(Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)
By Zaheer Cassim, USA TODAY
JOHANNESBURG - President Obama is set unveil a new initiative to double access to electric power in sub-Saharan Africa with an initial $7 billion investment from the U.S. during a speech at the University of Cape Town later today.
Obama will talk about the "Power Africa" initiative in what has been billed as his signature speech during his week-long trip to the Africa.
"If you want lights so kids can study at night or you can maintain vaccines in a cold chain, you don't have that, so going the extra mile to reach people is more difficult," said Obama's director for development and democracy, Gayle Smith, adding that more than two-thirds of people living in sub Saharan Africa do not have electricity.
Private power companies such as General Electric and Symbion Power will also make an additional $9 billion in commitments to the project.
Obama is in South Africa as part of a week-long trip to three countries on the continent. His first stop was in Senegal where the president met with Senegalese President Macky Sall. On Monday, Obama will head to Tanzania in east Africa.
His stay in South Africa has been overshadowed in part by the critical condition of 94-year-old former president Nelson Mandela who has been in hospital for more than three weeks due to a recurring lung condition.
On Saturday, Obama met with the Mandela's family to give them his best wishes for the man he called his "personal hero."
Obama was due to receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Johannesburg amid protests against U.S. foreign policy, including its stance on drones and the Middle East.
South African police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of hundreds of student and union protesters on Saturday before Obama arrived at the university in an effort to disperse them.
"They [police] started firing the shots, no-one aggravated them," said 23-year-old student Kimaal Manning describing the university as "shameful".
"They rather violently pushed the crowd back," he added.
Later, Obama will visit Robben Island, the site of the prison where Mandela spent 18 out of the 27 years he was locked up under the rule of the minority white apartheid leaders.
The president will then visit a community center with Archbishop Desmond Tutu before making a speech at the University of Cape Town focusing on U.S. African policy.
On Monday, the president will start his first of two days in Tanzania.
Despite his warm welcome in Senegal, where he was met with excitement and hope, in South Africa he has been given more of a lukewarm reception from the people.
"I think he is just a pretty face," said Sesane Mabuza, 22, a salesperson. "I personally think he can do more than he is doing now. As for his visit, I think it's irrelevant."
However, analysts said his stay in South Africa has been the most important part of his trip.
"The U.S. [has the] largest and [most] flexible economy in the world and is an important partner for South Africa, directly and indirectly," said Mike Schussler, the founder of Economists.co.za, an independent economic research center in Johannesburg adding that Obama's visit strengthened the agreements between the U.S. and South Africa.
And some residents agreed that Obama's presence has been positive for the country.
"It's great, he must come, I want to see him," said Paulina Portia, a 34-year-old cleaner in Johannesburg.
"I think he is going to bring us good luck."
Contributing: Associated Press