On February 27, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), unanimously passed H.R. 2548, the Electrify Africa Act, which seeks to improve access for 68 percent of the population in the sub-Saharan region who as of 2010 had no access to electricity. By assisting countries in the region in developing a wide range of power solutions, this bipartisan approach aims to help alleviate poverty, increase economic growth, as well as promote stabilization in the region, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.
The comprehensive approach highlights four critical points:
- Requires that the Administration create a strategy to help increase electricity in sub-Saharan Africa;
- Encourages the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to use existing tools such as loan guarantees, partnerships and grants to increase electricity in sub-Saharan Africa;
- Directs the Treasury Department to persuade the World Bank and African Development Bank to increase electrification investments in sub-Saharan Africa; and
- Instructs the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to prioritize electrical sector investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
Responding to the unanimous passage of the legislation, Chairman Ed Royce emphasized,
“[This] important legislation offers a market-based, strategic framework to bring affordable and reliable energy to the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who currently have none. With nearly one billion consumers, the African continent has great economic potential.”
The aim of the act is ensuring that the U.S. begins to take a leading role in the investment, creation and innovation necessary to bolster greater economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In his opening statement, Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasized that “this long-term strategy will focus not only on building more power plants, but also on increasing African government accountability and transparency, improving regulatory environments, and increasing access to electricity in rural and poor communities through small, renewable energy projects.”
The act exemplifies an initiative that has the potential to address many of the issues that the Committee is concerned about in the region. The unreliability of electricity restricts the ability to utilize innovations in information technology, agricultural tools, and pollution reduction strategies. It also disproportionately affects women and girls as they are forced to walk long, sometimes dangerous distances to gather materials to cook and heat their homes. As this resolution notes, electricity is the key to many entrepreneurial opportunities, promoting a greater livelihood, and an important step in increasing U.S. engagement in the region.