CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- President Obama on Sunday will unveil a new initiative to expand access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, in a speech that will point to Nelson Mandela's work as evidence of the potential for rapid transformation on the continent.
Obama's initiative, dubbed Power Africa, will attempt to double the number of people with access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, White House officials said. The president will announce an initial commitment of $7 billion over five years, federal money that will add to private investment and partnerships in six African countries. The first phase will aim to expand access to 20 million households and businesses, officials said.
More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has no access to electrical power, a figure that is far higher in rural areas, according to the White House.
Obama will make the announcement in a speech at the University of Cape Town, after visiting the Robben Island prison cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. As the iconic civil rights leader lies gravely ill in a Pretoria hospital, Obama has paid tribute to Mandela and his legacy at each stop of a weeklong tour of Africa. His power initiative too will be cast as guided by the Mandela model, said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
"His example is the ultimate testament to how change can happen within countries and beyond countries' borders," Rhodes said.
The speech will also honor the imprint of an American political figure, Rhodes said. The University of Cape Town was the site of Sen. Robert Kennedy's 1966 "ripples of hope" speech, a call for racial equality in a South Africa then ruled by a white minority.
On his first tour of the continent as president, Obama has been charged with neglecting Africa in his first term, allowing other countries -- most notably China -- to rush in with new investment. The Power Africa program is part of the administration's answer to such criticism. Obama also will announce plans to host a summit of leaders from sub-Saharan Africa next year, officials said, and he will discuss his administration's commitment to supporting Bush-era health programs aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS.
The president is due to visit an HIV clinic run by the Desmond Tutu Foundation before the speech Sunday.
Power Africa is Obama's clearest attempt to launch his own legacy-making initiative. The White House said six countries will participate in its first phase: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. Those nations have committed to making energy sector reforms that will encourage outside investment, officials said.
Seven private companies have agreed to invest in improving and expanding the power grid. Those investors include General Electric, which plans to bring 5,000 megawatts online in Tanzania and Ghana, and Heirs Holdings, which has promised $2.5 billion of investment and financing in energy, according to the White House.