In the wake of Barack Obama’s Power Africa development initiative, launched in February, Alvaro Sobrinho calls for further private sector investment in Africa’s energy grid.
Dr Sobrinho has often convincingly argued in favour of private involvement in development programmes. He believe – and not without reason – that the private sector is more capable and willing to offer the kind of investment that Africa needs in order to achieve economic and social progress.
While he supports Obama’s Power Africa programme, claiming that it “deserves credit for marshalling private investments” as well as focusing on the role of government, he believes that far more could be done to encourage businesses to take part in electrifying Africa.
Power Africa, Sobrinho points out, will only reach 50 million Africans, leaving a further 500 million without electricity. The private sector, Sobrinho goes on to say, is capable of achieving what African governments and international aid efforts have so far failed to do: electrify the continent.
Africa’s renewable resources are impressive; more than 10 terawatts of solar energy are available on the continent, alongside an enormous amount of wind power and geothermal energy. Bar a few notable exceptions, such as Morocco’s gigantic solar farm, African nations have largely failed to harness the renewable energy on offer. In part, this is due to lack of political willingness, but more often it comes down to technological know-how and financing; this, argues Dr Sobrinho, is where business can step in and offer assistance.
The private sector can wield huge resources and is teeming with technological know-how. For these reasons Dr Sobrinho feels that the private sector, rather than governments or aid agencies, is best placed to deal with Africa’s energy problems.
Dr Sobrinho recognises that a developmental feat such as bringing electricity to an entire continent cannot be achieved single-handed however. He has called on business to, “join forces with African governments and the broader civil society to help address this challenge.”
As yet, the question remains whether business will rise to the challenge.