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Nearly two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to electricity, and service is often unreliable for those who do. The Obama administration has pledged $7 billion to fund infrastructure projects in several African nations. As more companies look at locating in these developing countries, we consider the value of U.S. infrastructure investments.
- Todd Moss Senior Fellow and Director of the Emerging Africa Project, Center for Global Development; author, "African Development: Making Sense of the Issue and Actors" (Lynne Rienner); former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa, State Department
- Amadou Sy Senior fellow, Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative; member of the Editorial Board, Global Credit Review
- Agnes Dasewicz Director, Private Capital Group for Africa at the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID)
- Zemedeneh Negatu Managing Partner and Head of Transaction Advisory, EY (formerly Ernst & Young) in Ethiopia
Zemedeneh Negatu On U.S. Investment In African Infrastructure
During our visit to Ethiopia, Kojo interviewed Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner for Ernst & Young in Ethiopia and head of transaction advisory services for Eastern Africa. Zem, as he’s called for short, still maintains a home in the Washington region, even though he has returned to Ethiopia to work for EY. He talks about what EY does in Addis Ababa, from managing transactions by international investors to advising Ethiopians on setting up companies. Zem also explains why he encourages members of the American diaspora community to come to Addis and invest their talent in Ethiopia’s economy.
Construction Projects Thrive In Addis Ababa
MR. KOJO NNAMDIImagine you're a small manufacturer who wants to get a shipment of good sent from Ethiopia to retailers in the U.S. and UK. Product is finished, packaged, ready to go but when you go to transfer the funds for the shipping costs at the bank the door is locked, the lights are out because there's no power for the second time this week. The delay sets your shipments back a week leaving you to deal with angry customers. I'm wondering if this bank would accept your gift of a generator.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a scenario that plays out all too often in cities and towns across Africa where countries on the continent that are rife and ready for development often lack the infrastructure to support it. China has been spending billions on projects and now the U.S. is getting in on the action with a power initiative. Joining us in studio to talk about this is Amadou Sy. He is senior fellow at Brookings' Africa Growth Initiative and currently serves as a member of the editorial board of the Global Credit Review. Amadou Sy, thank you for joining us.
MR. AMADOU SYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Todd Moss. He is chief operating officer and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. There he directs the Emerging Africa Project focusing on U.S. Africa relations and financial issues facing sub-Saharan Africa. Todd, good to see you again.
MR. TODD MOSSGood to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us now by phone is Agnes Dasewicz. She is director of the Private Capital Group for Africa at the U.S. Agency of International Development. Agnes Dasewicz, thank you for joining us. I'd like to start with you.
MS. AGNES DASEWICZThank you.
NNAMDIAfrican infrastructure investments have been heavy from countries like China. Now the U.S. is also getting in on this action. Can you explain for our listeners, what is Power Africa?
DASEWICZAbsolutely, and thank you very much for this opportunity. As you've noted earlier, about 70 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to electricity. And when you go out of towns and go into rural areas, that really increases up to 85 percent. Now obviously this lack of affordable reliable energy is really impeding the economic growth in a lot of these countries. But at the same time the region has significant potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy.
DASEWICZSo in order to really accelerate this development, President Obama launched Power Africa which really what it is, it's a partnership between the United States, the African governments and the private sector to bring about 10,000 new megawatts of power to sub-Saharan Africa which we estimate will provide about 20 million households with reliable affordable power. And hopefully serve to not only eradicate poverty but also really bring about economic growth.
NNAMDIFocusing on half a dozen countries, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique, why those countries?
DASEWICZWe chose those countries first because we do have limited resources, so we had to start with a small group of countries. But we really wanted to prove the model. We wanted to prove the model that the private sector, the U.S. governments and these governments, which are already in many cases making very tough but very much needed regulatory changes, to enable energy investment in their countries. We really wanted to make sure that this whole model of the three of these stakeholders coming together works before we expand it to other countries.
DASEWICZWe have -- sorry.
