I am very excited to welcome Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to Stockholm for his second visit in less than a year. His visit underscores the strong and continuing partnership between Sweden and the United States and commemorates the one year mark of the signing of a formal agreement on international development cooperation.
One of the defining areas of cooperation under the agreement will be the focus of a meeting taking place on October 22 here in Stockholm. The United States and Sweden are bringing together donors, institutional investors, and multilateral organizations to discuss how to help mobilize private capital at scale for investment in African infrastructure, particularly in the energy sector. These investments are necessary to maintain strong growth and in particular, to make growth inclusive and alleviate poverty.
The meeting builds on the groundwork that was laid during a roundtable meeting on August 3, 2014, in connection with the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit held in Washington, when the Government of Sweden formally announced a commitment to catalyse up to one billion U.S. dollars over the next ten years in support of President Obama’s Power Africa initiative. Sweden’s bilateral financial pledge for Power Africa represented the first such partnership between the United States and another donor government on this important initiative. Together with the earlier U.S. pledge of seven billion over the first five-year phase, the funds will be aimed at doubling access to electricity in energy poor sub-Saharan Africa where approximately two-thirds of the population now live without access.
The irony is that Africa has tremendous renewable energy potential, ranging from geothermal to abundant solar and wind power. Power Africa targets precisely the development of these abundant resources while helping Africa avoid a rise in carbon emissions – something which is not just in the interest of African nations. Moreover, Power Africa is a private sector led initiative; total private sector commitments to date amount to more than $20 billion.
Attention-grabbing headlines about Africa in both the Swedish and American media often focus the public’s attention on the crisis of the day — terrorist acts, deadly diseases, or the latest armed conflict. People miss the broader perspective and larger story about a continent that is on the rise. It is precisely this unparalleled African transformation that has led to a new partnership between Sweden and the United States strategically focused on providing Africa with the tools and conditions to generate its own clean, renewable energy and skip a dirty, fossil fuel-based phase of development.
The focus of Power Africa is on helping African countries create the right conditions to attract private sector investment in the field of renewable energy, largely through regulatory environment reform, loans, and financial service products. The sad truth is that Africa, despite giving off fewer greenhouse gases than any other part of the world, is one of the places most heavily impacted by climate change. And these climactic changes have consequences for political stability. For example, diminishing water resources and shrinking harvest in some parts of the continent leave communities increasingly vulnerable to conflict and violence.
The Swedish and U.S. collaboration on Power Africa goes beyond the day-to-day excellent coordination and cooperation that our respective development agencies already enjoy; it reflects a genuine alignment of vision and goals about helping a continent seize this moment of promise when it can finally lift itself from strife, poverty, and disease. Africa is now home to seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, numerous multiparty democracies, and vibrant, innovative communities. Sweden and the United States see that the tipping point has come that we can help Africa consolidate these gains and help put the continent on a trajectory to grow even further.
In making this commitment to Africa, Sweden and the United States are taking a long-term perspective. It is inevitable that as Africa’s prosperity expands, so will the prosperity of our two nations. History has repeatedly shown that stable, secure, and prosperous nations make the best partners in mutually beneficial trade and investment. Today, for example, 11 out of America’s top 15 trading partners once received U.S. foreign assistance. Likewise, security and stability in Africa means greater security at home in Sweden and America. Communities with few economic prospects become breeding grounds for trans-national crime, political instability, armed conflict, and even terrorism. Such developments end up costing our countries billions of dollars in additional law enforcement, border protection, and peacekeeping forces. We simply cannot afford to continue viewing Africa as a world apart. We are now far too interconnected to ignore these linkages — Africa’s challenges are our challenges.
The strength of the Swedish and U.S. shared values on sustainable development will be the driving force in helping African societies build the capacity for transformational change through Power Africa. And the success of the U.S. -Swedish commitment on Power Africa will not be measured in the amount of dollars and kronor spent, but as President Obama described it by “whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.” By working jointly, the United States and Sweden can help African nations build the capacity for transformational change in the energy sector. The transformational change will not only help Africans build a sustainable, clean energy sector but will also help weave economic well-being, security, and better governance more deeply in the rich tapestry of people on the African continent.
According to an African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” There are no two better partners to make this Power Africa journey together than Sweden and the United States. It is our long-term perspective and commitment to common values that will carry us through to the journey’s end. And one day after we have stayed the course, the barrage of attention-grabbing negative headlines about Africa will become a thing of the past.