Powering Africa without US, China?
By Lawrence Freeman
President Obama during his two terms of office has attempted to fashion a legacy by multiple trips to Africa. Observers say he has done little or nothing to reverse the genocidal levels of death due to war, poverty, hunger, and disease. Under his watch, the over throw of Muammar Kaddafi in 2011 has had catastrophic consequences for the people of Sahel that continues to this very day. Boko Haram’s murderous rampage in Nigeria is associated with the elimination of Kaddafi. President Obama’s “Power Africa Initiative,” has failed to deliver a single megawatt of electrical power to the Continent that remains in the dark. Abject poverty pervasive across the African continent is the primary cause driving thousands of Africans to risk their lives attempting to escape to Europe. Thus belying the propaganda of Africa being home to the six of the fastest growing economies in the world, through the use of intrinsically false “monetarist” statistics conjured up by the IMF and World Bank. To immediately begin to reverse the miserable wretched living conditions that the majority of Africans are forced to suffer from daily if not hourly, the continent must be transformed through the creation of new integrated regional and transcontinental infrastructure platforms including the construction of high speed rail lines, abundant and accessible energy/power, and water management.The United States, Western European countries, and their Trans-Atlantic institutions have made abundantly clear that they will not finance those infrastructure projects necessary to transform the productivity of African economies, that would empower the population to finally “eradicate poverty.” The Ethiopian leadership has rightly identified poverty as the number one enemy to their nation, and has made eradicating poverty as their top priority.
China’s commitment to building vitally necessary infrastructure in Africa, which the West has refused to do for over five decades, is a game changer for the continent. President Xi Jinping’s launching of the New Silk Road almost two years ago has already altered the global economy. With the emergence of the BRICS, and the now operational New Development Bank, together with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, there now exist a viable alternative to Wall Street and City of London dominated western financial system which can potentially explode in a 2007-2008 style like collapse at any moment. This is reason why the European monetary system, run by the Troika (the tripartite committee led by the European Commission (Eurogroup) with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) in Brussels is so desperately attempting to prop up the $360 billion of debt in the Greek
banks, but could not care less about the welfare of Greek people.Among all the underdeveloped regions of the world, Africa dominates in rich natural resources, yet has the largest deficit in infrastructure. According to PIDA-The Program for Infrastruc
ture Development of Africa- “the road access rate in Africa is only 34% compared with 50% in other parts of the developing world, while transport costs are 100% higher. Only 30% of Africa’s population has access to electricity, compared 70-90% in other parts of the developing world. Water resources are underused with 5% of agriculture under irrigation.”
Africa’s enormous deficit in the production of electrical power is suffocating the enormous potential for African nations to experience real economic growth, measured not in monetary values, but in the creation of physical wealth. With over 1 billion people living in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 600 million have no daily access to electrical power. This is an immoral crime. Over two years ago, Obama proclaimed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa that he would double access of electricity in Africa in less than five years. This minimally would mean providing electricity to at least 400 million more Africans. Obama’s original Power Africa Initiative promised to provide (a mere) 7-10,000 megawatts for six African countries; Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya, (out of 54) through loan guarantees and incentives for U.S. companies. Since then the new claims are that Power Africa will somehow produce 20,000-30,000 megawatts. While there is no evidence that this has the slightest chance of occurring in the near future, even by their own estimates it would make electricity available to 60 million Africans-roughly 10% out of 600 million, still leaving at least 540 million Africans without power. When this author confronted an administration official with the obvious discrepancy between the goal of doubling access and a mere several thousands of megawatts, the response was that these goals are “aspirational”.
The cruel truth is that Obama’s Power Africa Initiative should really be called powerless Africa Initiative because the administration’s plan has yet to make good on its promise. How can anyone explain that the initiative has not produced one single physical megawatt of electricity while the number of Africans without access is growing? Ron Nixon, in his article for the New York Times on July 21, 2015, “Obama’s Power Africa Project Is Off to a Sputtering Start,” quotes from Obama’s 2013 speech in South Africa where he boasted his program would provide ‘a light where there is currently darkness, the energy needed to lift people out of poverty. Nixon then goes on to report: “Two years later, as Mr. Obama prepares to visit Africa again, the reality of Power Africa’s promise bears little resemblance to the president’s soaring words. It has yet to deliver any electricity.”
Sam Amadi, chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission is quoted in the same article, “I am not aware of any concrete plans for power plants that have emerged as a result of Power Africa.”
Another unpalatable aspect of Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is its failure to attract private sector investments of billions of dollars for small scale “off grid” gimmicks aimed particularly at rural areas, where the majority of Africans live. A solar panel on one’s roof may be enough to light a few 60-watt bulbs, and recharge a cell phone, but it can’t power a refrigerator, a water pump, an air conditioner, or advanced machinery, all necessary for a decent standard of living.
All things considered, Africans should have a right to universal access to the most scientifically advanced forms of energy to power their economies.
Lawrence Freeman is a news contributor to CMPI