold. Events come together that crystallize an important moment of change, and the opportunity to shape those moments has outsize resonance.

Last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Third International Financing for Development conference proved one such moment of landmark importance for development with its emphasis on each country’s responsibilities to define, drive and invest in their own development path.

The resulting Addis Ababa Action Agenda is the right agenda for a world in transition – one where each country owns its own development – and to a new model for development predicated on partnership, results and accountability, local ownership, and harnessing innovation.

Since the first international conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey 13 years ago, we’ve seen the rate of extreme poverty around the world cut in half. Yet a billion people still live in extreme poverty, left behind from the incredible advances in life expectancy, access to education and technology, and good governance that has lifted so many.

To succeed with the ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must focus increasingly on the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly those in fragile and conflict-affected states where the largest gaps remain in achieving the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals.

A worker checks equipment at the Geothermal Olkaria Plant in Kenya, a facility supported by Power Africa. / Carole Douglis, USAID

A worker checks equipment at the Geothermal Olkaria Plant in Kenya, a facility supported by Power Africa. / Carole Douglis, USAID

The United States continues to lead the world in official development assistance with nearly $33 billion in 2014 alone. But the most transformational moments occur when our resources are targeted and act as catalysts for much larger trends and pools of resources, like domestic revenues and private sector investment.

Nowhere is responding to these challenges more critical than in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite lowering the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty for the first time on record, the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty in Africa has yet to fall.

Before embarking on a trip to Kenya and Ethiopia this week, President Obama said Africa has the potential to become the next great center for economic growth on the planet. Indeed, seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The commitment at Addis enables the type of partnerships these countries need to spur inclusive growth and end extreme poverty.

In Addis, we launched and built on several partnerships that represent the best of what U.S. leadership can do to help African nations to achieve. The Addis Tax Initiative will help developing countries better mobilize and effectively use their own resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Donors, international organizations and developing countries—including Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania and Namibia—committed to a set of core principles for domestic resource mobilization, and the donor partners committed to double technical assistance for this purpose.

Domestic resource mobilization not only provides countries with a base of consistent domestic funds for development independent of donor nation budgets, but builds a virtuous cycle of accountability wherein the willingness of citizens to pay taxes is predicated on government service delivery and responsiveness.

This Ethiopian man and a crew of three others pick up milk twice a day thanks to a USAID livestock development project, part of Feed the Future, that focuses on fostering growth and reducing poverty through improving the productivity and competitiveness of Ethiopia’s livestock value chains. / USAID

This Ethiopian man and a crew of three others pick up milk twice a day thanks to a USAID livestock development project, part of Feed the Future, that focuses on fostering growth and reducing poverty through improving the productivity and competitiveness of Ethiopia’s livestock value chains. / USAID

We also doubled down on Power Africa through a partnership with the European Union, which adds $2.8 billion in resources to enhance Power Africa’s work to expand reliable electricity generation across sub-Saharan Africa.

Like the Addis Tax Initiative, this is a commitment at the ground-floor of development; without sustainable energy sources to power economic growth and everyday life, country-led efforts to meet development objectives can’t get far.

That’s why Power Africa seeks to leverage private sector investment and multilateral and bilateral donor commitments, and builds partnerships with African governments committed to making the tough reforms needed to attract that investment to their energy sectors. These efforts will connect people to the grid and bring off-grid energy solutions to those living beyond the grid, providing energy that can fuel economic growth across the continent.

And because Africa’s power sector will not advance without policy reforms and improved governance, our re-commitment in Addis also marks our guarantee to fill critical skills gaps and engage in diplomatic dialogues that drive reform so that the power sector we help build can be managed and maintained for generations to come.

There are many continuing challenges in sub-Saharan Africa, conflict and fragility chief among them. But with the U.S. and our partners working to put African countries in the driver’s seat on their respective development paths, the promise and potential of the SDGs becomes, as in a rear view mirror, much closer than they appear.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan.

