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YALI Breakfast

The room was dominated by portraits of old white men, including one holding a poodle.

Yesterday feelings of patriotism stirred in my bosom as I attended the Africa Policy Breakfast Series sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D – CA), a two panel Senate hearing on Power Africa, and I then passed a few hours reading Liberian newspapers at the Library of Congress before venturing over to New America and Arizona State.  It still strikes me as pretty cool that I can rub shoulders with prominent dignitaries and attend congressional hearings in person.

Africa Breakfast Series

This was probably the breakfast series that I attended with the most anticipation given my interest in education and youth development; my expectations were probably too high, rendering it the event I enjoyed the least.  Rep. Bass had co-opted 25 young Africans on a Young African Leaders Initiative/International Visitors Leadership Program trip for the event.  I arrived late so did not catch the precise nature of their program.  Only 4 of the 25 visitors were female, something which was widely remarked on by the audience (one of them was from the Central African Republic and she gave their closing word of thanks).

Three of the visitors were selected to speak – the manager of Togo’s lottery company (Manasse Fatonzoun), the head of research of a Ghanaian paper (Adwoa Amea Gyambibi), and a legal rights advocate in Rwanda (Frank Mugisha).  Shaka Ssali, of the Voice of America and a name I remember well from my Peace Corps days moderated (for the record, Julus Nyerere is his ‘social, intellectual patron saint’).

The Ambassadors of Botswana and the Ivory Coast were briefly given the floor.  Amb. Seretse of Botswana spoke on the need for African youth to harness the power of social media and for Africa to rely on trade not aid. Amb. Diabate of the Ivory Coast gave less stirring remarks, but was effusive in his praise of the VOA, noting ‘the voice of America is also the voice of Africa’.  Those who see Laurent Gbagbo’s removal from power in that country as a western conspiracy will probably not be amused by that comment.

Power Africa Hearing

The hearing consisted of two panels, most of which said basically the same thing – I began to cringe every time someone read prepared testimony noting that 6 of 10 sub-Saharan African do not have access to power, a number rising to 85% in rural areas.  Mimi Alemayehou of OPIC phrased this point in the most interesting matter, noting that the installed power capacity of all of sub-Saharan Africa is less than that of Delaware – this shocks me, I would have thought that South Africa alone would trump Delaware.

For those wanting to know how the five anglophone Africa countries and Ethiopia were selected as the initial Power Africa focus countries, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona (R) was in your corner (Senators Coons (D-DE), Markey (D-MA), and Corker (R-TN) were the others in attendance).  Earl Gast, Assistant Administrator for Africa at USAID noted that countries were selected based on a combination of three factors:

  • Countries in which the US Private Sector had interest in engaging
  • Countries in which there was significant energy poverty
  • Countries which had governments committed to making the reforms necessary for Power Africa to succeed

Senator Markey is very excited by Power Africa, noting that the Obama Administration is ‘primed to hit a home run’ and foster a ‘total revolution’ with the initiative.  Todd Moss must be squealing in an ecstasy of glee.

The second panel consisted of private sector experts, whose comments were more or less on par with those of the US government officials in the preceding panel.  Tony Elumelu was the lone African voice on the panel and it sounded like he had traveled here from Nigeria primarily for the purpose of delivering his testimony.  He noted the contribution that power can have to improving international security by reducing the appeal of terrorism. Representative from GE, Symbion Power, and the ONE Campaign reiterated the depths of energy poverty on the continent and the salubrious impacts that its alleviation can have on Africa’s economic situation.

Nigerian Ambassador at the hearing

Nigerian Ambassador at the hearing

Library of Congress

I spent several hours reading Liberian newspapers from the mid 1980’s – there were indeed a few mentions of the attempt of the government to extradite Charles Taylor from the US.  I was also struck by several stories about Liberians ‘volunteering’ up to two months of their salaries for infrastructure projects.  One of the most unusual pieces was a story on four American tourists who donated $50 to a local government head during their travels.  I’m not sure how that bodes if I do indeed move to Liberia.

Cell phones allowed during Congressional hearings!

Cell phones allowed during Congressional hearings!

 

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