DASEWICZNo, I just wanted to add that the other -- because what's really important is not only for the African governments to make the reforms and to align their agencies to work with us private investors, but actually the U.S. government, what we've done is we've aligned 12 agencies to really work and focus on the same projects and working on bringing the power to those six countries before we really expand. So we just want to make sure things are working before we go very wide.
NNAMDII imagine this pool of money will have constraints on its use. What kind of criteria do products have to have -- or projects have to have in order to be funded through Power Africa?
DASEWICZSo as I mentioned, there are 12 agencies involved. And each one of these agencies already has a set of constraints against which their funding is deployed. What we're really looking for foremost is that these projects that we're supporting are really first in line with those countries' own plans for the development of their energy sector. That there was a chance and -- that they have a catalyzing role for bringing in private investments.
DASEWICZSo private investors need to be interested, and we need to be able to catalyze their participation. And also that the projects that we're supporting are really catalyzing reforms that can then turn into those countries bringing in more such projects. So for example, if we support geothermal plants, what we really want to do is make sure that that project turns into regulatory changes that are needed in that country to build ten more geothermal plants without any additional systems being provided.
NNAMDIYou may have answered my next question already, but I'll ask it anyway. While there may be some altruism motivating this investment it seems unlikely that that's the sole factor. What kind of return does the U.S. expect from this investment?
DASEWICZFor us, and especially for my agency USAID, obviously the developmental effect is most important. However, what we're really hoping for is to bring about economic growth. And I think that's important not only for USAID and for all the other U.S. agencies, but it's important for the U.S. What we found is Power Africa has really bipartisan support. And that is because what we're really doing is we're providing -- we're trying to help provide affordable power. Through that we're trying to drive economic growth which builds markets and really opens up the sector and builds up a class of consumers that can then take on American products and really build American jobs.
DASEWICZSo that's really the kind of return that we're looking for out of Power Africa. I think investors -- private investors, they have varying types of returns. We have impact investors who want to work with us who are really expecting very low types of returns. But we also have private equity funds who are expecting private equity type of returns. And therefore we really need to look at a vast variety of projects so that we can work with various types of return expectations.
NNAMDIWhere is the $7 billion coming from?
DASEWICZSo the $7 billion is really coming from several agencies. The largest commitment has been made by the Export Import Bank who is hoping to finance project of up to $5 billion, which would really catalyze sales of U.S. equipment to those countries and their energy sectors.
NNAMDIAgnes Dasewicz is director of the Private Capital Group for Africa, the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID. Thank you for joining us.
DASEWICZThank you very much.
NNAMDIAmadou, beyond the immediate impact of providing money for infrastructure projects, what else do you think might be in this deal both for the African nations taking part and for other African nations down the line?
SYI think Power Africa is very interesting because it kind of proposes a new model to engage African countries. You know, the numbers are there, 600 million people without electricity in Africa. You remember President Ellen Sirleaf's famous speech where she mentioned that Cowboy's stadium uses more electricity than the whole country of Liberia. We all know the costs, the human development costs, economic costs, the business costs. You know, I remember growing up saying university students at night having to go underneath a public light in order to study.
SYSo definitely solving the electricity problem has long term benefits for Africa. Now this is where -- but they have -- the problem is the challenges. So first there's the size of the problem. So 93 billion is needed per year to solve the infrastructure gap in Africa.
NNAMDIThat's 93 billion with a B.
SYYes, with a B. Out of these 93 billion, African governments through taxes and aide usually can bring 45 billion, which leaves a gap of 48 billion, right? Out of that 48 billion you could use better efficiency and so on to save 17 billion and you are left with about 31 billion. So now who will provide that money, right? We've already said that African countries have used the money they could raise through taxes. So we need to engage the private sector. And that's where Power Africa is interesting because you need to fill in this gap, number one.
SYNumber two, these power -- electricity projects are -- usually need long term funding. You need complex structures. And Power Africa is saying, well let’s have the public sector and the private sector and African governments together to find a solution to fill this gap. So this is really -- if it works that will really be a very interesting model that could be duplicated and maybe scaled up.