Solar Lamps Shed Light in Rural Communities

Paris Wanjiru, 17, uses a solar-powered light created by M-Kopa to study at night. Before her home had electricity, she was ranked sixth in her class; now, she ranks second. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Paris Wanjiru, 17, uses a solar-powered light created by M-Kopa to study at night. Before her home had electricity, she was ranked sixth in her class; now, she ranks second. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

When Paris Wanjiru, a 17-year-old student in Muranga, Kenya, first saw the solar-powered lamp her mother bought, she was so excited she stayed up until 1 a.m. studying chemistry. Now that she can study after the sun sets, her grades have improved; she now aspires to study chemistry at Kenya University.

Her mother, Nancy Wambui, 45, had saved for three months to buy the home solar system, providing the family with a personal power supply. Before, the family had relied on kerosene lamps for light, but their fumes are dangerous and they are costly to fuel — off-grid households spend about $200 a year on kerosene.

Off-grid alternatives to energy access benefit more than just families. Farmers who use solar lights to display their crops at evening markets sell more than they otherwise would, says John Njorge, a local solar lamp vendor in Muranga. Even shopkeepers with access to the grid use solar kits to keep their business running during power outages.

Besides providing school‐aged children with reading light, lowering household energy costs, and generating hours of productivity for businesses, these partnerships help generate income for small‐business owners like John.

Paris and John are two of many benefiting from companies selling affordable energy access to people in remote communities in sub‐Saharan Africa where electric lines have not reached. In partnering with the private sector, President Obama’s Power Africa initiative aims to help companies like these realize their potential and scale access to modern lighting across the region — a key ingredient for spurring economic growth.

Here are a few of Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid partners:

1. d.light

John Njorge, a “solar‐preneur,” sells about 60 d.light solar lamps a month at his shop in the small town of Maragua, Kenya. He also uses the lamps to light the shop so he can stay open later. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

John Njorge, a “solar‐preneur,” sells about 60 d.light solar lamps a month at his shop in the small town of Maragua, Kenya. He also uses the lamps to light the shop so he can stay open later. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

The company d.light was co-founded by Sam Goldman, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Benin. After a neighbor severely burned himself from a kerosene lamp spill, Sam says he was determined to find a safer, more reliable way for rural people to light their homes.

After meeting co‐founder Ned Tozun in graduate school, the two developed a prototype LED lamp that ran on solar power, and in 2008 d.light’s first commercial solar power lamp debuted on the market. Today, the company offers five off‐grid solar‐powered products that provide at least twice as much light as kerosene — and they’re cheaper and safe. The most affordable solar lamp goes for $5.

“Just as mobile phones adoption rates skyrocketed in the ‘90s, we see tremendous opportunity in the off‐grid solar market to enable consumers to secure basic energy access and radically improve their lives and opportunities,” Sam says.

Sam says public-private partnerships are key to bringing energy access to the most rural parts of Africa. “Market‐based approaches and policy decisions working together will accelerate efforts to electrify Africa.”

2. Solar Sister

Justina Balankena is a Solar Sister entrepreneur and small business owner in Bomani, Tanzania, where she sells small solar lights and energy-efficient cookstoves. Justina’s store brings the benefits of solar technology right into her town.

Justina Balankena is a Solar Sister entrepreneur and small business owner in Bomani, Tanzania, where she sells small solar lights and energy-efficient cookstoves. Justina’s store brings the benefits of solar technology right into her town.

Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty in Africa by empowering women with job opportunities. The company uses a women-focused sales network, recruiting and training female entrepreneurs to sell solar lamps, mobile phone chargers and fuel-efficient cook stoves.

Women like Justina Balankena, a small business owner in Bomani, Tanzania. At first, Justina’s customers simply weren’t familiar with solar power. When the unreliable grid in town goes out, Justina switches on her solar lamps. Her little kiosk lights up. “When people pass by, they say, ‘There is no power here! How do you have power?’ So they come and ask. That is how we sell,” she explains.

