Africa in the News: Senate Hears Testimony on Power Africa; Guinea Confirms Ebola Outbreak; and ECOWAS Nears Trade Deal with EU

Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs Hold Hearing on Power Africa

On Thursday, March 27, the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on African Affairs, chaired by Senator Chris Coons, held a hearing on the Obama Administration’s Power Africa.  Power Africa is an initiative seeking to double the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to electricity, and the hearing, entitled, “Powering Africa’s Future: Examining the Power Africa Initiative” examined the scope, scale, sustainability and implementation of the initiative.  Senator Coons, as well as a number of U.S. agencies working in Africa, have emphasized that increasing access to power on the continent is a priority for the United States.

Right now, 70 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity.  The region maintains electricity generation capacity of 91 megawatts per million people, in comparison to the 3,360 megawatts per million in the United States.  The project aims to increase generation and access through a number of ventures such as wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas and geothermal sources.

Ebola Virus Found in Guinea and May Have Spread to Neighboring Countries

Earlier this week, the government of Guinea confirmed an outbreak of Ebola in its southern region and on Thursday confirmed that the virus has spread to its capital city of Conakry.  At least 66 people have already died from the virus. Four more cases have been identified in Conakry, and testing continues for more suspected cases throughout not only the country, but the West African region.  There are suspicions that deaths in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone were caused by the highly contagious virus as well.  In response to the outbreak, Guinea has outlawed the sale of bats, which are believed to carry the disease, and has made efforts to quarantine relatives of recent victims.  Ebola, a virus for which no effective vaccine has been created, has a death rate from anywhere between 25 and 90 percent.  Ebola has never been detected in this part of the continent before, and the strain identified in the victims in Guinea is confirmed to be the most deadly one.  

European Leaders Meet in Africa to Negotiate Economic Partnership Agreements

This week, a European delegation met with representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to resume negotiations on their Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).  According to Reuters, ECOWAS member states are close to a deal with the European Union.  These Economic Partnership Agreements are regional trade agreements “aimed at promoting trade between the two groupings [Europe and Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific regions]—and through trade development, sustainable growth and poverty reduction.”  According to the European Union (EU), the EPAs increase African access to the European market without duties on exports to the EU, among other benefits.  However, according to Brookings research, the EPAs may undermine African attempts to trade with partners outside of Europe.

This week’s discussions occur amid a series of recent changes in the global trade environment.  The U.S. and Europe are currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will likely cut tariffs and ease customs regulations.  Since the top U.S. trade agreement with Africa, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), will expire in 2015, Congress has started to look into what a possible renewal might look like.   And, in July 2013, the U.S. announced Trade Africa, a partnership aimed at increasing African exports to the U.S. by 40 percent as well as increasing intra-regional trade and reducing shipping times and costs.