NNAMDIAllow me to invite members of our listening audience to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What role do you think the U.S. should take in providing infrastructure assistance in the developing nations of Africa, 800-433-8850? Todd, as Amadou was pointing out, though a large investment from the point of view of my pocketbook, Power Africa will just be a small percentage of the funds that are really necessary to provide full access to power in these countries by the year 2030. Just how great is the need?
MOSSWell, I think Amadou hit on the key point which is that we need to bring private money to build large modern energy services. You actually don't want to do that with foreign public money. And that's why the emphasis on agencies like the Export Import Bank and agencies like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which are the two biggest components of Power Africa, are important.
MOSSFirst, neither of those agencies draw money from taxpayers. They have their own tax base. They actually make profits. So it's really not costing U.S. taxpayers money. And their model by making it commercial untaps -- taps into private capitol. For example, when OPEC invests in a power project in Africa, for every dollar they put in in a natural gas power project they bring in 4 to 5 private dollars into that project. So they're really unleashing a lot of private money towards those projects.
MOSSAnd that's really the role for U.S. government agencies, not to build stuff in foreign countries but to help unleash their own potential.
NNAMDIAmadou quoted the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's speech earlier. Americans with our refrigerators, laptops, air conditioning and so on, we use quite a bit of electricity. How does the need in these countries compare with our use here?
MOSSYeah, it's really remarkable. You know, I was looking at how much power does the average person use in each of those six countries. And, you know, it's not uncommon that the average is around 100 kilowatt hours per year, which doesn't mean anything. Even -- you know, it's a very vague concept. But just the day after I was looking at these numbers, I was out shopping for a new refrigerator. And I noticed that my refrigerator was -- the new refrigerator -- you know, high tech frig was only using -- was using about 400 kilowatt hours. And that is ten times what an Ethiopian would use. So the gaps are just absolutely tremendous.
MOSSAnother way of thinking about this, when Agnes quoted that the majority of Africans don't have access to any electricity, the definition of what modern energy access is internationally is about 100 kilowatt hours per year. And that is what you or I, the average American uses in three days. So that's -- even at that definition we're talking extremely low volumes of electricity.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Todd Moss is chief operating officer and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. He joins us in studio along with Amadou Sy, senior fellow at Brookings' Africa Growth Initiative. He currently serves as a member of the Editorial Board of the Global Credit Review. What kind of return do you think the U.S. should expect on its investments, 800-433-8850? We mentioned earlier about the fact that in Power Africa there were only about half a dozen countries involved. Well, Entel in Laurel, Md. wants to talk about a country that isn't. Entel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, you're on the air, Entel, go ahead.
ENTELThank you. I'm going to speak on -- from the perspective of the International Development consultant. And from my basis I'm looking at Power Africa and I see the old paradigm of assistance to Africa where it seems as if they're thinking that we're just going to pay to them. This is a business and as a business proposal from an American point of view, I see it as ill-conceived. Why? Because at this point the six countries, for whatever reasons we chose them, we left one country out of it, which is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
ENTELIt says, you know, if they are (unintelligible) invested in it can power 50 percent of the continent. So if I put my money in the six countries and then another investor comes and puts their money in the Congo, my proposal is a losing proposal. Why should I do that?
NNAMDIAllow me to have Todd Moss and Amadou Sy respond. I suspect some of this has to do with the climate in the Congo so to speak.
SYYeah, so one thing to say is that there are already projects, the Inga Dam project in the DRC to provide...
NNAMDIThat's the Congo, yes.
SY...yeah, in the Congo to provide hydroelectric power to the region. One thing which is really important is that at some point Power Africa will have to deal with regional projects. The African Union Commission has this document which shows that African countries themselves have agreed on what priorities they are out there. And power comes first. And there are lots of progress in Africa towards building regional communities like the East African community in -- you know, which includes Uganda, Tanzania and so on and 150 million people.
SYSo at some point Power Africa will need to be scaled up and to also deal with regional projects. But I think that the International Community is already engaged in the DRC.