The store provides income for Justina’s family. It also brings her a strong sense of personal pride and independence. “I run the business. The advertisements are even in my name,” she says.

Innovative energy technology, combined with economic opportunity, goes beyond measurable results and really transforms lives.

3. M-KOPA

Lucy Sakuda, 47, uses her M-KOPA solar powered light in her home in Olorien, Kenya to cook at night. Before buying a solar panel, the nearest power source was 15 miles away. She has saved so much from not having to buy kerosene that she was able to get new furniture. / Morgana Wingard

Lucy Sakuda, 47, uses her M-KOPA solar powered light in her home in Olorien, Kenya to cook at night. Before buying a solar panel, the nearest power source was 15 miles away. She has saved so much from not having to buy kerosene that she was able to get new furniture. / Morgana Wingard

M-KOPA helps assure poor families nervous about investing in a new technology that this is a risk worth taking.

Enter June Muli, hired by M­-KOPA with one goal in mind: Establishing a real network of customer service. Raised in Nairobi, June joined as head of customer relations, making her the 10th employee. June is helping M­-KOPA build a spirit of “umiliki” — a Swahili word meaning “ownership” — in their community.

“We work very hard to keep our customers happy,” June says. “You don’t just go to the supermarket and pick it up; someone has to convince you that you should own the responsibility and that the investment is worth it for you and your future.”

M-KOPA boasts a 24-hour call center and uses a pay-as-you-go platform, allowing customers to pay for solar lighting systems over time via mobile phone. More than selling a product, M-­KOPA sells the vision of a better connected, more efficient Africa. “This starts with the human voice of a person and the real human connection,” June says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rudy Gharib is the head of communications for Power Africa. Follow her @rudygharib and use #PowerAfrica to join the conversation.

The Heart of Progress: Transformation in Africa

As President Obama travels to Kenya and Ethiopia this week, he’ll reflect on the progress we’ve made there, as well as looking at how to continue U.S. work in accelerating economic growth, strengthening democratic institutions and improving security in sub-Saharan Africa.

USAID has been a key partner in this mission. For example, we’ve supported Nigerian farmers in earning $103 million in crops in a single year, helped establish 350 schools in South Sudan and trained 38,000 female health workers in Ethiopia. The statistics could go on. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The real story is about the families we touch, the lives we transform. At the end of the day, at the heart of all we do, are people:

Teresia Olotai, 35, stands with her daughter Johanna, 5, in front of their home in rural Tanzania, which has recently been electrified. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Teresia Olotai, 35, stands with her daughter Johanna, 5, in front of their home in rural Tanzania, which has recently been electrified. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

People like Teresia Olotai, a leader in a community that, for the first time, now has the ability to turn on the light.

Her Masaai community in Tanzania never had electricity, which made it difficult to conduct business, stay safe at night, make phone calls and perform daily tasks. However, after USAID brought in a solar microgrid, all that has changed, opening up a new world of convenience and opportunity.

Teresia is one of many whose lives have been transformed by Power Africa, an initiative leveraging partnerships across the globe to double access to energy across sub-Saharan Africa. In two years, the initiative has already made great strides, and we’re only moving forward from here.

In Ethiopia, pastoralist Dhaki Wako Baneta pours breakfast tea -- mixed with cow’s milk, sugar and spices -- for her family of five. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In Ethiopia, pastoralist Dhaki Wako Baneta pours breakfast tea — mixed with cow’s milk, sugar and spices — for her family of five. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

People like Dhaki Wako Baneta, a mother in Ethiopia whose life revolves around milk.

As a pastoralist, she’s always relied on milk for income, but in the past she’s struggled to make a living. However, now that USAID has connected her to a milk processor in town, she sells all of her milk–and some of her neighbor’s–every day, without fail.

Thirteen million people in Ethiopia live like Dhaki as pastoralists, struggling to feed their families enough nutritious food on meager incomes. USAID teaches communities how to prepare for drought and earn more from their livestock, empowering people like Dhaki with better health, security and opportunity.

