Todd Moss testified along with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (World Trade Organization), Donald Kaberuka (African Union), and Rama Yade (Atlantic Council) at the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressional Roundtable: “U.S. Leadership on A Multilateral Approach to Africa.”
Watch the roundtable and read the full transcript of Todd’s testimony below.
Thank you, Chairman Meeks and Ranking Member McCaul. Why does energy matter to US leadership in Africa? Why do I work on energy?
The answer to both of these is the same: Because Africans need a lot more energy and energy is one of America’s greatest strengths. When I served at the State Dept, I was struck how often our closest African allies wanted help attracting investment in infrastructure. That’s why I started working on energy poverty when I returned to private life. And that’s why we started the Energy for Growth Hub, a nonprofit research network dedicated to building a high energy future for everyone.
Let’s start with the scale of the opportunity. Sometime in the next 25 years, Nigeria will be larger than the US in population. Yet today, the average American uses nearly 100 times as much electricity as the average Nigerian. 100 times. That’s a lot of unmet energy demand. Just getting all Nigerians to 1,000 kWh per year – what we call the modern energy minimum – would take an increase in Nigeria’s installed capacity of at least 15x.
So energy is a massive opportunity for the US to be a serious partner and work with our African allies to meet one of their fundamental needs, to promote US technology, and to provide an alternative to Russia and China.
But I fear we are failing miserably to seize this opportunity.
One example: what’s happened lately to Power Africa. Power Africa was President Obama’s signature Africa initiative. It successfully helped build power plants and connect millions more people. Power Africa showed that US initiatives can work when you have clear goals, an array of tools, and a dedicated coordinator with a budget.
But the past 6 years have shown what happens when you draw the wrong lessons.
First, the Trump administration tried to copy Power Africa on the cheap. Copycat initiatives were launched in Asia and Latin America, but with no new resources and none of the coordinator’s capabilities. No surprise, both were failures.
Then the Biden Administration made big promises to take partnership with Africa seriously, but has seemingly left Power Africa to whither. It’s been largely starved of budget and subsumed under the still-amorphous Prosper Africa.
Worse, instead of Power Africa’s original mandate to respond to Africa’s needs, it’s become just another climate initiative.
With the EU declaring natural gas as green and Europe turning coal plants back on, it’s no longer tenable for the US to treat Africa differently by pressing the continent to forego using its own natural gas for power, industry, fertilizer, and cleaner cooking. In Africa, this is obviously seen as hypocritical and our policies are increasingly frustrating for African leaders.
The Biden Administration is also whiffing on the interagency lessons from Power Africa. The Whote House just announced a new Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. It’s great that the White House and the G7 are talking about infrastructure investment.
But PGII has no clear goals, no new resources, no new tools, and relies on the dreaded “whole of government.” PGII creates a labyrinth of interagency committees. A coordinator is supposed to corral 13 departments and agency heads but has no budget and no real authority. In my view, there is zero chance this will work. Instead, PGII is likely to be another source of frustration for our African allies.
What should we do instead?
- Stop treating Africa’s energy security as secondary. Africans will of course take advantage of low cost wind and solar but many countries will want to use some of their gas at home. And they’ll need infrastructure to do that. The good news is that there is no plausible scenario where Africa’s use of natural gas matters to global emissions. None. So we should stop the climate theater of pretending we’re fighting climate change by banning downstream gas finance in the poorest countries. It’s not helping the climate. And it’s hurting real people who need reliable power, jobs, fertilizer, and cleaner cooking fuels.
- Let’s fully fund Power Africa. It deserves a line item in the budget and should be fully staffed and resourced as originally envisioned.
- Let’s think bigger: We can make Power Africa better and more fit for today’s purpose by turning it into an African Energy Progress Fund. In many countries generation is no longer the big bottleneck – it’s transmission, utility finances, integrating new technologies like storage, and integrated planning.
If we are serious about partnering with Africa and accelerating the global energy transition, we would turn Power Africa from a niche initiative focused on individual projects into a wider Fund that can work across the energy sector to partner on building a low carbon energy system that can meet Africa’s full energy needs of the future. Indeed, an African Energy Progress Fund would far better serve US environmental, development, and national security goals.