NNAMDIAnd I was wondering if part of the reason for the lack of inclusion in this power initiative has to do with the instability that currently exists in the Congo?
MOSSWell, I think, you know, as Agnes pointed out, they wanted to start in a small subset of countries where they thought power projects were most ripe to push forward. And the fact they included Nigeria and Ethiopia means they're getting a large chunk of the African population. But I think that the caller, saying that this is the same old aid project is fundamentally wrong. And it's in large part because this initiative did not come out of thin air. It came after a very clear message coming from Africa, from African leaders to American officials, that power was a top priority of theirs and that infrastructure investment is one of the things that they would like to see as a basis for U.S./African partnership going forward. And I see this as the administration responding quite aggressively and creatively.
MOSSAnd there's another interesting thing about this, which is that the bipartisan report is really something quite unique in Washington these days. The president announced this in June and just soon after Congress proposed an Electrify Africa Act. It was a bipartisan bill led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, but with lots of sponsors on both sides. Right now that bill is being reconsidered and they've got 44 sponsors from both sides of the aisle. So I think that there are a lot of things coming together to support this initiative.
NNAMDIAmadou, I brought up the issue of stability, but that may not be unique to the DRC or the Congo. The Washington Post recently ran a chart of countries most likely to see a coup this year and I couldn't help but notice that some of the nations in the Power Africa arrangements are on it. How does political stability factor into your decisions about where to invest?
SYWell, in terms of political similarity, the issue is all about mitigating the risks. It's all about managing the risks. A few weeks ago we had an investor who invests a lot in Africa. And we were surprised because he was telling us that he had investments in both Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. And even during the midst of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire he managed to make better returns in Cote d'Ivoire than in Ghana. So I think the issue is to have the instruments to mitigate the risks and they are there. You have risk mitigation insurance. You have the Xing Bank. You have, at the international level, institutions like MIGA. You have export created agencies. So I think the business community has a long experience of doing business -- I mean some oil companies have been in Angola when the Cubans and the South African army were fighting.
SYNow, governance issues are another problem. And I think there is a clear commitment to -- and Africa is democratized to some extent. And there's a clear commitment to improve governance, to have peace and stability in the region, which at the end benefits everybody.
NNAMDIHave to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on Power Africa and investment in infrastructure on the continent. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the U.S. and other developed nations should have been investing more in infrastructure all along? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about investment in Africa infrastructure in general and the U.S. initiative Power Africa in particular with Amadou Sy, senior fellow at the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative, currently serving as a member of the editorial board of the global credit review. And Todd Moss, chief operating officer and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he directs the Emerging Africa Project, focusing on U.S./Africa relations and financial issues facing sub-Saharan Africa.
NNAMDII think I'll start with the telephones this time and talk with Mayank, in Washington. Mayank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAYANKHi, Kojo. This is my Mayank calling from Washington, D.C. We just came across your show right now. Hadn't planned on hearing it, but have been very pleasantly surprised because we are actually a Power Africa partner and an investor in Tanzania. We currently have a project under way where we're putting up a five megawatt solar power plant in Western Tanzania, right next to the border of Congo, which the previous caller had talked about. And I just thought it would be a great opportunity to…
NNAMDIWhat does it look like from the ground where you are?
MAYANKWell, currently I'm in D.C., but we were there in Tanzania a week ago. It's been a rough ride -- a tough ride. Let me put that way, Kojo. We've been on this for three years, but if it hadn't been for the Power Africa Initiative, which we became a partner only about four months ago, it would have probably taken us longer because unlike other projects, we were not relying on any grant or any financial assistance. We were purely, as a private investor to see how we can invest in the power infrastructure of Africa. And we've seen surprisingly great results. We're working with OPEC for financing, USAID and USDDA. And if everything goes well we should switch on the first project in about three and a half months from now.
