Power Outtages and Public Outrage

9th February 2016

Originally published on ThisDay

I am an Africapitalist who believes that the private sector must acknowledge and embrace our role in promoting development, by investing in strategic sectors which yield economic and social dividends. The power sector is one of such strategic sectors and consequently, I committed, through my propriety investment company, Heirs Holdings, to invest $2.5 billion to deliver 2,000 megawatts under the Power Africa Initiative. Already our Transcorp Power Limited is currently generating about 19 per cent of Nigeria’s total power consumption with an intent to generate 25 per cent of total energy consumption. So, where some see only problems in Africa, I see opportunities in providing solutions to such challenges.

We MUST win the energy challenge.  Over 600 million Africans lack access to energy. Africa needs 120 million jobs for our growing population but surveys of African businesses repeatedly show that energy costs are over 10 times what it is in the U.S. This dramatically increases the cost of doing business in Africa. Power is a cross-cutting issue that has impact on health care delivery, job creation, education, food, security, communications and every other sector.  Africa seeks to become an industrial power in the 21st century and we cannot achieve this on a weak power base.

As an investor, I have invested in a variety of sectors including financial services, hospitality, real estate, healthcare e.t.c, but daily, my working day starts with a view of the dashboard of the megawatts generated at our Ughelli power plant. And I can tell you that, good or bad, the numbers have an emotional impact on me.  Everyday!

In this final year of his presidency, I want to thank President Barack Obama for not shying away from the tough issue of energy poverty. Instead he has tackled it head on, and with the astuteness to understand that the conventional development model of government-financed projects will not deliver the much-needed megawatts at the scale required.  So he invited the private sector in as partners and stakeholders.  Very critically, he involved the African private sector in this initiative.  Thank you, Mr. President. I also want to thank his team that helped design and implement this trailblazing programme, including Ambassador Mike Froman, Gayle Smith, Benjamin Rhodes, Elizabeth Littlefield, Mimi Alemayehou, Raj Shah, Andy Herscowitz and the hardworking Power Africa team.

Working together through Power Africa, the U.S. government and private sector have engaged 120 public and private sector partners, and marshalled $43 billion to create 60 million new power connections, using a mix of power solutions. This is going to make a world of difference in Africa. The evidence will be very visible even from outer space. I want to congratulate Andy and his team for this clear and strategic road map, however Power Africa can give us a roadmap, set targets and provide technical assistance and partners, but it is up to us; partner countries and the private sector, to implement it.

It is up to us whether Power Africa is a success or another POWER FAILURE. Africa has had enough of power failures. We must therefore remain committed and resilient because the enabling environment for this sector on the continent is tough, but it is getting better. Africa handsomely rewards the patient investor, however it is not just enough for us to be resilient investors, we must see access to power as a humanitarian emergency in Africa. Lives are lost and potentially extinguished everyday that the power deficit persists.

These endless POWER OUTTAGES MUST SPARK POWER OUTRAGES, the kind of outrage that ignites the activist in each of us. How can we not be outraged when studies show that the POOR PAY THE MOST FOR POWER because they can only buy it in small quantities?  How much is a fair tax on their suffering? I have taken my POWER OUTRAGE and I am channeling it into Action for Change. I am not only investing in the power sector, I have become an advocate for expanding universal access-to-electricity in Africa. I advocated access-to-energy to become a Sustainable Development Goal and joined the board of the UN Sustainable Energy for ALL Initiative. With Kandeh Yumkella, Aliko Dangote and Donald Kaberuka, I co-founded the African Energy Leaders Group (AELG), a public private sector partnership, which seeks to elevate and prioritise this issue among regional and global policy makers. I also support Akin Adesina’s new deal for Africa’s power transformation under the African Development Bank. And over the last two Congresses, I have engaged in advocacy with U.S. lawmakers to get the Electrify Africa Act enacted to effectively preserve and expand the Power Africa Initiative well beyond this administration by codifying access to-electricity as a U.S. foreign policy priority for Africa.

Recently on behalf of the AELG, I wrote, with Dangote, a letter and op-ed to the U.S. House of Representatives to urge for the passage and thank Congressmen Royce and Eliot Engel for their leadership on this issue in the House. Many thanks to Senators Bob Corker, Ben Cardin, Jeff Flake and Chris Coons for their leadership in getting this bill passed in the Senate.

Long live Power Africa, God Bless us all.