Hundreds of representatives from more than 100 US and African civil society organizations are in Washington, DC, this week. The meeting, hosted by Howard University, is the second session of the AGOA civil society network. AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, offers incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets. Representatives are focusing on the role civil society can play in bringing businesses and governments together and improving US-Africa trade. Delegates say in order for AGOA to sustain its efforts to bring Africa to the forefront of the world marketplace, Africa needs aid, but not in the form of money. The Honorable Nkechi J. Nwaogu, National President of Women in Action for Development, says Africa needs help with trade capacity training and technology. She says most countries in Africa that are democratized are ready for this type of help. She says, “We can identify in my country and I believe in other countries in Africa, those products-Identify cottons from Senegal or the yens from Senegal. We have the palm oil from Nigeria. We have the cocoa also in Nigeria and we have the mineral sector and so on and so on. How can we take advantage of these? How can we export comparatively? How can we remain competitive in this market?” Dr. Oumar Makalou is the president of the Center of Studies and research for Democracy, Economics, and Social Development in Mali. He said a recent World Bank Report indicates that the new millennium provides unique opportunities for Africa in three areas.
He says, “The increasing political participation in Africa—this opens the way for greater accountability and democratic change; two, the end of the cold war and the change in Africa from strategic and ideological battleground to a new business address for change; three, the globalization and information and communication technologies offer enormous opportunities for Africa to leap frog on this stage of development.”
Iqbal Sharma Meer of South Africa is Chief Director of Bilaterals, International Trade and Economic Development. He says one of the problems of AGOA is that it functions unilaterally rather than multilaterally. Mr. Meer says AGOA should ask Africa what it wants.
“Africa—I’m going to be bold and say something. Africa does not need AGOA or any of these types of G-S-P type schemes if we had a level playing field in respect to subsidies. You get rid of agriculture subsidies in the U-S and E-U and Africa will trade its way out of poverty without a doubt.”
All three speakers acknowledged that USAID has devoted a significant amount of money to capacity building. But they worry that too much money and effort is going to studies -- and they ask how Africa actually benefits from this. All agree AGOA is not a cure-all but rather an important first step.