NNAMDIMayank, thank you very much for sharing that with us. One of the things that stood out when we -- two producers and I -- were recently in Ethiopia, especially in Addis Ababa, was the apparent pace of development. And while there I talked with Zemedeneh Negatu -- known as Zem to his friends here especially -- a managing partner for the company formally known Ernst & Young, now known as EY in Ethiopia. Here's what Zem had to say about where investment funds are already coming from and where projects like Power Africa fit in.
MR. ZEMEDENEH NEGATUThe Chinese are pouring billions of dollars into Ethiopia. Billions, not a hundred of millions, billions of dollars into Ethiopia. The Indians are doing the same thing. The newly emerging economies are actually taking the lead in investing in the very early stage of emerging economies like Ethiopia. We asked the Americans, where are you? Now, to their credit, a few years ago most Americans, they wouldn't want to hear about Africa, even less so a place like (unintelligible). But I can tell you more and more Americans are actually starting to come. And just recently there was a $4 billion power sector deal announced in Ethiopia. Almost all that $4 billion is coming from the United States. It's American capital. It's in the power sector.
MR. ZEMEDENEH NEGATUThat was simply unthinkable a few years ago. So, yes, the U.S. has lagged behind and I think they let the Chinese kind of started to swarm Africa and more so -- but I expect -- there's a $600 million private equity deal from Wall Street that we are currently working on in the energy space, of course. But still, you know, Americans are starting to come. But I agree with you, the Americans were a little slow on the uptake of coming here.
NNAMDIWell, when you mention a $4 billion power deal, for those of us who have only been here for a few days, the first thing we think of is the electrical grid, infrastructure.
NNAMDIThere are regular power outages here and for people who are interested in coming here to do business that would be a crucial need for there to be a greater reliability of electrical power. Is that where that $4 billion is going?
NEGATUAbsolutely. In fact, we kind of need to put things in perspective.
NEGATUAs I said, this is a country that is dramatically changing. I mean certainly in the 15 years that I've been here. Power is a very good example. About 10 years ago the entire installed power of Ethiopia was about 700 megawatts. Today, it's around 2,500. By 2017 it'll be 10,000. And as you may have heard, the largest hydroelectric power dam in Africa is being built in Ethiopia, on the Nile River. Now, if you take away the politics between Egypt and Ethiopia and the Egyptians say you can't take away water, the reality is in three and a half years that dam will be operational and it'll produce 6,000 megawatts. As I said, it's the largest. So it has to be a forward-looking outlook that you have when you come and invest here.
NEGATUBy the way, investors coming to Ethiopia and the broader Africa, what we suggest to them is don't come as portfolio investor, you come today, go out tomorrow. Africa is long-term investment and more so Ethiopia. So if you are a manufacturer, if the outlook is 2,550 megawatt today, 5,000 next year, and in the next three or four years it'll be 10,000 megawatts. Then you could put together a business plan that would at least take the power risks into consideration. And I think you would do well. But that $4 billion power deal is part of this equation. Actually it's a plus, plus. It's in addition to the 10,000 that I talked about.
NEGATUAnd it's purely private-sector investment. Up until now all of the power investment in Ethiopia was done by the state monopoly, but now they've opened it up so private investment is starting to come. We just saw another announcement recently. So one of the things you should do -- Ethiopia is looking to be a manufacturing hub in Africa, to produce value-added and exported. So many factories from China are starting to move to Ethiopia. Labor costs. Manufacturing and labor costs in Ethiopia is $80 a month. In China it's nearing 600. So even the Chinese are starting to realize that and transplanting and moving. A lot of the shoes that you buy in D.C. are actually now manufactured in Ethiopia. Yes, by Chinese companies, but out of Ethiopia.
NEGATUSo this is the kind of transformation that we see and the message we try to send to American investors.
NNAMDIYou can hear our entire conversation with Zemedeneh Negatu at our website, kojoshow.org. But, Amadou and Todd, Zem also talked to us about the huge growth some businesses have seen within Ethiopia in the last decade, despite the lack of reliable electricity. What kind of growth might we expect if we begin to see real progress on infrastructure upgrades?
