WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this evening delivered the following remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 2548, the Electrify Africa Act:
“Thank you. I first would like to begin by thanking our Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Royce, for working with us in a bipartisan manner on this important legislation and for his longstanding commitment to improving U.S.-Africa relations and lifting Africans out of poverty.
“Mr. Royce has as long—for many years on the Foreign Affairs Committee—worked with and been very concerned about Africa, and this bill is in part a culmination of his hard work and his longstanding dedication.
“In the United States, we take reliable electricity for granted. When we flip the switch, we expect the lights to come on. This winter, many of us were frustrated when storms knocked out our power. Life was harder as we impatiently waited for the electricity to be restored. But imagine if the power never came back. And that was your life, every day, year in and year out. That’s the stark reality facing many families in Africa.
“Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most energy-deficient regions of the world, with nearly 70 percent of the population—more than half a billion people—lacking access to electricity. In some countries the figure is even higher. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 85 percent of the population has no power. In Kenya, 82 percent of the population has no power. And in Uganda, 92 percent. These are truly staggering statistics.
“The lack of reliable electricity has a major impact on day-to-day life, and many negative consequences. In desperation, people burn anything they can find for heat and cooking: wood, plastic, trash and other toxic materials. These dirtier fuels cause greater harm to people’s health and also to the environment.
“Many businesses have had a hard time succeeding because they are forced to pour expensive diesel fuel into generators day and night, or deal with constant power outages from unreliable electrical grids. Hospitals cannot provide adequate services because they are unable to provide consistent cold storage, light, or power for life-saving devices. And the list goes on and on.
“This legislation directs the Executive Branch to develop a strategy to increase electrification in Africa and to employ U.S. assistance programs to help accomplish that goal. This long-term strategy will focus not only on providing incentives for the private sector to build more power plants, but also on increasing African government accountability and transparency, improving regulatory environments, and increasing access to electricity in rural and poor communities through small, renewable energy projects.
“Only by addressing all of these challenges in a comprehensive way will millions of people in Africa finally have access to electricity that will allow them to grow their economies and ultimately reduce their reliance on foreign aid.
“I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this—a very important piece of legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.”