Mimi Alemayehou, OPIC’s executive VP, participated in a panel discussion on President Obama’s Power Africa initiative held Jan. 15th at the Center for Global Development. She was joined by USAID’s chief coordinator for Power Africa Andrew Herscowitz, Kamran Khan of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Nilmini Rubin, an advisor to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The group engaged in lively conversation about the progress and plans for the presidential initiative, which was launched six months ago. Alemayehou made it clear that OPIC is primed to play a key role in bringing power to the African continent.
“To start with, our products are ideal for building infrastructure like electricity,” she said. “We support investments in the long term, such as infrastructure projects that require sustained support. In recent years, Africa has been our fastest-growing region.”
The capacity audience at the event included think tank members, U.S. Government partners, journalists, analysts, and–crucial to the success of Power Africa–private sector representatives. The leaders on stage all agreed that catalyzing participation from private investors is a necessity in the initiative’s strategy.
“We’ve found that Power Africa creates a market demand,” remarked Alemayehou. “The initial projects we supported grabbed the attention of the private sector, and now we’re seeing U.S.-based developers show interest that wasn’t there before.”
“What we’re doing there is more like a startup business than traditional government aid,” said the initiative’s chief coordinator. “This is not a cookie-cutter approach, and we’re developing new strategies. The private sector has been thrilled.”
Another point of agreement was the hard work the multiyear project will demand. Supporting projects to generate thousands of megawatts of new power for millions of people is not an easy task, but the rewards are worth it, according to the panel. Whether electrifying homes to charge mobile communications technology, powering small businesses to provide local jobs, giving current to hospitals for modern medical care or allowing a generation students across the continent to study by electric light, the agency leaders say the investment is a worthy one.
“I’ve seen estimates about what could happen,” said Alemayehou. “If power delivery increased just a bit, that alone would cause immediate growth in African economies. Imagine the job growth, the increased medical care. The need is huge.”