EU: Let's turn on the light to help Africa prosper

From left to right: Dimitris Tsitsiragos, vice president of the International Finance Corp. in charge of Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Pim van Ballekom, vice president of the European Investment Bank, and Andris Piebalgs, European commissioner for development, during the fifth EU-Africa Business Forum held in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by: European Commission

The hotly anticipated results of the first call for proposals of an innovative €95 million ($130.6 million) program to provide finance to bring electricity to some of the world's poorest citizens were finally revealed at last week’s fifth EU-Africa Business Forum in Brussels.

European Commission grants for electricity supply in rural areas have been awarded to 16 projects across nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Eritrea, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. These grants will be translated into co-financed projects worth over €155 million and are expected to bring electricity to more than 2 million people in the region.

The Commission will promote another 40 proposals received — but not selected — to private and public donors and development agencies. According to European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, this commitment shows that “real results are being delivered” and that the EU is scaling up projects that impact poverty reduction through “sustainable rural electrification.”

“Energy is fundamental for every area of development — from creating jobs and boosting growth to improving health care and enabling people to cook safely,” he said. “Yet too often, people in rural areas have been left behind — a shocking 84 percent of those without access to energy now live in the countryside. We need to make sure that our work supports everyone, no matter where they live.”

Piebalgs confirmed that this is a first step in a new innovative program to bring electricity to many millions.

Over the next seven years, he said, Brussels will spend more than €2 billion in supporting energy in Africa. It is hoped that this will, in turn, leverage investments exceeding €10 billion, filling in the gaps for energy infrastructure and therefore allowing businesses, schools, homes and hospitals to gain access to the electricity they require.

Stay tuned for more highlights from our conversation with Piebalgs in the coming days.

Engaging the private sector

At the forum, which brought together more than 500 high-level representatives from European and African business, politics and public institutions for two days of discussions, Devex learned that another call for proposals targeting rural electrification in fragile states — including Burundi, Liberia, Mali and Somalia — is currently under evaluation and will soon deliver more benefits in these countries that desperately need energy.

As well as sustainable energy, other notable debates at the forum centered on common challenges, such as the stake of young people in today's economies, the role of banks for inclusive growth and financing issues for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as issues such as access to raw materials, risk capital and space cooperation.

Prior to the forum, Piebalgs also announced two new EU programs to support the private sector in Africa.

The first is a €20 million project to make businesses more competitive and to help improve the business and investment climate in the Economic Community of West African States, as well as help the region’s countries adopt policies that can attract investments.

The second is an €8 million program that will support Madagascar’s private sector in delivering inclusive growth and boosting competitiveness on national, regional and international markets. Activities will include support and training for business associations — like chambers of commerce — so that they have the knowledge to increase competitiveness among their members and to help them represent economic interests in public-private partnerships and negotiations.

Join Devex, the largest online community for international development, to network with peers, discover talent and forge new partnerships — it’s free. Then sign up for the Devex Impact newsletter to receive cutting-edge news and analysis every month on the intersection of business and development.

See more:

How to 'power' Africa: A trillion dollar question?
'Africa is a continent, not a country'

About the author

  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.