SYI think the potential in Africa is really great. It reminds me, 20, 30 years ago when foreign investors were looking at China and debating whether to get in or not. I mean the demographics are there. They say the PIN code right now for the global population is 1-1-1-4. So one African, one European, and four Asian. But in 2100 it will be 1-1-4-5 I think. So demographics are there, the trend is there, Africa is growing. But what Africa needs now is jobs. And one way to unleash, basically, the potential of Africa and provide jobs is through infrastructure. But I think in the case of Ethiopia there are two interesting things.
SYOne thing is actually Ethiopia, which doesn't have oil, doesn't produce gas, is said to be an exporter of energy to some of its neighbors, which is quite a feat. The other thing about Ethiopia, which has some pros and cons, is that Ethiopia has a model, in terms of policy, where it's a top-down policy. So the government has a strategy. And that's very important for many African countries. They have a strategy and they're sticking to it. Now, it's very much state led, but some argue there's even more potential in Ethiopia if they were, let's say, to liberalize the telecom sector. In other African countries cell phones have been -- it's a success story.
SYIn my country, in Senegal, more than 90 percent of people have a cell phone now.
NNAMDII didn't know that. More than 90 percent. Todd, infrastructure investment used to make up a bigger portion of U.S. spending in developing nations than it is now. Why did it fall out of favor and why return to it now?
MOSSWell, I think development assistance certainly shifted away from big infrastructure into things like basic health and basic education. It was easier to sell. Some of the early infrastructure that was built was not of high quality or had other kinds of problems. But I think right now it's very, very clear that the principal constraint on economic growth in Africa is infrastructure. Principally, energy and transportation infrastructure. And the scale is tremendous. We heard Zem talk about Ethiopia. A country like Nigeria, which is huge, 170 million people, they have 4,000 megawatts right now. Their goal is 10,000, but the demand in Nigeria we estimate at around 55,000 by 2025.
MOSSAnd that means that while it's great that people are going to do solar projects in rural areas, there is still about 200 million Africans right now living in cities that don't have access to electricity. So it's not that everybody's in villages that uses fire for light and for cooking, but actually it's people in cities. And many of the countries, including all of the countries in Power Africa, are either producing natural gas right now or actively exploring for that. And that means, just like here in the United States, where natural gas is a boom, Africa is going to have a lot of power done by natural gas. And I realize that makes some people nervous, saying well why would we encourage them to go down the fossil fuel route? Yes, global carbon dioxide emissions are problem, but I think we need to be very careful about asking where is the problem.
MOSSIn the United States we have over 3,000 power plants that run on fossil fuels and a country like Ghana, Ghana has two. So I think we should be extremely cautious before telling Ghana they shouldn't build a third plant with their own natural gas.
NNAMDIAmadou, we're running out of time. But now that this big U.S. investment in power is being made, let's start a wish list. Where else would you like to see infrastructure funds directed in the coming years, whether from the U.S., China or private sources?
SYSo I'm a big believer in regional integration in Africa. I mean the whole country of Kenya is as big as Madison, Wisconsin. But Kenya, within the EAC is 150 million. So have regional projects and have more countries benefit from it and explore these economies of scale.
NNAMDISame question to you, Todd.
MOSSWell, look, I think that there are two areas. One, clearly we need to invest in new kinds of technology and delivery systems that are going to reach people that have a clear demand. You know we think often of rural Africans as not having cash to pay for things, but the mobile phones I think show that that's just not the case. And the prevalence of generators everywhere, which are extremely costly and very polluting, mean that we need to invest in newer technologies to get energy out to the rural populations. But really a lot of it is going to be kind of what we did and what Europe and Asia has done, which is building some big power plants, connect those to mining and industrial zones and drive economic growth.
NNAMDITodd Moss is chief operating officer and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he directs the Emerging Africa Project, focusing on U.S./Africa relations and financial issues facing sub-Saharan Africa. Todd, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Amadou Sy is senior fellow at the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative. He currently serves as a member of the editorial board of the Global Credit Review. Amadou, thank you for joining us.
SYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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