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Obama's big Africa push: Let there be light (+video)

President Obama pledged loan guarantees to help expand electrification in sub-Saharan Africa.

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The centerpiece of President Obama’s eight-day visit to Africa was a $7 billion US initiative to increase electricity and bring new power sources to sub-Saharan Africa, where in some rural areas only 10 percent of families can turn on a light. 

Obama said the plan, which joins with US giant General Electric, will “double” the amount of power available in targeted areas of Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Ethiopia – states that will divvy up the $7 billion.

Obama linked greater power to the improving prospects of an African middle class by saying that, “it’s the connection needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.”

Former US ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell said that the White House push addresses a “major, major issue" since "the absence of electrical power … makes it difficult to establish the kind of manufacturing that generates employment.”

Yet the US president also called access to “the light that children study by” a form of liberation. Speaking shortly after meeting the family of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years in South African prisons, Obama said: “Just as freedom cannot exist when people are imprisoned for political views … true opportunity cannot exist when people are imprisoned by sickness, or hunger, or darkness.”

The “Power Africa” plan comes as the White House says it wants to “up its game” in Africa at a time when China has been investing heavily.  

Yet the electrification plan, which mixes US funds with a planned $9 billion in private corporate dollars, is also being described by the White House as a new model for US aid abroad. Yet some analysts wonder if Congress will provide funding during an era of sequestration.

The details of the plan:

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