During a visit to Africa in June, President Barack Obama announced a US drive to improve power for the two thirds of Africans who lack a reliable supply.
But legislation in Congress, which is more concrete and ambitious than Obama’s initial statement, had been held up by a dispute on whether to support electrical plants that produce large amounts of carbon blamed for climate change.
The bill, approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sets a goal of installing 20,000 megawatts of power in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 and reaching at least 50 million people who do not have electricity.
The funding would come from the private sector, using government-backed credit guarantees.
Representative Ed Royce, who chairs the panel, hailed the Electrify Africa Act as a way for the United States to contribute to the continent’s development, as lack of power impedes everything from education to health care.
Royce, a Republican who worked on the bill with members of Obama’s Democratic Party, said that the plan would also help American companies tap into a growing consumer market and show US engagement in the face of China’s rising presence in Africa.
The bill still needs approval from the full House of Representatives and Senate, but the committee vote indicated broad support.
However, the legislation came under fire from Representative Mo Brooks, a conservative Republican from Alabama who said that the United States was not financially sound enough to be “building power plants and power lines in Africa.”
“I very much appreciate the altruistic motivations that I’ve heard in support of this legislation, but quite frankly, I don’t believe America’s financial condition is such that it supports spending money that we don’t have on these projects,” Brooks said.