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Obama to announce new power initiative for Africa

By Nedra Pickler

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 30 2013 9:05 a.m. MDT

Children look at photographs of former South African President Nelson Mandela, top, and U.S. President Barack Obama, bottom, with messages from well-wishers outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Sunday, June 30, 2013. South Africans in Sunday services have been praying for former President Nelson Mandela who is spending his 23rd day in a Pretoria hospital in critical condition.

Themba Hadebe, Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — President Barack Obama on Sunday will announce a new initiative to double access to electric power in sub-Saharan Africa, part of his effort to build on the legacy of equality and opportunity forged by his personal hero, Nelson Mandela.

Obama, who flew from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Sunday, is paying tribute to the ailing 94-year-old Mandela throughout the day. The president and his family visited Robben Island, where the anti-apartheid leader spent 18 years confined to a tiny cell, including a stop at the lime quarry where Mandela toiled and developed the lung problems that sent him to the hospital for most of the month.

The White House said Obama's guide during the tour was 83-year-old South African politician Ahmed Kathrada, who also was held at the prison for nearly two decades and guided Obama on his 2006 visit to the prison as a U.S. senator. The president also saw the prison courtyard where Mandela planted grapevines that remain today, and where he and others in the dissident leadership would discuss politics, sneak notes to one another and hide writings.

"On behalf of our family, we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit," Obama wrote in the guest book in the courtyard, his U.S. Secret Service agents standing watch in the old guard tower above.

During the tour, which took place under sunshine and clear, blue skies, Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha took in the expansive view of the quarry, a huge crater with views of the rusty guard tower from where Mandela was watched. Obama commented on the "hard labor" Mandela endured and asked Kathrada to remind his daughters how long Mandela was in prison.

Michelle Obama asked how often Mandela would work and was told he worked daily. As the family turned to leave, Obama asked Kathrada to tell his daughters how the African National Congress, the South African political party, got started.

After the tour, Obama will visit with retired archbishop Desmond Tutu before delivering what the White House has billed as the signature speech of his weeklong trip, an address at the University of Cape Town that will be infused with memories of Mandela.

Obama will use the address to unveil the "Power Africa" initiative, which includes an initial $7 billion investment from the United States over the next five years. Private companies, including General Electric and Symbion Power, are making an additional $9 billion in commitments with the goal of providing power to millions of Africans crippled by a lack of electricity.

Gayle Smith, Obama's senior director for development and democracy, said more than two-thirds of people living in sub-Saharan Africa do not have electricity, including 85 percent of those living in rural areas.

"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," Smith said.

The U.S. and its private sector partners initially will focus its efforts on six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania, where Obama will wrap up his trip later this week. Former President George W. Bush, who supports health programs throughout the continent, will also be in Tanzania next week, and the White House did not rule out the possibility that the two men might meet.

Obama will also highlight U.S. efforts to bolster access to food and health programs on the continent. His advisers said the president sees reducing the poverty and illness that plague many parts of Africa as an extension of Mandela's example of how change can happen within countries.

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