President Obama and Power Africa

Power Africa and a $7bn involvement

In an excellent speech to a young audience at the University of Cape Town but seen the world around, the words “Power Africa” were heard by many for the first time from none other than the President of the US and although by no means did the financial implications have any comparison to the US Marshall Aid plan to Europe in 1945, this is without doubt a much played down mini-version in energy terms.

It comes with an initiative already started; US business plans in energy to Africa already in motion to an estimated tune of $9bn….. and thats just a start, said President Obama.    Energy, he said, is the key to Africa and electricity to all homes is the hope for all Africans. Without electricity there is no possibility that education can take root and therefore no way out of the poverty cycle, he said.

Electricity for all

If anything of value therefore from a business viewpoint came out President Obama’s trip other than some very warm-hearted gestures of friendship, it was certainly the extraordinary news that he personally, and that presumably means in fact the US Administration, has plans for a state $7bn initiative to enhance access to every household with electricity across Africa by tapping the continent’s vast energy resources and plenty of money by attracting international US investment.

By reading up on Forbes Magazine, which presumably has one of the best lines on what the US Administration is up to financially, their story on Power Africa appears to be already a well established initiative in the US.    For the most part, it is most detailed.   The story ends, however where perhaps it should have started.

In the last paragraph, after a giving a picture of the structure of the Power Africa programme and the names of the many partners US partners contributing to the initiative with finance and skills, the Forbes article ends with the observation……

“The recent discoveries of oil and gas in sub-Saharan Africa will play a critical role in defining the region’s prospects for economic growth and stability, as well as contributing to broader near-term global energy security.  Yet existing infrastructure in the region is inadequate to ensure that both on- and off-shore resources provide on-shore benefits and can be accessed to meet the region’s electricity generation needs.”

And there, possibly, we have it.   A sort of Mozambique Channel gold rush.   Yet we are assured by no less than President Obama himself that the USA has enough shale gas not to be importers but shortly exporters.

The Chinese robotic approach

However, to assume the US is looking for new oil fields for its own use or not would be to miss the point.   Trading in Africa with Africans was the point in Obama’s speech and hopefully, as the US President says, the USA can add value to what is made in South Africa before it is exported and not just exploit the resources in Africa, as does he says China and others of their ilk. The general feeling remains that China will put in power plants just to get out the resources. Either way, we get power – but the US way seems more sustainable and of use to economic and social needs of Africa in the long run.

Power Africa, Obama says, will, in, addition also “leverage private sector investments” beginning with an additional $9 billion in initial commitments from private sector partners in sub-Saharan Africa.   Most of the talk is about land-based electricity grid support, off grid projects, renewable energy projects and supplies to marginalised communities and there was a clear inference in the article that nobody in the US was going out of their way to invest in more coal mines.

The article says most importantly, “Although many countries have legal and regulatory structures in place governing the use of natural resources, these are often inadequate.  They fail to comply with international standards of good governance, or do not provide for the transparent and responsible financial management of these resources.”

“Power Africa”, Forbes continues, “will work in collaboration with partner countries to ensure the path forward on oil and gas development maximizes the benefits to the people of Africa, while also ensuring that development proceeds in a timely, financially sound, inclusive, transparent and environmentally sustainable manner”

In other words there has to be certainty.

ParlyReport this week focuses on the introduction to the South African  public of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill on that very subject. One would hope that the intentions of government to have a stake in oil and gas exploration success stories do not frighten investors off and that the amendments to the Act stay fixed when agreed, give certainty and are properly regulated and the MPRDA changes are not the precursors of the mess that such regulations are to our North.

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