US In Africa: Is Obama’s Power Africa Project In Jeopardy?

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US in Africa: Is Obama’s Power Africa Project In Jeopardy?

From CTV News

As President Barack Obama returns to Africa this week, his signature program to help the continent double its access to electricity is in jeopardy, undermined by Congress’ refusal to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

Of the $7 billion that Obama set aside for Power Africa, $5 billion fell under the auspices of the now-defunct bank, which guarantees loans to foreign companies buying U.S.-made products. But out of that $5 billion, just $132 million in transactions had been approved before the bank’s charter expired last month, rendering it unable to approve new transactions. Although the bank says it had several billion dollars of Power Africa projects in the pipeline, none of them can proceed unless lawmakers revive the bank.

For American companies, that could mean losing out to competitors like China, which is investing heavily in Africa and would be all too pleased to see its own companies get the contracts to build and equip power plants in Africa. Andy Herscowitz, Power Africa’s co-ordinator, said companies with access to financing help from their governments have a competitive advantage.

“There are plenty of investors interested in investing in Africa, and a lot of great ideas, but you’ve got to get to bankability,” Herscowitz said in an interview.

For Obama, the snag illustrates how Power Africa, slow to get off the ground, may fall far short of his lofty ambitions. Two years after the president unveiled Power Africa during a visit to South Africa, the program has yet to add any megawatts of electricity to Africa’s overburdened, underdeveloped grid.

With little to show for his top Africa initiative, Obama may find it harder to persuade African leaders that he’s maximized his opportunity as America’s first black president to make Africa’s development a U.S. priority. Although this week’s trip to Kenya and Ethiopia will be Obama’s third to sub-Saharan Africa as president, his global agenda has been largely focused on Asia and the Middle East.

Read more at CTV News