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Obama Administration’s Power Africa Initiative Represents A ‘Strategic And Moral Advance’

“Before his current trip, President Obama’s Africa strategy was known for inattention at the highest level,” columnist Michael Gerson writes in a Washington Post opinion piece, continuing, “This is one of those rare cases, however, in which the reality has often been better than the rhetoric (or lack of it).” Gerson outlines some of the Obama administration’s accomplishments related to Africa, stating that the administration “has pushed for greater transparency” in foreign aid; “has renewed an emphasis on agricultural productivity through its Feed the Future initiative”; and “[i]n a difficult fiscal environment, it has fought to preserve overall aid budgets (though the recent cuts to PEPFAR … have been disturbing).” Despite these developments, “Obama has lacked a creative, signature initiative of his own,” but the announcement of a new U.S.-funded program, Power Africa, “aimed at doubling access to electricity across the continent — could be a major strategic and moral advance,” he writes.

Gerson discusses the electrical supply challenges in Africa, including the impact on health. He writes that it is difficult “for clinics to store vaccines or blood without reliable refrigeration, or for municipalities to run the pumps necessary for clean water and sanitation. Women and girls have an especially hard time of it: carrying firewood for long distances on their heads or backs, cooking with stoves that produce toxic fumes, giving birth in health facilities without lighting.” He continues, “Energy poverty is not merely economic; it is expressed in deforestation, respiratory illness, and maternal and child mortality” (7/1).