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Africa Needs Energy Infrastructure To Fully Develop

Top Energy Department official offers views on U.S- Africa Ministerial

April 1999

By Charles W. Corey, USIA Staff Writer

Washington-- Affordable and reliable sources of energy are what is needed all across sub-Saharan if the region is develop to its full economic potential , says Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Calvin Humphrey.

And that is a major reason why the U.S. Department of Energy(DOE) will participating in the March 16-18" U.S.- Africa Ministerial: Partnership for the 21st Century."

Humphrey, who briefed 14 African journalist on DOE's role in the ministerial, said the establishment of a fully operational and efficient energy infrastructure is key to any nation or region's development.

According to Humphrey, " without adequate power and resources, children, your children, the children of Africa cannot study at night. They are limited. That hampers their educational growth opportunities."

Besides energy, the ministerial will address a broad array of topics, from economic development to human rights and transparency. Forty-six African nations will be represented. The event will be opened by President Clinton and attended by Cabinet ministers and other senior members of the U.S. government, including Humphrey.

To illustrate how far Africa must go to develop a fully fuctioning energy infrastructure, Humphrey cited electric usage rates in sub-Saharan Africa. "When we look at sub-Saharan Africa... with all of its hundreds of millions of people, it is amazing to note that on a yearly basis... its citizens-- minus South Africa-- consume only the same amount of electricity as New York City."

That is "astonishing," he said, considering that New York City has a population about 12 million people, compared to sub-Sarahan Africa's estimated 700 million people.

"That statistic weighs heavily on our minds at the Department of Energy, " he said , and is what is driving DOE to help the region develop its energy infrastructure.

"We at Energy clearly believe that one of the locomotives that drives economic development and can catapult nations into the global economy is energy. If we can develop the energy infrastructure, that will permit industry to come in, that will permit various companies to invest and bring much needed and badly needed power to the cities and rural areas. It will provide such things as clean, potable water... and we can all do this while protecting the environment."

Everyone is conscious of Africa's "precious land" and wealth of wildlife and fauna that needs to be protected, he stressed.

"We want to make certain that we share our technology with Africans to assist them developing," he said.

For that reason, he said, what is most important is the notion of sharing in a partnership. "We have tremendous amount of expertise in the energy sector," he said. Africans" have tremendous expertise in what works in Africa. We want to share with you our technology, our knowledge, and mold it into a shape and a form that fits the African public."

At the ministerial's energy round table, DOE will discuss the important topic of regulatory reform.

"Through regulatory reform," Humphrey told the Africans,'' we must create an environment that encourages investment, foreign capital investment. We must create a regulatory system that is transparent, that gives sanctity to contracts--not only in the legal sense, but in the spirit of these contracts as well.

Humphrey noted that the United States wants to help Africa develop its energy resources-- not just to exploit its fossil fuels, such as gas ,oil, and coal, but to "use some of the continent's renewable energy resources," such as solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal energy.

In South Africa, Humphrey said, DOE has helped construct 200 energy-efficient homes and is planning to build 6,000 more. In Ghana, he said, DOE is helping the country use solar power to run its street lights.

Another theme that DOE will stress at the ministerial is deregulation, he explained, because deregulation sparks competition, which improves services and lowers the price consumers pay for energy.

Concluding, Humphrey recalled Africa's tremendous energy wealth. Last year, he said, the United States imported 1.7 million barrels of petroleum products each day, or 17 percent of total U.S. petroleum imports for 1998, from the region.

That presents tremendous opportunities, he said," if we can work with African governments and also with the private sector. While this ministerial certainly brings 46 African countries together with the United States, it is abundantly important that we also reach out to the private sector. This cannot be a government-to-government" affair. " This has to be a true, sustained development of the energy sector."