As I fly over Africa at night – a regular occurrence in my job – the continent is an indelible image of sporadic pinpricks of light that identify the largest cities and towns, with millions of acres of darkness in between.
According to a recent study by the International Energy Agency, only 20 to 30 percent of the population in Africa has access to power. Where power is available, it is usually expensive, unreliable, and inefficient. For those of us working on African affairs, the lack of sufficient reliable energy is a pivotal issue that affects our political and economic engagement in the region.
Increasing Africans’ access to energy and the Us’s access to that energy is one of the top priorities of the Bureau of African Affairs of the United States Department of State.
The shortage of reliable, reasonably priced power impedes the economic and social development that Africans are working so hard to realize. At the same time, it is a major opportunity for American business and we are working to help more U.S. companies explore the commercial opportunities in Africa, and generate more U.S. exports and investment.
As part of President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s economic statecraft agenda, the Africa Bureau put together its first energy trade mission in February.
The State Department is new to organizing trade missions, so we established a public-private partnership with the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) to tap into their contacts and expertise, and worked closely with the embassies and consulates hosting the mission.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Bill Fitzgerald and I led the mission to countries with considerable potential for U.S. energy companies: Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ghana, with a short stop in Kenya.
Ten companies participated: Anadarko Petroleum, AES Africa, Caterpillar, Chevron, Energy International, General Electric, Pike Enterprises, Strategic Urban Development Alliance, Symbion Power, and the Zanbato Group. The mission also included representatives from the Energy and Natural Resources Bureau, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
Thanks to strong support from the U.S. embassies in the countries we visited, the delegation met with heads of state in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nigeria, energy and power ministers, state-owned utility companies, fuel suppliers, private sector energy sector representatives and national power sector regulators. Networking events also figured prominently at each stop. During a transit stop in Kenya, participants met with energy sector executives.
Over the course of the mission, several companies established new business relationships. Symbion Power announced a partnership with the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria to pursue the development of energy infrastructure. The Zanbato Group signed a letter of intent to provide services to the Tanzania Investment Promotion Center. With support from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a Nigerian firm seeks to purchase a large fleet of U.S. heavy trucks. Energy International, a mission participant, is exploring the possibility of establishing facilities in Nigeria to service these trucks.
The mission opened African eyes to the great possibilities of business partnerships with American companies and helped our American participants see the remarkable range of opportunities Africa offers for much-needed investment in the energy sector. We look to future trade missions to Africa to further capitalize on U.S. technical and business expertise to help overcome constraints to growth, expand U.S. exports to achieve the National Export initiative goals, and contribute to growing American and African economies.
We are still some distance from changing that night-time image of Africa, but we are taking concrete steps to bring U.S. resources and expertise to where they are needed most, and to opening new markets to U.S. business.
By; Johnnie Carson
Mr. Carson is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and leads the Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, the division focused on the development and management of U.S. policy concerning Africa.