In the early days of this country, the wild and undeveloped land to the West of the original thirteen colonies was a frontier filled with adventure, challenge and the promise of vast riches. That frontier has now been incorporated into the American economy.
In today’s world there is a new frontier for the global economy. Africa, is still largely undeveloped and filled with natural resources and a growing population that many companies are looking at as potential consumers of tomorrow, as well as suppliers of raw materials.
One of those “companies” is China Inc. China’s investment in Africa has grown by a factor of thirty since 2005, with over 2,000 firms being represented. But China’s 49 deals worth $20.8 billion pales next to Britain’s 437 deals totaling $30.5 billion, or France’s 141 deals worth the same amount.
It was against this backdrop that President Obama announced his pledge on his recent African visit, to develop 10 GW of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. The move would bring power to 20 million households and businesses for the first time.
The development would be of the all-of-the-above variety including everything from oil and gas, to hydro, wind, geothermal and solar. Both on and off-grid would be included as well as transmission infrastructure. Initial investments will be in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Uganda and Mozambique will also receive assistance in developing their oil and gas reserves responsibly.
With over two-thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to electricity, closer to 85 percent in rural areas, it will take a lot to bring them all online. The International Energy Agency estimates the cost at over $300 billion to achieve universal access by 2030.
Said Obama in Capetown, “Our primary interest when it comes to working with Africa on energy issues has to do with how we power Africa so that it can be an effective market, creating jobs and opportunity. We also then have somebody to trade with and sell iPods to, and airplanes, and all kinds of good stuff.”
The $7 billion Power Africa initiative aims to shine “light where currently there’s darkness”
Meanwhile, a 130 MW Chinese-funded hydropower in Ghana just came online last month. And while Obama did not criticize Chinese efforts, saying, “the more the merrier,” he did make the following comment.
“If somebody says they want to come build something here, are they hiring African workers? If somebody says that they want to help you develop your natural resources, how much of the money is staying in Africa?”
The $7 billion from six Washington agencies including USAID, OPIC, Ex-Im, MCC, USTDA, and USADF will be matched by $9 billion in private investment. Among those involved are: General Electric, Heirs Holdings, Symbion Power, Aldwych International, Harith General Partners, Husk Power Systems and African Finance Corporation.
The transformation of Africa from economic frontier to a player in the global economy will take some time. During the process, much money will change hands and many interests will be vying for supremacy. Let’s hope that the farthest seeing and wisest voices are the ones heard most clearly.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.