Exclusive: Obama plan to ‘Power Africa’ gets off to a dim start

admin   •   November 28, 2014   •   2571

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the University of Cape Town, June 30, 2013.
CREDIT: REUTERS/JASON REED

(Reuters) – Barack Obama last year told a cheering crowd in Cape Town that a $7 billion plan to “Power Africa” would double electricity output on the world’s poorest continent and bring “light where currently there is darkness”.

A year later, the U.S. president’s flagship project for Africa has already achieved 25 percent of its goal to deliver 10,000 megawatts of electricity and bring light to 20 million households and businesses, according to its annual report.

But the five-year plan has not yet delivered the power.

Power Africa has not measured its progress by counting actual megawatts added to the grid but promises of additional power made in deals it says it helped negotiate, according to sources inside the project and documents seen by Reuters.

Some projects facilitated by Power Africa — a program operated by the U.S. aid agency USAID — were under way years before the scheme’s inception, others are still in the planning stage.

It is unclear how much of the $7 billion Obama pledged has actually been spent or if a further $20 billion in private sector investment commitments will materialize.

“Saying you’ve met targets on projects that might never happen or taking the credit for projects that have been worked on for years makes me uncomfortable,” a source working on Power Africa told Reuters. “It’s misleading.”

Obama’s pledge to double power generation in Africa within five years looked highly ambitious from the start. Per capita electricity output in Sub-Saharan Africa has been flat for three decades because most promised power plants never get built.

“We’re dealing with megawatts on paper, rather than on the grid,” a second source working on the project said.

“Is that really what Obama promised?”

The first African-American U.S. president, the son of a Kenyan father, Obama has often been criticized for a lukewarm engagement in Africa, consisting more of words than deeds.

“WE’RE LIKE A PHARMACIST”

The 48 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of 800 million, produce roughly the same amount of power as Spain, a country of just 46 million. This constrains Africa’s growth and keeps hundreds of millions in poverty.

Power Africa coordinator Andrew Herscowitz told Reuters there had been some confusion about the role of the program. He said it was always intended to “expedite transactions”, facilitating private investment rather than handing out aid.

Herscowitz said Power Africa was there to help the private sector deliver electricity and it had already negotiated commitments from companies worth $20 billion, although he did not know how much of this money had been spent.

“We’re like a pharmacist, where people come to us, we reach out to people and figure out what is needed,” he said.

“In some projects we may have a lot of involvement and in some we have very little involvement.”

Foreign companies sign billions of dollars of agreements with African governments to build infrastructure every year, although a large number never get built.

In April 2011, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp., a government aid agency involved in Power Africa, signed a $350 million deal to “revitalize” Malawi’s power sector.

More than three years on, 1.7 percent of that money has been spent, according to the programmer’s website, which gives no detail on progress on the ground.

Memoranda of understanding Power Africa signed this year with its six focus countries — Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Liberia and Ghana — contain less than $100 million of financial commitments targeted at specific countries, most of which is for consultants.

U.S. consultancy Tetra Tech won a $64 million contract and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative was given a $3 million deal.

As with many African aid projects, rights groups have criticized Power Africa as mostly being a vehicle to subsidize U.S. companies.

Documents show $5 billion out of the $7 billion pledged is for loans for U.S. exports from the government’s Export-Import Bank (EXIM) and Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC).

TURN ON THE LIGHTS

“It’s absolutely not true. Power Africa is an opportunity to turn on the lights for millions of Africans by taking investment from all over the world,” Herscowitz said.

Herscowitz rejected suggestions Power Africa merely tapped into existing projects, highlighting a 5 megawatt “NextGen” solar project in Tanzania and a 30 megawatt biomass scheme in Kenya which he said “didn’t exist before Power Africa”.

The NextGen project website, however, says a power purchase agreement for the solar project was signed in January 2013, six months before Power Africa was launched.

It is by no means guaranteed that the Power Africa program, which has an initial five-year mandate, will continue or be seen as a priority when Obama’s final term ends in two years, U.S. government sources told Reuters.

In addition, the investment banks EXIM and OPIC are fighting for their survival in Congress, where Obama’s Democratic Party was severely weakened in mid-term elections this month.

In a change of tack, the U.S. government said this month it wants to partner with China on improving power in Africa. [ID:nL6N0SW671]

Meanwhile, corruption in the countries that Power Africa operates in remains a problem.

