Panel clears bill to help electrify Africa

The House Foreign Affairs panel unanimously on Thursday approved legislation requiring the Obama administration to come up with a plan to encourage African countries to provide electricity to its almost 600 million people — 68 percent of the population — who are going without.

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The legislation from Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) seeks in part to counter growing Chinese influence on the continent. It calls on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide grants and loan guarantees, directs the Treasury Department to work with the World Bank and African Development Bank to increase electrification investments in sub-Saharan Africa and instructs the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to prioritize electrical sector investments in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The Electrify Africa Act mandates a clear and comprehensive U.S. policy, so that the private sector can proceed with the certainty it needs to generate electricity in Africa — at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer,” Royce, the chairman of the committee, said in a statement after the vote. 

“We need to be engaged. Where the United States has left a void for economic investment in Africa, China has stepped in to direct nearly $2 billion towards energy projects on the continent. If the United States wishes to tap into this potential consumer base, we must act now.”

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