- ANDREA SHALAL
Goree Island, Senegal
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Saturday spoke of the “unspeakable cruelty” and enduring consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but said she was heartened by signs of progress and renewal in both the United States and Africa.
Yellen visited the House of Slaves, a fort built in the late 18th century on Goree Island off the coast of Senegal as a transit point for human beings before they were forcibly transported across the Atlantic, as she continued a three-country visit to Africa.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen signs the visitor book after she visited the House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) at Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, on 21st January, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Ngouda Dione
“I take from this place the importance of redoubling our commitment to fight for our shared principles and the values of freedom and human rights where ever they are threatened – in Africa, in the United States and around the world,” she wrote in the visitor’s log.
TREASURY’S YELLEN BREAKS GROUND ON RURAL ELECTRIFICATION PROJECT IN SENEGAL
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Saturday helped kick off a new rural electrification project in Senegal that will bring reliable power to 350,000 people, while supporting some 500 jobs in 14 US states.
Yellen travelled to the site of the project, led by Illinois-based engineering firm Weldy Lamont, as part of a three-country trip to Africa that aims to expand US-African ties and address challenges such as climate change, food security and debt.
The new project received technical assistance from the US Power Africa initiative, capacity building through the US Agency for Trade and Development, and a $US102.5 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank, Yellen said.
“Our goal is to further deepen our economic relationship and to invest in expanding energy access in a way that uses renewable resources spread across the continent,” she said.
Senegal has among the highest rates of electrification across Sub-Saharan Africa – between 70 and 80 per cent – but access to electricity remains far more limited in rural areas.
Such disparities can hinder opportunity for households and businesses in areas otherwise ripe for economic development, Yellen said. The project includes an important renewable energy element with a solar grid to power 70 villages.
“This groundbreaking will create a higher quality of life in many communities, and it will help Senegal’s economy grow and prosper. It will also help Senegal get one step closer to its goal of universal electricity access by 2025,” she said.
Yellen, who met women and youth entrepreneurs in Dakar on Friday, said the electrification project would allow Senegal to rely on energy sources that are within its borders, cost effective and not prone to the kind of volatility in energy prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She said the US Power Africa project has helped connect 165 million people to reliable electricity across Africa. Its goal is to add at least 30,000 megawatts of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.
The site, now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage site, often draws high-level American visitors, including former President Barack Obama, the first US President of African ancestry, who visited with his family in 2013.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called the island “a place of reconciliation and hope” when he visited in December, 2021, noting in the log that it was the place where the talks to end apartheid in his own country began.
Yellen, at times visibly moved, underscored the enduring ties that bind Africa and the United States.
“Ultimately, Gorée Island reminds us that the histories of Africa and America are intimately connected. We know that the tragedy did not stop with the generation of humans taken from here,” she said after touring the museum with its curator Eloi Coly.
Goree’s Mayor Augustin Senghor presented Yellen with a certificate appointing her as a lifetime ambassador of the island’s history.
Goree Island was a symbol of great importance to Americans of African descent, drawing thousands of visitors every year, said Joyce Hope Scott, a professor of African American Studies at Boston University.
“Secretary Yellen and others have made a wise choice in visiting this important site and should embrace the truthful representation of Goree Island and what it stands for in the historical experience of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora,” she told Reuters.
Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, has focused her work in economics on ending historic disparities that continued to plague Black Americans long after slavery was abolished in 1865. On Saturday, she said both Africa and the United States had made tremendous strides, but more work was needed to counter the brutal consequences of the slave trade.
At Treasury, Yellen has now set up a racial equity task force that has drawn the ire of Republicans, and she and her deputy, Nigerian-born Wally Adeyemo have worked hard to boost the economic conditions of communities of colour.
It was critical to tell the story of enslaved people, which “while full of suffering, is also full of perseverance and hope,” Yellen said, citing the important contributions of African Americans to the US economy and democracy.
“With remembrance, I believe, can come progress and renewal,” she said, highlighting what she called “signs of vibrant life around Gorée – a prominent art scene, a place of education, and thousands who call this place home.”
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