* Two-thirds of Africans lack access to electricity
* Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya among first countries in program
* Will include financial support for U.S. exporters
By Mark Felsenthal
JOHANNESBURG, June 30 Pointing to Africa's
crippling lack of electrical power, President Barack Obama is
due to announce on Sunday a $7 billion initiative over five
years to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.
"We see this as the next phase in our development strategy
and a real focal point in the president's agenda going forward,"
deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters
traveling with the president.
Obama is midway through a three-country tour of Africa and
is due to give what aides bill as his fullest description of his
vision for the U.S. relationship with the continent on Sunday.
The president has chosen historically resonant locations for
the address, and is due to speak at the University of Cape Town
after touring the prison on Robben Island. Robert F. Kennedy's
1966 speech at the university linked the struggles against
apartheid and the U.S. civil rights movement and was seen as
giving encouragement to the movement, while Robben Island is
where anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18
of his 27 years in jail.
The president will cite South Africa's long struggle to
defeat apartheid and the U.S. civil rights movement's success in
overcoming racial inequality as models of movements that brought
about change in the face of daunting obstacles, aides said. He
will call on young Africans to summon similar energy to complete
the work of those movements and to firmly establish economic
growth, democratic government, and stable societies across the
Obama has been faulted for lacking a grand program to
benefit Africa like the HIV/AIDS initiative launched by
President George W. Bush or the broad reductions of trade
barriers achieved by President Bill Clinton.
Many Africans have been disappointed at what they see as
Obama's hands-off approach to the continent, noting that his
first extended trip the continent has not come until his second
term in office despite his African ancestry. Obama's father was
a native of Kenya.
The president's aides say he has been held back by the need
to wind down two wars and to right the U.S. economy after the
worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Despite severe U.S. budget constraints, the power initiative
could provide Obama with just such a signature program.
DARKNESS BY NIGHT
Experts agree that the lack of electricity is a tremendous
hindrance to Africa's advancement.
"Africa is largely a continent of darkness by night," said
an official at a multilateral agency who spoke on condition of
anonymity. "Every which way you look at this, Africa is behind
the curve and pays more."
Roughly two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa lacks power, a
level that rises as high as 85 percent in rural areas, White
House aide Gayle Smith said.
Lack of power inhibits business investment, prevents
children from studying after dark, and makes it harder to keep
vaccines from spoiling in rural areas, she said.
The United States will initially work with Ethiopia, Ghana,
Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania to develop electric power
generation, officials said. It will also cooperate with Uganda
and Mozambique on oil and gas management.
The program will draw on a range of U.S. government agencies
to achieve its goals. For example, the U.S. Overseas Private
Investment Corp will commit as much as $1.5 billion in finance
and insurance to help U.S. companies manage the risks associated
with the projects.
Similarly, the U.S. Export-Import Bank will make up to $5
billion available to support U.S. exports to develop power
projects, the officials said.
The private sector will also be involved. Officials said
General Electric Co has committed to power generation
projects in Tanzania and Ghana, officials added.
The president's trip has taken him to Senegal and South
Africa and will wind up in Tanzania on Monday and Tuesday.
Although concerns over the ailing health of anti-apartheid hero
Mandela have overshadowed much of the trip, the president has
sounded the theme of Africa's economic potential at every stop.
In keeping with that emphasis, Obama will also announce that
he plans to hold a summit of sub-Saharan African leaders in
Washington next year.
"It's something other countries have done," Rhodes said.
"What we want to do is continue the kind of high-level
engagement we've had on this trip."