I recently wrote about the pat on the back that Congress gave itself for good work done with the African Growth and Opportunity Act. One of the speakers at the Library of Congress event was Steve McDonald, who is the head of the Africa program at the Wilson Center.
McDonald was apparently inspired by his presentation at the event to pen a piece on the Program’s blog that calls for an ‘enhanced AGOA’. McDonald expresses concern that US corporate interests are losing ground in Africa. While I will vigorously promote the disclaimer that I’m not an economics expert, I am generally concerned by what I suspect is the underlying assumption behind McDonald’s writing. Lowering barriers to trade that makes cheap African labor more attractive to Western/US interests is not particularly helpful for Africa. Rather, it makes the African policy elites in DC more relevant and strengthens their voice as capital increasingly flows to Africa. As I mentioned in my earlier post on the event, my most intimate experience with AGOA involved a tour of an apparel factory that had been established in Namibia to take advantage of its provisions. The owners of that factory were Korean, not African.
While I’m not a fan of Ronald Reagan, I won’t argue with those who may say that AGOA will bring some trickle-down benefits to Africans. But in response, I’ll ask why should the US invest so much in a policy with only incremental benefits? Why focus on enhancement of AGOA and not look at other policy approaches?
While my location precludes me from being able to attend many events of the Center’s Africa Program, I have recently been to functions the Program hosted with prominent officials from the DRC and Burkina Faso. These are both autocratic states governed by warlords turned politicians who have managed to garner a strong veneer of legitimacy and enjoy strong support from the US.
If the Wilson Center focused its efforts on advocating for a shift in US policy, instead of praising Burkina Faso, which played a prominent role in instigating the civil wars in Liberia and the Ivory Coast, as a “stabilizing influence in West Africa”, perhaps more factories opened as a result of AGOA would be owned by Africans and not Asians.
The previous administration in Burkina Faso achieved almost complete food self-sufficiency in a few years, now it is governed by a regime that presides over one of the least developed countries in the world and is primarily (and incorrectly) celebrated for its role as a mediator in regional conflicts.