Congressman Ed Royce calls for continued US commitment to electrify Africa

Republican Rep. Ed Royce. Photo by: House Committee on Foreign Affairs / CC BY-NC

The goal of the U.S. government is to continue to support and spur investment in electricity generation and access in Africa, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican congressman from California, told a crowd of government officials, power developers and investors at the Powering Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“We've got over $14 billion since passage of legislation deployed into Africa and our goal is of course to increase this,” he said, referencing the Electrify Africa Act, which passed in 2016.

The Electrify Africa Act set out two main goals: provide 50 million people with access to electricity for the first time and add 20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020 across the continent. It promotes partnerships and private sector investments and requires that there are clear standards to measure effectiveness and end unsuccessful programs.

Royce, who shared that he’s been to nearly every country in Africa, said he has seen the challenges women in particular face when they have to go in search of fuel because they have no access to electricity. He also highlighted the impact of such programs on vaccines and health.

“Uninterrupted power becomes absolutely essential to people’s lives there, but beyond that, in terms of the concept of a continent of a billion consumers, Africa has a great potential as a trading partner for us, as a job creator — as a job creator for Americans and for Africans,” he said. “Right now the lack of affordable energy makes such economic activity nearly impossible throughout a large part of that continent.”

Only with reliable power can exporters increase production, entrepreneurs break into markets, and manufacturing plants come online, Royce said.

“Frankly the United States also has significant foreign policy interests, economic interests, humanitarian interests, in supporting African energy,” he said. “Where the United States has left a void for economic engagement in Africa in the past, I've seen the results and I'm sure you have too, in terms of Beijing coming in and filling the void. But many times not in a way that is beneficial to Africans.”

Given the size of the need and the ambitious goals, all types of energy — from coal, to natural gas, to hydro and renewables — must be part of the solution, he said.

“It will also require the people in this room, investors, utilities, everyone, to see the possibilities on the continent and push for deals,” Royce said. “Doing business in Africa requires you to play the long game but at the same time we expect our embassies and our ambassadors and our agencies to be involved as well.”

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    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.