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Read on for a guest post on an event sponsored by CSIS last Friday that consisted of a “conversation on impact investing, electricity access, and increasing infrastructure delivery through public-private collaboration” with the head of Africare, President of the One Campaign, President of the African Development Bank, and a Major Nigerian financier.

Even though it was raining cats and dogs, the room was completely packed (standing room only).  The room was filled with official looking people in their best business attire. Speaking of business attire, I was surprised at the number of women who showed up in heels and flats ( I repeat, it was raining cats and dogs). You notice these kinds of things when your feet are sweating in your rain boots.

Jennifer Cook,  director of the CSIS Africa Program, was the moderator and opened the event. In her opening remarks, she mentioned the need to discuss and figure out how to bridge growth opportunities for vulnerable African communities and make sure that they also benefit from the power Initiative. All four speakers casually remarked on this topic, but didn’t directly address how this could be tackled.

Tony Elumelu was the first speaker.  Elumelu is chairman of Heirs Holdings, a pan-African proprietary investment company with interests in strategic sectors of Africa’s economy.  He is one of the major players being Africa Power–Heirs holding invested $2.5 billion in the initiative.

As was revealed during the Q&A, a good chunk of the people were there to see Tony and probably try to get a job with Heirs Holding. He spoke more so from the point of view of an investor and a capitalist.  He observed that the conditions in Africa are improving and knows that there is a market in Africa for people who want and need electricity; and is also assured that the return on investment will be quite high.  He wants to increase the number of people who have access to power in Africa from 20% to 80%. $300 billion needs to be invested in Africa between now and 2030 for the endeavor to be successful.

Full disclosure: I was sitting in the back and Mr. Elumelu is surprisingly soft-spoken, so maybe I misheard, but he mentioned changing how we give to Africa. Elumelu talked about transforming giving into a way to eradicate poverty in a sustainable fashion and a way to erase dependency by privatizing foreign aid and directing it to people who want to invest in sectors like power.

Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, was the second program. He is a dynamic speaker and was probably the highlight of the event for me. He stressed that Power Africa is a turning point for the continent not just because of the 7000mgw of electricity that will be provided, it is a turning point on how the world relates and views the continent.  The dynamics of Africa as a place to do good, was slowly evolving to Africa a place with opportunity. Kaburuku seemed to be the most pragmatic of the speakers and noted that the infrastructure gap has to be closed if Africa is going to succeed.

Michael Elliott, president and chief executive officer of One Campaign, followed Kaburuku. He remarked that it was good to have a discussion about Africa that didn’t solely involve hunger, despair and AIDS.  Elliott said that the momentum for opportunity will be lost, if we don’t address the issues of poverty and lack of power.  He echoed Elumelu’s comment about $300 billion needed by 2030, and broke it down to $19 billion needed each year to fund the initiative. Elliott stressed on the importance of access for the poorest and inclusive economic growth. He lambasted that the lack of power was one of the greater injustices of our time, and one of the greatest opportunities of our century.

Dr. Darius Mans, president of Africare, was the final speaker. He made some good points, but by then my attention had waned.  Dr. Mans talked about developing an energy market and figuring out how power producing African countries can sell power to other countries.  He also stressed on investing in infrastructure  and spending wisely, because the recent boon in oil and natural gas on the continent is not going to last forever, seeing that they are finite resources.

Due to time constraints, the Q&A session was very short, that turned out to be a blessing since the 3 questions asked were cringe worthy.  The first guy was from DOD and asked questions about security. I wish that I had taken down notes on what he said verbatim, but I was too busy shaking my head in disgust. He was clearly angling for a contract and a security job.

To paraphrase Elumelu response “Security is a derivative. Poverty is a threat to mankind everywhere. We need to deal with poverty. Security is embedded if we give them hope. With hope they won’t go to the levels of extremism.”

The other two were investors and dropped investment language jargon. One had come all the way down from New York and the other dropped her knowledge of Nigerian politics and geography. They were also angling for jobs.

I left before I could hear the other responses.

Overall, it was a fantastic event and the speakers were of very high caliber. It would have been a perfect event if CSIS had provided coffee or some kind of warm liquid. Can we get a cronut for trudging in the rain on a miserable Friday?

ED: 10-16 – cornrow reference deleted at request of guest blogger.

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