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2013-07-12 13.43.03

Yesterday, CSIS convened an extremely popular panel on President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative.  For those who want more info, see a previous Africa in DC post on the topic.  I always enjoy seeing large crowds at Africanist events.  However, I must admit that it was bittersweet in this case.  The Initiative will bring money to a lot of US companies to implement work in Africa, so I suspect that for many of those in attendance, their presence was motivated more by self-interest than an altruistic desire to acquire knowledge or to improve the lives of Africans (not nearly as many people came out at the last CSIS event I attended to hear about human rights in Angola).

The highlight of the event was undoubtedly the presence of Andrew Herscowitz, a  lawyer by training who is an employee of USAID and will be the Coordinator of the Power Africa Initiative.  Herscowitz will soon depart for Nairobi, Kenya, where he will be based.  Given that the initiative involves a variety of US governmental agencies, I’m surprised that he will be located on the African continent.

Herscowitz informed us that the Initiative resulted from a trip to Africa over a year ago.  It will not only aim to connect more people to electricity, it will aim to have them use electricity that is ‘Green.’

I was surprised at how frank Herscowitz was in his remarks on the Power Africa Initiative.  He said that compared to the needs of the continent, the billions of dollars this initiative will provide is only ‘a drop in the bucket.’  He also used some typical DC terms to cover up this fuzziness – ‘technical assistance’ and ‘feasibility study’ were particularly bland phases that resonated with me.

It also seems that despite his impending departure, he’s not particularly busy at this time.  He was able to take off directly after his remarks to pick up his son, at about 2pm.  In regards to Power Africa progress to date, weekly US government inter-agency meetings are “the best part of what’s going on right now.”  However, this group is apparently ‘still sorting out’ who makes what decisions.

Although he mixed up the 6 initial countries participating in the initiative (he got them right at first, but stumbled when interrupted and asked to repeat), he does have a solid vision as to what Power Africa is – “this initiative is about leveraging, it’s about coordination, it’s about making tough reforms.”

Someone in the audience noted that no Francophone countries are involved.  In response, Herscowitz noted that just today he had emailed people in Senegal and Rwanda.  To China watchers out there, he did state that the US hoped to complement, rather than compete with, Chinese power efforts in Africa.

2013-07-12 14.10.03

There was also a panel conversation that followed.  However, the remarks by both Robert Perry, former Ambassador to the Central African Republic now with the Corporate Council on Africa, and Christopher Camponovo, an executive with one of the private American companies contracted to implement the initiative were pretty dry.  Mr. Camponovo, also a trained lawyer, even admitted to a tendency to ‘babble.’  I left following their remarks so missed the other two panelists.