Nigeria’s state oil company was accused last year by the then central bank governor of withholding $20 billion in oil funds due to the government, while Tanzania’s parliament is currently reviewing a report on graft in its energy sector.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Robin Pomeroy)

US gov’t sends additional P950 million aid for Odette-hit areas

Robie de Guzman   •   December 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The United States (US) government is allocating an additional P950 million ($19 million) in humanitarian assistance for communities affected by Typhoon Odette, its embassy in the Philippines said Wednesday.

In a statement, the embassy said the latest fund allocation brings the total US support to the Philippines to more than P1 billion ($20.2 million).

“The United States is pleased to announce an additional and significant assistance of P950 million, which brings our total amount of aid for Typhoon Odette to over P1 billion,” said U.S. Embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires (CDA) ad interim Heather Variava.

“We stand steadfast with our longstanding friend, partner, and ally in helping support communities devastated by the typhoon,” she added.

With this assistance, the US gov’t through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide food aid; water, sanitation, and hygiene programs to help keep people healthy; and shelter assistance to meet emergency needs and help affected communities start rebuilding their homes.

“This additional assistance will help deliver food and hygiene supplies, and provide life-saving support to those most in need,” the embassy said.

The P950 million funding is in addition to the P50 million ($1 million) announced earlier this week to support emergency logistics efforts to ensure aid is delivered to those in hard-to-reach areas.

This assistance also builds on the P10 million ($200,000) relief assistance that USAID provided immediately after the storm.

The embassy said Variava plans to visit communities affected by Typhoon Odette and see ongoing U.S. relief activities.

Since 2010, USAID has provided more than P17 billion ($340 million) in disaster relief and recovery aid, and boosted the disaster risk reduction capacity of over 100 cities and municipalities in the Philippines.

 

USAID launches project to increase PH digital connectivity

Robie de Guzman   •   October 30, 2021

 

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has formally launched a new project to improve the digital connectivity in the Philippines, its embassy said Friday.

In a statement, the embassy said the five-year, P1.65-billion ($33 million) Better Access and Connectivity (BEACON) project aims to promote economic growth through better information and communications technology (ICT).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for expanded digital infrastructure and broadband connectivity,” USAID Philippines Acting Mission Director Sean Callahan said in the same statement.

Through the BEACON project, USAID will help improve the Philippines’ ICT and logistics infrastructure; strengthen the regulatory, business, and innovation environment; and bolster cybersecurity.

BEACON will also assist the government in automation and digitization efforts, and support community networks to expand low-cost internet access for underserved communities.

BEACON supports the Philippines’ national strategies and the U.S. government’s goal to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific region through enhanced digital connectivity, the embassy said.

“We are pleased to partner with the Philippine government, private sector, and other organizations to accelerate the country’s economic growth and regional competitiveness by supporting a stronger, more competitive digital ecosystem,” Callahan said.

USAID launches P1.6 billion project to promote clean energy in Philippines

Robie de Guzman   •   June 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The United States (US) government, through its Agency for International Development (USAID), has launched a P1.6-billion ($34 million) project to support a more competitive, secure, and resilient Philippine energy sector, its embassy said.

In a statement, the embassy said the five-year Energy Secure Philippines (ESP) project will promote the country’s key energy sector priorities and support its climate mitigation goals.

“Through the Energy Secure Philippines Project, the U.S. will work with Philippine government and private sector partners to improve the performance and efficiency of energy utilities, deploy renewable energy systems, enhance competition in the power sector, and address energy sector cybersecurity,” it said.

The U.S. government will also mobilize more than P36 billion ($740 million) in private sector investment and help develop at least 500 megawatts of clean energy generation capacity.

“We look forward to building and sustaining new partnerships with diverse stakeholders across the energy sector whose collective efforts are required for a more competitive and advanced energy sector,” said U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law.

Law also announced the “Energy Evolution Challenge,” a grant facility that will fund proposals to advance research and deployment of innovative energy systems.

The Philippines and the US signed a memorandum of understanding for the said project. The virtual MOU signing was attended by Law, USAID Philippines Acting Mission Director Sean Callahan, and Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

Also, present to witness the event was Energy Regulatory Commission Chairperson Agnes Devanadera.

The United States and the Philippines are celebrating their 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

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