International funding: Empower Africa’s electricity sector

University of Bath, UK.

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University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

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In a US House of Representatives hearing last month, the administration of President Donald Trump revealed that it would cut funds for the Power Africa initiative. The cuts are likely to have a significant impact because Power Africa affects how the continent’s power sector operates.

Power Africa was set up by former president Barack Obama to help bring electricity to sub-Saharan Africa, a region where two-thirds of the population has no access. Since its launch in 2013, most of the sector’s funding, policy design and, crucially, necessary knowledge and skills have come from outside of Africa.

Yet US financial contributions to Power Africa come at a price: power-infrastructure contracts are awarded mainly to US energy companies. Furthermore, African governments are asked to reduce import taxes and implement cost-reflective electricity prices, easing access by foreign firms to the market. Such measures make it difficult to protect domestic African energy industries, and jeopardize schemes that help poor people to pay for electricity.

Africa’s increasing demand for electricity, coupled with its prolific resources for renewable energy, present an opportunity to develop a strong African-run power industry. International assistance should be used to make this domestic industry sustainable and more competitive, without leaving it vulnerable to political change abroad.

Nature 551, 300 (2017)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-017-06023-3
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