Can GE help turn Nigeria into Singapore?

The General Electric sign on top of the company's administration building in New York. GE has made pledges of investment in Nigeria, including $350 million for micropower generation. Photo by: Chuck Miller / CC BY-NC-ND

General Electric could play a transformative role in Nigeria, according to a Nigerian official visiting Washington, D.C. this week for bilateral trade talks with the U.S. government.

Speaking at a roundtable to promote investment in the country hosted by the Initiative for Global Development and the Nigeria Leadership Initiative, Trade Minister Olusegun Aganga lauded the many investments GE had pledged so far in the country, including $1 billion for power generation and turbine manufacturing promised last year and an additional $350 million for micropower generation announced in January.

“GE is putting their money where their mouth is, and they are doing great job, and there's more coming from GE,” said Aganga, who didn't elaborate on future investments the company might be making.

General Electric, he noted, was going beyond its own investments and  “sharing the Nigerian story” with its suppliers, helping them to partner with Nigerian entrepreneurs to build GE’s supply chain in the country.

“Jeff brought about ten of them to my office when he was in the country about three weeks ago,” he said, referring to General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt.

“I must say that I've heard it, proudly, how GE has helped other countries,” the minister continued. “You know, they played a big role in the development of the economy in Singapore many decades ago, and they seem to be doing something similar here.”

Anganga sees Nigeria’s ongoing privatization of it’s power sector as the first step to transforming the Nigerian economy. And he’s not alone in promoting the catalytic effects that developing the electricity sector could play on the continent — through the Power Africa initiative, U.S. President Barack Obama has made it encouraging investments in the power sector in sub-Saharan Africa a central part of his aid agenda.

Some have criticized Power Africa as too closely aligned with GE (and other companies') ambitions in Africa, and Immelt has been a close advisor to Obama. But the fact that a primary goal of the program is to help U.S. companies compete against Chinese interests in the region is no secret, and has actually been a selling point in discussions about congressional support for the initiative.

If GE is any example, those efforts seem to be working.

Whether privatized power and private investment can spur the type of inclusive, transformative growth that Singapore saw in the 20th century in Nigeria in the 21st is another story.

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See more:

Nigeria 'unsure' donors fully committed to trade facilitation scheme
Lee Zak on Power Africa: 'The phone is ringing off the hook'
Power Africa's leaders (and skeptics) speak out

About the author

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    Paul Stephens

    Paul Stephens is a former Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost, and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia: one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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