Op-ed: Passage of Electrify Africa gives hope citizens and Congress can cooperate

By Jim Russell
Empire Press Correspondent

The Electrify Africa Bill unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 1 as part of the consent agenda. The Senate already passed the bill so it now goes to President Obama, who has said he will sign it.

The purpose of the bill is for the U.S. to join with other nations to help countries in sub-Saharan Africa expand their electrical power infrastructure to an estimated 50 million people. Chinese businesses and corporations have been developing similar electrical projects for years.

One.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit global humanitarian organization co-founded by Irish singer-songwriter and philanthropist Bono, with over 7,201,909 members on its website Feb. 3, identified this issue four years ago as a key barrier for those in poverty. One.org says on its website, “The lack of access to electricity and modern energy sources profoundly limits economic development, constrains people’s life chances and traps millions in extreme poverty.”

Michelle Shermer, who founded the Wenatchee’s One.org chapter in 2013, was thrilled. “I’m just waking up to this fantastic news!!! I think I have tears in my eyes! This was truly a grassroots effort from people like us all over the country.”

Electrical service increases jobs with economic development and saves lives with better refrigeration for vaccines, safer childbirth in electrically-served hospitals and fewer people breathing the toxic fumes of kerosene lamps and stoves.

The history of this bill is both exciting and daunting. While it has tremendous economic and humanitarian benefits, it took four years to pass legislation in the U.S. The hope is that citizens and politicians learned how to unite and trust each other well enough to pass this kind of legislation more quickly next time.

Momentum had built to pass it in 2014, but the bill stalled in the Senate, so supporters had to start over in 2015.

Despite the obvious humanitarian benefits and the economic income from increased trade and jobs for the U.S., One.org believed it was necessary to deliver 360,000 signed petitions to congressional offices in 2015 to finally get approval.

North Central Washington congressional delegations gave the bill bipartisan support for the last two years. Breanna Deutsch from U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s office confirmed that Reichert was one of the co-sponsors of both the original House Bill in 2014 and the current bill.

Doc Hastings voted for passage of the original bill.

Will Boyington, spokesman for Hasting’s successor U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, told me Newhouse is on the House Rules Committee and supported putting it in the package of consent bills that was passed Feb. 1.

Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, from Washington state, both supported the bill when the Senate passed it.

According to govtrack.us, the bill would establish comprehensive U.S. government policy to simplify and speed up projects that expand electrical capacity in African nations. These actions would include an interagency group to coordinate multiple agencies in the U.S. The act allows U.S. agencies in international development to leverage resources with international resources. It gives authority for federal agencies to guarantee investments and provide loans. Early estimates were that these administrative mechanics would be economical for the U.S. because the projects would increase jobs and income tax revenue in U.S. companies. Both labor and industry firms supported the bill.

It’s a hopeful sign that legislation can break through legislative logjams for humanitarian and economic benefits for our nation and the African people.

Let’s hope that more such legislation can unite us more often to be the beacon of hope for those without hope in the midst of poverty.