Updated: March 5, 2021
Welcome, everyone. It’s good to see all of you here. I think it speaks well for Power Africa, and I think it speaks well for the opportunities that we all see. You know, I’m often asked, as Administrator, what it is that most excites me about the work that we do and the opportunities that we see. And, of course, technology and the fact that we can now reach places and design tools that we couldn’t even have imagined of just a few years ago.
As some of you know, I began my own career journey in development in Africa about 30 years ago. I was a volunteer teacher — my wife and I in a small Kenyan village. Thirty years ago, those were different times. In our little village, there was but one telephone; it was a wind up telephone. And you’d literally go down and turn the crank and pickup the receiver and say, “Operator, give me Nairobi 662.” Then you’d put the phone down, and you’d go sit outside under the mango tree. And you would wait for the phone to ring, and the operator would tell you that your call had gone through. Thirty years ago.
A dozen years after that, I visited that same small village. As I was walking along one of the mud paths, I came across a young boy, and I said, “Do you know Niva?” One of my students, and he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Can you go and get Niva for me?” And, of course, he pulled out his mobile phone and he called him.
Five years after that, I was an Ambassador in East Africa, and my African staff were using cheap mobile phones to do business, to pay their bills, to make calls everywhere in the world. And that’s the personal lens through which I see the technology in Africa — the technology revolution. It is a time of great opportunity. It is a time where innovations in technology are making the impossible very possible, and the unsolvable within reach. It is unleashing a wave of opportunities that all of you know of.
But it’s not actually technology that excites me most as Administrator — that grabs most of the attention — but I don’t think that’s the most important development. The most important development in development is the burgeoning new relationship between the development community and all of you — the private sector, the private enterprise. I think leaders in both sectors are finally figuring out how to take advantage of the unique capabilities that each of them has and apply them to challenges that neither could fully take on by themselves. Take on challenges and problems that, not so long ago, seemed insurmountable.
And so, for years, whether we realize or not, USAID, MCC — I think many of us in the public sector saw donors, NGOs, and governments as the most important, if not the only, drivers of progress in the developing world. Private enterprise was something to keep at a distance, or perhaps try to bend to our will. We welcomed donations — always happy to take donations — and were even willing to contract with private business to obtain goods and services, but little more.
And today, the great news, what brings you all here, is that’s all changing. That’s all changing fundamentally. At USAID, we’re reaching beyond contracting and grant-making to collaborating, co-financing, and co-designing programs, tools, initiatives. We’re rethinking how international development initiatives are designed and tested, financed, and rolled out. We’re embracing the creativity and the entrepreneurship that private enterprise brings. We’re embracing the notion that the private sector, not donors and governments — but the private sector — will be the ultimate driver and sustainer of development, and we know that we need to re-envision our role accordingly. We’re embracing a model of enterprise-driven development.
This morning we’re all talking about expanding access to affordable, reliable energy in Africa. Perhaps no continent and no sector is better positioned to leverage the combination of technological innovation and enterprise-driven development and what it can do to lift lives and build communities. And I’m confident that Power Africa is where these forces come together.
And it’s already on track to meet the Electrify Africa Act goal of adding 20,000 megawatts of new power generation by 2020. And that’ll mean an additional 50 million people will receive access to energy, which in today’s world is truly life-changing. In the 21st century, power is life.
Power is also a crucial ingredient in our response to perhaps the greatest development challenge of our time: the displacement of families and communities around the world. Right now, there are 70 million displaced people in the world today. I remember a trip a few years ago that I made to a refugee processing center in Serbia in Europe. I remember seeing hundreds of Syrians and Iraqis gathered at this stop on their journey to a new home in Western Europe.
And I remember as I walked through that processing center, I came upon a dense crowd of refugees, so I assumed they were vying for food or looking for clean clothes or maybe a place to sleep. And as I got closer, of course, I saw they were simply charging their mobile phones. They needed power so that they could check in with loved ones. They needed power so they could begin ordering their lives before setting off for a new country and a new home. Power and connectivity is holding our modern world together.
