- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at an event sponsored by the One Campaign on energy poverty in Africa and his bipartisan efforts with Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) to combat this issue through the Electrify Africa Act of 2015 (H.R. 2847):
“Now for full disclosure, Jackie used to work for me. So she still says nice things. It’s pretty good when someone who worked for you—doesn’t work for you anymore—and they say nice things about you. So, thank you.
“This room is very special to me. I’m now in my 14th term. My 27th year in Congress. And when I was first elected back in 1988—when some of you probably were born—the first thing we did in January of 1989 was have a party for people in my district who were traveling down to Washington to celebrate my new election as a new Member of Congress. We had the party right in this room. So, I’ll always remember 2255.
“Chairman Royce is a little bit detained. He will be here. And if he was here—speaking before me—he would have told you that he views energy poverty as an important issue in our foreign policy. And so do I. We agree on this and many other things. But certainly energy poverty is important. And events like this one really help to drive the momentum here in Congress. So I’m grateful to all of you for your commitment.
“I want to welcome Selmor Mtukudzi. I hope I didn’t get that too bad. We had a chance to speak before. And her husband is here as well. And we welcome them. This is their first time to Washington. And they promised me if I go to Zimbabwe, I can visit Victoria Falls. So that’s a pretty good trade. I’d love to do that.
“We all speak out in different ways when it comes to the topics that we’re passionate about. In the case of Selmor, she’s singing out. Good thing I’m not singing out because you would all leave this room pretty quick. She’s singing about the way women and girls in Africa and around the world are held back from living up to their potential. There are lots of reasons for this as we know. And energy poverty is one of the biggest challenges that women are facing.
“Nearly 70 percent of Africans lack access to electricity. That’s a shocking statistic. You know something that we take for granted. We just turn on the lights or turn on the TV or turn on whatever it is. And we don’t even think twice about ‘well maybe it won’t turn on, maybe there’s a problem.’
“And then if there’s a power blackout, once every you know eight years or ten years, and we’re all frustrated because we don’t know what to do. But, imagine if you never knew that you could go and get electricity. And you turn something on and it didn’t go on. And if it’s 70 percent of Africans lacking access to it. It’s really something with which we shall be concerned. Human beings should not have to live like that.
“So think about what it means. Think about what that means for patients needing health care, or children needing an education. Think about the number of things that I mentioned that we take for granted every day that require us to plug in: refrigeration of food, powering our electronics, flipping on the light.
“And then think about trying to grow an economy or build an infrastructure without access to reliable power. You can’t. It’s impossible. Who is going to invest? How can we expect communities to thrive or countries to become strong partners on the global stage without electricity?
“So you know this problem—as in most problems—disproportionately affects women and girls. In so many places without electricity, the responsibility to gather fuel and cook and farm often falls to women and girls. So, you have the time spent and the personal danger involved with gathering fuel. The health risks posed by children cooking over dangerous, unhealthy fuel sources. No way to store food or process harvests. And no way to get good medical treatment when all of these factors take their toll.
“So it’s all encompassing. It affects every aspect of life. This is wrong. We cannot stand by, and allow it to continue. It keeps women on the margins of society in so many places, and it hinders growth and progress for so many communities.
“And that’s why Chairman Royce and I wrote the Electrify Africa Act. Now you should know, Chairman Royce is the Republican Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And I’m the Democratic Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And we wrote this together. I can’t think of anything better than doing it on a bipartisan basis than something like this.
“We do a lot of things—Chairman Royce and I—on a bipartisan basis. But this is one of which I’m most proud. This legislation says that it’s America’s policy to encourage access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. It directs our government to take action to increase electricity generation and access without added spending. It would help clear roadblocks for so many populations without access to power, and it would stab at the heart of energy poverty in Africa.
“We passed this bill in the House last Congress. I hope we’ll soon act on it again. And I hope the Senate will take it up so we can get it to the President’s desk and make a real difference for those who need it most.
“So, this is—as we say in colloquial English—this is like apple pie and motherhood. And who would be against this? Who should be against this? Everybody needs to be for this. So please we need you.
“Please stay energized and focused on this issue. Call your representatives, your Congress Members, and your Senators and let them know this should be a priority for them. And thank you all again for your partnership and your commitment. It’s a pleasure to work with you. Thanks a lot.”