In Liberia, Varbah Dolley helps a fellow burial team member put on protective equipment before removing the body of an Ebola victim. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In Liberia, Varbah Dolley helps a fellow burial team member put on protective equipment before removing the body of an Ebola victim. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

People like Varbah Dolley, a brave member of a Liberian Red Cross Burial Team during the Ebola epidemic.

Her job, helping communities safely and carefully bury their dead, was one of the most important in stopping the spread of the Ebola virus — and one of the most dangerous. Varbah reported to the homes of Ebola victims, risking contagion to remove bodies, disinfect areas and assess where else the disease may have spread.

The work was emotional and often difficult, but essential. USAID supported nearly 200 burial teams, a key effort in our success in helping Liberia stem the crisis

A community solution provider in rural Senegal, Hapsatou Kah is giving her community access to better health and nutrition. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

A community solution provider in rural Senegal, Hapsatou Kah is giving her community access to better health and nutrition. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

People like Hapsatou Kah, an extraordinary Senegalese woman who’s on a mission to end malnutrition in her community.

After years of seeing poor families raise skinny babies and sickly children, Hapsatou received health and nutrition training from USAID and put it to good use. She taught her neighbors better agricultural practices and how to wash their hands; she gave her community access to better nutrition and helped run a livestock program.

By training entrepreneurs like Hapsatou who educate about and sell nutrition-rich products, this Feed the Future program will improve food security and nutrition for more than 1 million people in rural Senegal.

Habiba Suleiman Sefu rides on her USAID-supplied motorbike to the home of a reported malaria patient in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Habiba Suleiman Sefu rides on her USAID-supplied motorbike to the home of a reported malaria patient in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

People like Habiba Suleiman Sefu, a “malaria hunter” in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

As a malaria surveillance officer, Habiba uses a tablet, mobile phone and motorcycle to test, treat and track cases of malaria in her community. Each morning, she receives SMS messages about new patients and responds to their homes to carry out care. She’s progressive, passionate and making a real difference.

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, launched in 2006, dramatically scaled up the U.S. response to the disease. In less than a decade in Tanzania, we’ve delivered millions of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and anti-malarial drugs. Today, the malaria rate in Zanzibar is less than 1 percent.

________

There’s still work to be done. And, together with our partners, we’ll need to work smart to accomplish more. But we’re committed to doing exactly that — we’re determined to lift out of poverty one life, one community and one country at a time. Just like Teresia, Dhaki, Varbah, Hapsatou and Habiba, millions more Africans will soon know a world of extreme possibilities instead of extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Postel serves as USAID associate administrator.

The Power of Africa: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Watts

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a schoolgirl is introduced to Little Sun – her first solar-powered light – and the concept that she can hold power in the palm of her hand. / Merklit Mersha

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a schoolgirl is introduced to Little Sun – her first solar-powered light – and the concept that she can hold power in the palm of her hand. / Merklit Mersha

Imagine a world without light above a dim path at night or no wall outlet for charging your phone beside your bed. Unfortunately, a world without power is reality for two out of every three people in sub-Saharan Africa.

That is why President Obama launched Power Africa two years ago. He had a vision for bringing power to the 600 million sub-Saharan Africans who live without electricity by encouraging collaboration between leaders in energy, commercial lending, innovation, and trade. The private sector-led initiative aims to not only double access to electricity across sub-Saharan Africa, but also create opportunities for sustainable economic growth.

Since its launch, Power Africa has evolved into an effort that engages a host of multilateral organizations and over 100 private sector partners. In August of 2014, President Obama expanded Power Africa’s reach to all of sub-Saharan Africa and tripled the original goals. Power Africa plans to  generate 30,000 MW of new and cleaner power and increase electricity access with 60 million new connections.

When President Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia this summer, he’ll find that the foundation for Power Africa’s exponential growth is underway. The Power Africa team and its international partners are working with citizens, entrepreneurs, private sector businesses, the public sector, and our government counterparts in African nations to further advance Africa’s energy sector.

