On a recent flight I was reading an article on Martin Luther King Jr. in the Delta Sky magazine in which they interviewed some of Atlanta’s top civil rights activists in honor of the 50th anniversary of his famous speech “I have a Dream”. One comment made by Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA, an international humanitarian organization, stood out. When asked which words of Dr. King’s speech resonated with her the most she said, “I’m often asked why should I care about people in other countries. And I refer back to his quote, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. If we turn a blind eye to injustice anywhere, we’re giving in to that here as well. There is no divide between them and us“. (Delta Sky Magazine, August 2013).

Children living in Sub-Saharan Africa (photo credit: Wikipedia free commons)

I could not agree more with Helene Gayle’s strong belief in equality and basic human rights which is why I strongly support new legislation recently introduced in the US House of Representatives to “electrify” Africa and help put an end to energy poverty. “The Electrify Africa Act” was introduced in late June as a way to harness support and U.S. leadership in eliminating energy poverty in Africa.

Here are some facts about energy poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa that may surprise you:

  • 589 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa – 68% of the population – do not have access to electricity or other modern energy services.
  • Around 30 African countries face endemic power shortages which significantly impacts the provision of health care services and education. It also negatively impacts economic development and growth further reinforcing poverty.
  • 225 million Sub-Saharan Africans rely on health facilities that are without electricity.
  • Nearly half won’t have access to power in 2030 without new policies and partnerships among governments.
      Traditional African home. Photo Source: Wikipedia free commons

      As a mother of two, I thought for a moment what my life would be like without electricity. First, I would have to waste countless hours each day searching for ineffective and polluting fuel to power my home. Second, I would have to send my children to a school without electricity. Third, I’d have to pray my family could get the life-saving medications and services they needed. Medications like vaccines that require refrigeration but wouldn’t survive without power. Hospitals that had no functioning equipment in case of emergencies. Fourth, how could I ever leave my home after dark alone as a woman? Without any street lights to at least bring me some safety. How would I ever escape this life of poverty? Wouldn’t so many things in my life be better with electricity?

      As a global activist, I’ve often heard the exact same question that Helene Gayle has, “Why should we care about people in Africa or other countries”? My answer back is “Why should we not”? The case of providing electricity to Africa makes so much sense. Not just from an economic standpoint but as a basic human right. Access to energy has a transformative effect on people and is one of the best ways to eradicate poverty and spur economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. That is why we must urge our governments to support policies like H.R. 2548 “The Electrify Africa Act of 2013” that will ensure more people will live a life with electricity and without extreme poverty.

      About H.R. 2548 “The Electrify Africa Act:
      This piece of legislation was introduced on June 27, 2013 by Representatives Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY). The act is a bold vision of U.S. engagement and leadership in the energy sector of Africa that sets three goals to achieve by 2020:

    • Encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power.
    • Promote first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor.
    • Promote efficient institutional platforms that provide electrical service to rural and underserved areas.

      Author’s Note: In early July, I participated in a policy briefing from the government relations team at ONE (www.one.org) to learn more about the Electrify Africa Act and energy poverty. If you would like to learn more, please visit: http://www.one.org/us/energy-poverty.

      Related links:

      For a collection of stories on the power of bringing electricity to Africa, click here.


  1. I agree with Debra. We do need to learn to share both resources and expertise. These children deserve a better life, and the leaders of these countries need to be be encouraged to make sure it happens.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Hopefully this new legislation will pass and at least some more people will be helped! Can’t imagine living without electricity!

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