Power Africa has the potential to be transformative for millions of poor people and be the single biggest legacy in Africa for President Barack Obama. Observers now have roughly three years to reflect on the initiative: on what’s progressing well, what’s not, and where future risks may lie. While it is still too early to provide a complete analysis of outcomes, this report card provides a timely assessment at the close of this administration and an input to the next one. While the judgments of Power Africa are largely positive, the coming months will be crucial to keeping the effort on a positive trajectory.
As late as 1930, only 1 in 10 rural Americans had access to electricity. In subsequent years, rapidly increasing power generation and growing the electrical grid across the country became major pillars of the American battle against domestic poverty and a foundation for decades of economic growth and wealth creation. Today, energy access is universal in the United States. Reliable and affordable electricity is considered a basic necessity of life, an indispensable input to almost every aspect of modern living.
That same transformation is possible today in large parts of the developing world, where lack of access to modern energy harms quality of life and constrains economic growth. A concerted policy effort by the United States could help unleash tremendous human and market potential around the world. Pushing to promote electricity generation and access could significantly contribute to doing good in developing countries — and doing well for the United States.
Maximizing Access to Energy: Estimates of Access and Generation for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s Portfolio
We conservatively estimate that more than 60 million additional people in poor nations could gain access to electricity if the Overseas Private Investment Corporation were allowed to invest in natural gas projects, not just renewables.
The United States government has made repeated declarations over the last decade to align its assistance programs behind developing countries’ priorities. By utilizing public attitude surveys for 42 African and Latin American countries, this paper examines how well the US has implemented this guiding principle. Building upon the Quality of Official Development Assistance Assessment (QuODA) approach, I identify what people cite most frequently as the ‘most pressing problems’ facing their nations and then measure the percentage of US assistance commitments that are directed towards addressing them.
A strengthened OPIC—more efficiently deploying existing tools at no additional budget cost—would (1) increase US commercial access in emerging economies, (2) reflect economic, social, and political priorities in developing countries, (3) promote flagship US initiatives during austere budget conditions, and (4) support stability in fragile or frontline states.