This solar field at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in the hills east of Kigali, Rwanda is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in East Africa. The 8.5 MW, $23 million project increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. / Photo by Sameer Halai, SunFunder

This solar field at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in the hills east of Kigali, Rwanda is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in East Africa. The 8.5 MW, $23 million project increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. / Photo by Sameer Halai, SunFunder

Visualizing Power Africa

We see real change  — but, it’s not always easy to show the impact of a signed deal or additional megawatts of power added to a grid. That’s why we asked our partners to show the world what Power Africa looks like by sharing their favorite photos with us in a contest celebrating the project’s two year anniversary.

We asked our partners, our colleagues, and our implementers to answer a simple question with their photos: What does energy innovation look like?

The answers surprised even us. Each of the more than 60 photographs submitted revealed the creativity, vision and innovation that our partners are embracing to increase power access in Africa. This week we announced the eight winning photos of the Power Africa photo contest.

Impact through energy innovation, supported by the Power Africa Beyond the Grid initiative, empowers rural families in Tanzania to extend their productive day well beyond nightfall. / dLight

Impact through energy innovation, supported by the Power Africa Beyond the Grid initiative, empowers rural families in Tanzania to extend their productive day well beyond nightfall. / dLight

Hands-on exercise referring to manual, ASU-led VOCTEC program, all-women training Strathmore University, Nairobi April 2015. / Ambika Adhikar

Hands-on exercise referring to manual, ASU-led VOCTEC program, all-women training Strathmore University, Nairobi April 2015. / Ambika Adhikar

As revealed in the photo entries, access to electricity is more than just a signature on a dotted line when project developers close a deal for project financing. It’s the face of a girl as she holds her first solar lamp, it’s the handshake of two people agreeing to do things differently, it’s a classroom of women taking over an entire sector that was led by men for generations, and it’s a solar field built in a village recovering from genocide.

Whether fostering small-scale energy solutions through Beyond the Grid, early-stage financing, feasibility studies, or policy support, Power Africa is delivering diverse clean energy solutions and more importantly, opportunities for the future.

Over the next month, Africa’s energy challenges will be a popular topic of conversation among world leaders. Power Africa is a case study for how diverse partners can foster innovation and sustainable investment in Africa’s future — one watt at a time.

People, vision, and determination power this movement and we hope that other world leaders will follow our lead to bring a brighter tomorrow to Africa

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Andrew M. Herscowitz is the coordinator for President Barack Obama’s Power Africa and Trade Africa initiatives. Follow Andrew @aherscowitz

The Power of Scientific Research Investment in Africa

On Friday, August 1st, Mr. Melvin Foote and Dr. Nkem Khumbah published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing persuasively that scientific and technological progress is the key to African development. In their words:

“Scientific and technological advancement will help eradicate poverty and promote homegrown economic development by providing Africa with the tools to address its own challenges and expand its industrial productivity.”

In the days before the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah encouraged the U.S. Government to embrace “a science-led agenda in Africa” by pairing American higher education institutions, scientific research centers and tech entrepreneurs with African counterparts to spur economic growth and reduce dependence on aid.

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah’s vision is one that USAID fully supports and has already taken significant steps to catalyze. Today, Africans are the architects of their development, not just beneficiaries. This new model for development focuses on partnerships — with African governments, businesses, universities and civil society.

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

Building lasting partnerships with African leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators is at the core of USAID’s approach, which seeks to end extreme poverty by investing in Africa’s greatest resource: its people. Many of our newest initiatives reflect not only our renewed commitment to science and technology, but the central importance Africans play in global affairs throughout the 21st century.

USAID is constantly seeking new African partners in an effort to support great ideas from people all over the continent. Under efforts like USAID’s new Global Development Lab, which brings together diverse partners to discover, test and scale new solutions to chronic development challenges, we have identified 200 promising innovations that are currently being tested and evaluated.