Of course, Africa and its displaced communities present their own special challenges. I think we all know there are millions of displaced Africans — South Sudanese, Burundians and more — living indefinitely in camps — really pop-up cities — with no power and only the most basic of necessities. In January, I had the honor of announcing a new partnership that Power Africa has with MasterCard, aimed at helping to connect these millions of displaced people to electricity.
Through Power Africa, we helped convene more than 15 partners — from Mastercard to Mercy Corps to Energy Peace Partners. Together, we’re working to power and connect five different refugee camps — three in Uganda and two in Kenya.
Power Africa is helping our private sector partners set up micro-grids, which will bring reliable and affordable power to these camps for the first time. Once the camps are electrified, USAID’s innovation team and other coalition members will work to connect them to the Internet. And finally, with support from Mastercard and other partners, we are creating digital tools that tap into residents’ mobile phones to track health records, to provide digital identities, and to enable pay-as-you-go power, school fees, and other digital vouchers for services. In total, we expect to give more than 600,000 people access to affordable power, internet, and these digital tools.
Power Africa works, as you know, because it is enterprise-driven, not government-driven. It has helped 58 million people gain access to electricity using market forces and enterprise principles. It has turned to over 140 private sector partners and used the convening and policy-setting authorities that are the rightful role of government to help facilitate deals totaling $14.5 billion.
As just one example, Power Africa is currently assembling a deal in Ghana with GE and Endeavor Energy to build the largest power plant of its kind. Once complete, it will operate on three different types of fuel. Because of its design, the new plant will be able to mitigate fuel shortages and reliably provide 17 percent of the nation’s energy.
The government role: USAID is providing technical assistance and a loan guarantee. MCC is pursuing energy sector reforms that will make this project possible. The State Department is working with the Government of Ghana to secure all necessary approvals. And the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — OPIC — is considering extending additional needed credit. But the underlying force comes from GE and Endeavor. They are building the infrastructure and creating a power plant that will be wholly self-sufficient.
Each sector — the public sector, the private sector — doing what it does best, resulting in citizens being employed, communities being connected, and Ghana charging ahead in its journey to self-reliance and prosperity.
It’s because of projects like these — which depend on Power Africa to take root — that I’m excited to announce that this week, we are releasing the Administration’s strategy for Power Africa 2.0. This strategy will ensure that Power Africa can continue to bring innovative ideas and enterprise-driven approaches to bear to help meet Africa’s power needs, but more importantly help expand Power Africa’s power opportunities. Under Power Africa 2.0, we will be expanding beyond our previous targets of increased energy generation and access and looking to make gains in the areas of distribution and transmission. And perhaps most importantly, we will be taking on the enabling environments that allow private enterprise to grow and thoroughly flourish.
The strategy supports U.S. economic prosperity by expanding the number of American firms we work with, in particular, small and medium-sized businesses. It strengthens American engagement leadership by fostering free and open markets, as well as sustainable and fair business practices. And it will improve regional stability as African economies continue to grow and expand and to create opportunities for their young people. I’m excited to see what Power Africa’s next chapter will bring.
This should be Africa’s time. The continent of Africa boasts potential, enormous potential. Its resources, its farm and grazing land, but most importantly the awe-inspiring spirit of resilience and joy that lives within so many of its people. As President Trump said last Fall on the margins of the UN General Assembly, when it comes to Africa, “The outlook is bright.” Power Africa, and the partnerships that it relies upon — all of you — are a way to turn that vision into a life-lifting reality.
Over these next few days, in particular, I hope you will reach out to our Power Africa team — Andy and others — to learn more about what our tools and assistance can bring. And most importantly, I hope we will work together to lift lives, build communities, and make Power Africa what it can be. We want to work with all of you, we want to walk with all of you in the journey to self-reliance across the continent. This is Africa’s time, but only if all of us here work together. Thank you. Good luck.
[read_more id="2" more="Read full article" less="Read less"]