President Obama’s recent trip to Africa – or Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania for those of us who remember that Africa is not a country – has garnered a great deal of (mostly negative) attention in the international media. Accusations that he hasn’t done enough to help the continent during his tenure and that he’s abandoned his fatherland, have so dominated the media coverage, that one of the main purposes of the trip has been completely overshadowed.
The “Power Africa” initiative, unveiled by President Obama during the last leg of his trip in Tanzania, is an ambitious $7 billion program aimed at doubling access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years. Tanzania is one of six pilot countries (along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania) where the program hopes to add 10,000 megawatts of generation capacity and reach 20 million households that currently lack electricity. The initiative will also provide resources for the development of clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar power and the expansion of mini-grid and off-grid power solutions.
It’s an important program for a continent where two-thirds of the population and over 85% of those living in rural areas lack access to electricity, and perhaps a last best effort for a president looking for a legacy.