Many of these solutions come from developing country entrepreneurs, including African entrepreneurs. A prescription medication verification and tracking system invented by Sproxil, a Kenya-based company (and USAID partner) has reached over 2 million customers in Ghana, Nigeria and East Africa by placing scratch cards on packs of medication. The scratch card reveals a numerical code, and when texted to a Sproxil-provided phone number, will verify whether the drug is genuine or fake. Dozens of similar innovations that have the potential to save millions of lives are currently being tested in Africa, including inexpensive chlorine dispensers in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi and stickers to encourage passengers to urge bus drivers in Kenya to slow down, thereby reducing traffic accidents and related deaths.

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Power Africa is another example of USAID’s new model in action. Through the U.S. Government’s partnerships with African governments, private investors, developers and others, not only is Power Africa saving lives by, for example, bringing electricity to a rural clinic, but it is also spurring long-term growth by scaling new technologies, generating new jobs, and reducing the risks for foreign investment.

Power Africa may have been conceived by the U.S. Government, but the private sector has since taken the lead — the U.S. Government commitment of $7 billion in financing and loan guarantees has given both international and African businesses the confidence to invest in Africa’s emerging electricity sector to the tune of more than $20 billion to date.

As Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah note, it is critical to train the next generation of Africans in science and engineering. USAID supports a number of efforts to this end currently, and is hoping to do more in the near future. In November 2012, USAID and seven universities launched the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) with the goal of bringing their intellectual power and enthusiasm closer to real-time development innovations in the field. This network currently collaborates with labs at four African universities to support studies of how communities respond to changing conditions such as urbanization, changes in local climate, and post-war recovery.

In addition, members of the network collaborate with and support existing S&T based African-led enterprises and emergent community led technology development. The Higher Education for Development (HED) program has supported dozens of partnerships between U.S. universities and African peer institutions. These partnerships typically last years beyond the U.S. investment and result in broad and deep connections between the U.S. and Africa.

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK).

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK). / Lilian Pintea, Jane Goodall Institute

Similarly, the Research and Innovation Fellowships (RI Fellowships) program and Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program foster science and engineering partnerships on the individual level. RI Fellowships currently supports more than 60 African scientists to collaborate with U.S. fellows in applying their scientific and technological expertise to local development challenges. The PEER program funds scientists who see problems in their midst to do the in-depth research required for creative solutions, while simultaneously expanding research ecosystems in the developing world.

One hundred and fourteen PEER scientists around the world tackle local challenges with tenacity and intellectual vigor, guiding the local development agenda and building an academic foundation for progress. The recent 2014 PEER awardees’ meeting brought 39 PEER awardees from 10 African countries to Arusha, Tanzania to build new connections. As part of the conference, the Vice President of Tanzania, His Excellency Mohamed Bilal, delivered the keynote address in which he said, “Science, engineering and technology education in Sub Saharan Africa holds the key to unlocking the continent’s great potential that could propel sustainable growth and development.”

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah are right on the mark that a new model of development for Africa must be inclusive, grounded in the latest scientific and technological advancements, and focused on African priorities. Working with counterparts across Africa is the best way to catalyze the technological and scientific change that will be necessary to make the continent’s economic growth sustainable far into the future. Great ideas backed by 21st century science and technology – many of them home-grown in Africa – are the surest path to lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty for good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry O’Brien is the Director of the Center for Data, Analysis, and Research in the U.S. Global Development Lab. Follow the Lab @GlobalDevLab

GE Turns on Power in Power Africa

Whether it’s kick starting local off-grid energy projects in Kenya and Nigeria, or  larger scale initiatives across the region, GE’s involvement in the Power Africa initiative is very much underway.

