As I have previously mentioned, AGOA is not a mechanism for American engagement in Africa that I find particularly compelling. However, the glowing DC discourse on AGOA is probably indicative of a need for me to brush up on its provisions.
Yesterday I attended my second Africa Policy Breakfast (per my usual disclaimer I departed 30 minutes early), an 8am gathering of DC African power brokers in a very rectangular room in the main Library of Congress building. I missed the full list of Ambassadors that attended but they included Zambia, Cameroon, and Malawi (and those of Nigeria and Mauritius served on the panel). The theme at hand was a ‘Report-back from President Obama’s Africa Trip & 2013 AGOA Forum‘, however AGOA figured much more prominently.
The main person reporting back on Obama’s trip was Grant T. Harris, Obama’s Africa point man. Most readers will probably be familiar with the general thrust of Obama’s trip, some of which I have covered on these pages. However, Harris did mention five specific items and I suspect that they were listed in descending order of importance to the administration so I will relay them here:
1. Power Africa
2. Intra-regional trade. The East Africa Community was specifically referenced, so there must be something going on in those countries that I’m not aware of.
4. Support for Wildlife, anti-poaching
5. US – Africa Heads of State Summit
Florie Liser, the Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa followed. She didn’t say too much of note, but I was pleased to hear her note that agreements like AGOA ‘are the door [and] without the private sector nothing comes through the door.’
Stephanie Peters then spoke on behalf of Microsoft, which apparently will be offering its support for the Washington Fellows component of YALI, including mentoring once the Fellows return to Africa. More surprisingly she noted that Microsoft would like to go as far as having a say in identifying the Fellows.
The Ambassadors of Nigeria, Ade Adefuye and Mauritius, Somduth Soborun rounded out the panel. I found the Nigerian Ambassador’s diction very difficult to follow – which was strange, as I have heard him speak on other occasions without such difficulty.
The Nigerian Ambassador got in a dig at American telecommunications companies who declined to invest in Nigeria and lost millions (billions?) and also made a very interesting statement on ECOWAS if I heard it correctly, stating that ‘Nigeria and ECOWAS are naturally synonymous.’ In response to a question on Obama’s decision to not visit Africa I believe he noted, very forthrightly, that as the US’ largest trading partner in Africa, Nigeria has ‘the right to expect more’ from Obama.
Ambassador Soburun, described as ‘the Dean of AGOA’ spoke much more eloquently, which is not surprising given Mauritius’ relatively advanced apparel industry that benefits from AGOA.
While I enjoy these breakfasts, I sympathize with the questioner Melvin Foote who asked about the possibility of the US government holding town halls across the country to push for investment in Africa. While Rep. Bass’ sponsorship should be lauded, I’m not sure the breakfasts are increasing the constituency for Africa on the Hill.