Some participants at the 2012 Energy Africa conference in Golden, C0. Nov. 9, 2012 (In the middle: Colonel (Retired) Joseph Leon Simbakalia, Regional Commissioner of Mtwara, Tanzania)

When the 2012 Energy Africa conference kicked off at the Colorado School of Mines,  business executives, entrepreneurs, leaders, and students gathered to examine the challenges and issues around the development and sustainability of natural gas and renewable energy in Africa.

Before I arrived on Day 2 of the meeting, I hardly could have imagined the extensive synergies and cross-connections on the subject. As I found out, the connections are innumerable — from infrastructure, water, sanitation, the environment, wind, waste management, and microgrids to construction.

Urban mobility, cell phone technology, water rights, local government, mining, transmission lines, are also in the mix. And the list of technologies enabling sustainable energy in Africa goes on.

A comment from one of the event panelists, who said, “You’ll be surprised how popular Facebook is in East Africa,” got me thinking in an entirely new way about the linkage between energy and development in Africa. Hint: What is enabling the popularity of Facebook in East Africa?

The issues addressed during the 2012 conference are complex and require huge investments of resources, money, people, and time. The World Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are among the growing number of organizations involved.

As I sat through the late afternoon session, I asked myself, why are these American companies investing the way they are doing in the continent? What about competition from the Chinese? What about Asia and Latin America?

And then I had the opportunity to throw in a question to the panelists as well. “Are American companies trying to supplant Chinese efforts in Africa?”

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