Mibawa Suppliers was awarded a $100,000 grant from Shari Berenbach, President and CEO of the USADF. Mibawa’s ‘rent to own’ solar scheme provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. Credit: Rudy Gharib/USAID

Mibawa Suppliers was awarded a $100,000 grant from Shari Berenbach, President and CEO of the USADF. Mibawa’s ‘rent to own’ solar scheme provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. / Rudy Gharib, USAID

Michael Wanyonyi, CEO of Mibawa Suppliers is among the first $100,000 award winners in the new GE/USADF Off-Grid Energy Challenge, launched as part of Power Africa earlier this year. GE partnered with the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), a US government agency, supporting African-originated solutions that generate jobs, improve incomes, and raise standards of living. With the Challenge, more than twenty, $100,000 grants will be awarded over the next three years to African organizations with off-grid solutions that help power economic activity.

In rural Kenya, Wanyoni’s model provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. “We hope to go from 5,000 units now to 10,000 units by the end of next year,” says Wanyonyi, CEO of Mibawa Suppliers about his ‘rent to own’ solar scheme.

With Mibawa Suppliers’ IndiGo system, families make a small initial outlay of KS1,200 (around $14), for equipment and installation of a solar system with two lights and cell phone charging capability. Customers then pay a weekly charge of KS140 (around $1.6) through a scratch card until they own the system in full. The $100,000 Off-Grid Challenge award will help fund further growth of the scheme with a proposed doubling of units in the next 12 months.

Most customers previously spent up to $4 a week on kerosene, but could not shift to cheaper solar because of the set-up costs. As Wanyonyi says; “There are cost benefits but it is also a cleaner energy, better for health. It is helping local businesses and the performance of children in school with better light for study.”

Green Village Energy Group (GVE Group) is also  receiving an award for their  18kw solar powered off grid project generating electricity for 140 homes at Egbeke, in Rivers state, Nigeria, an extension to an existing successful 6kw project.

“This award has been absolutely wonderful”, GVE Group Chief Executive, Ifeanyi Orajaka said. “It has given us the opportunity to commercialise the project concept and take it to the next stage.”

The other four Off-Grid Challenge award winners in this first award round include proposals to construct solar powered water points in rural Northern Kenya, to put into place a bio-gas digester in Nairobi, to set up a standalone cold storage facility to allow farmers in north central Nigeria to store their produce and to study the feasibility of a renewable hydro-electric power system.

Work has also started on making this vision of Power Africa a reality with the launch of the ‘Ghana 1000MW Project’ with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a 1000 megawatts of power plant signed with the Ghana government.

Caption: Power Africa Coordinator, Andy Herscowitz, learns about the IndiGo’s energy kit. Each box contains a mini-generator, two lamps, a solar panel, and charging cables. Credit: Rudy Gharib/USAID

Power Africa Coordinator, Andy Herscowitz, learns about the IndiGo’s energy kit. Each box contains a mini-generator, two lamps, a solar panel, and charging cables. / Rudy Gharib/USAID

“We are looking to put together something that is really innovative, the creation of a gas to power solution that can be a model for the region”, says GE Managing Director for Western Africa, Leslie Nelson.

GE is involved in two major wind projects in Kenya as part of the Government’s objective to increase Kenya’s power capacity by an additional 5000MW over the next few years. GE will supply Wind Turbines to the 60MW Kinangop Wind Park project which reached Financial Close in November 2013. GE is also developing the 100MW Kipeto Wind Farm and is arranging for the project to be financed through Power Africa in a deal valued at US$300M.

In Tanzania, GE has partnered with Jacobsen, a Norwegian EPC, to build the 150MW Kinyerezi (I) power plant for Tanesco, the Tanzanian power utility. GE will supply 4 Aeroderivative gas turbines. Construction has commenced on the plant.

GE Africa President and CEO, Jay Ireland feels 2014 will be another milestone year for GE in Africa and Power Africa. “I think one important aspect”, says Ireland, “is how we are tapping into local expertise. We can bring in the technology, but local people on the ground have the most valuable insights on what works best for Africa and how we can meet the power needs of the continent.”

FrontLines: Energy/Infrastructure

FrontLines January/February 2014: Energy / Infrastructure

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to see how the Agency invests in energy and infrastructure projects around the world. Some highlights:

An Ethiopian-born entrepreneur from Canada was hoping to operate a mining facility in his homeland, but his plans were thwarted by one thing — a lack of energy to power the mine. Read how Nejib Abba Biya and the Ethiopian Government, with support from the United States, are working to use the country’s natural geothermal energy as a reliable, renewable power source.

Electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week is the new — and welcome — normal for residents living in Haiti’s Caracol Village.

Waiting and waiting and waiting for a web page to load — that is so 1990s. Just ask the residents and aid workers at the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where high-speed Internet access is only a click away.

It’s Sri Lanka’s version of “Back to the Future” as some of its citizens embrace rainwater harvesting, a practice dating back to the 5th century that today has a 21st century, enviro-friendly appeal.

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Partnerships and Opportunity: Reflections from the African Union Summit

Dr. Gatew displays bamboo fibers that have gone through the crusher. In this untreated state the flattened fibers still contain high levels of moisture, which can lead to rot, and naturally occurring sugars which attract insects. To reduce the decay factors, bamboo is either treated chemically or thermally. African Bamboo uses the more eco-friendly thermal modification.

Dr. Gatew displays bamboo fibers that have gone through the crusher. In this untreated state the flattened fibers still contain high levels of moisture, which can lead to rot, and naturally occurring sugars which attract insects. To reduce the decay factors, bamboo is either treated chemically or thermally. African Bamboo uses the more eco-friendly thermal modification.

In late January, when President Obama addressed the country, he spoke of our work across Africa “bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.” I watched, from Nairobi, Kenya, where I had just seen his words brought to life. The day before, I traveled to Baringo—a rural county in midwestern Kenya, where half the population lives in poverty and over 90 percent of people don’t have access to electricity. I was there to commemorate the groundbreaking of a new 12 megawatt power plant, one of the first projects supported by Power Africa, a U.S. Government initiative. The company developing this power project, Cummins Cogeneration Kenya Limited (CCKL), designed a biomass power plant that will take advantage of one resource Baringo has in abundance: the mathenge weed. The weed (known in America as mesquite wood) is an invasive species, introduced decades ago to combat desertification, but now wreaking havoc on farmers’ pastoral lands, livestock, and the natural environment. CCKL plans to train and employ 2,500 locals, mostly women, to harvest the invasive weed. Through biomass gasification technology, the mathenge weed will be converted into locally generated electricity—enough energy to power well over 12,000 homes. New access to energy will create opportunities in this rural county that suffers from severe energy poverty. Electricity means that farmers can increase their yields, and their profits; parents have safe alternatives to cooking over open fires, students can read after the sun sets; families can stay connected through cellphones that are easily charged at night. Ultimately, access to power leads to improvements in income, health, education, and general well-being.

I saw how these improvements take shape later that same week when I was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia visiting a local company with a new idea for powering agriculture.  Regions like Sidama and Bale Ethiopia, have an untapped reserve of over a million hectares of native highland bamboo. Currently, bamboo is sold at low prices for small construction projects like building fences and for fuel. But one Ethiopian company, African Bamboo, is pioneering a new technology to process native bamboo into high-value, commercial-quality wood panels. In order to minimize the environmental impact of the energy-intensive thermal processing, African Bamboo developed a processing technology powered by organic waste, like the husks of coffee beans. African Bamboo’s innovation won a $1 million dollar energy challenge grant from USAID to support research and enable the company to replicate its model. Through use of this technology, African Bamboo is not only increasing the value of bamboo for small-scale farmers, but creating economic opportunities along the value-chain: cutting, transporting, manufacturing and exporting bamboo to an international market. This translates to increased incomes and improved livelihoods for the 30 farming cooperatives and over 2,000 farmers who are partnering with the company.

These farmers and their families are the reason USAID is partnering with companies like CCKL and African Bamboo. Reliable, affordable electricity is essential for powering growth and lifting millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty. USAID can be the catalyst that encourages this private investment in Africa’s energy future. As President Obama reminded us in the State of the Union last month, our nation’s leadership is defined by the “enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe, to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want.”