Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has embarked on a seven-nation trip to Africa to to highlight the U.S. commitment to sub-Saharan Africa’s economic development while also emphasizing Africa as a place of opportunity. “This trip will highlight the Obama administration’s commitment to making Africa a priority in U.S. foreign policy,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. It is the earliest time in any U.S. administration that both the president and secretary of state have visited Africa.
Clinton’s visit began at the 8th U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, better known as the AGOA Forum (named for the African Growth and Opportunity Act), in Nairobi, Kenya, Kelly said in a July 27 press statement. Clinton will continue her travel with visits to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde.
President Obama visited Ghana July 10–11 and gave a major speech before the Ghanaian Parliament on the importance of U.S.-African relations and his commitment to the continent. Good governance is the key to development, Obama told the parliament. “That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans,” Kelly said.
For the United States and the West, Obama said, the commitment to Africa must be greater than annual allocations of foreign aid; it involves partnerships to build the capacity for transformational change. The president outlined four areas critical to the future of Africa: democratic governance, economic opportunity, strengthening public health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
While in Kenya, Clinton is expected to discuss with leaders new approaches to development, including an emphasis on investment and economic growth. Joining Clinton on the trip in Kenya are U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, who is responsible for African affairs. According to Kelly, after her speech at the opening ceremony of the AGOA Forum, Clinton is expected to participate in bilateral meetings with Kenya’s senior leaders, discuss global hunger and agricultural issues at a major research institute, and meet with Kenyan citizens.
The primary goal of AGOA — which was signed into law as part of the larger Trade and Development Act in May 2000 — is to help increase both the volume and diversity of U.S. trade with sub-Saharan Africa. “AGOA also promotes economic cooperation and trade among the countries of sub-Saharan Africa by encouraging intraregional trade among AGOA beneficiary countries,” Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Florizelle Liser testified at a recent congressional hearing.
Two-way trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa was $104.6 billion in 2008, which was more than triple the amount in 2001, the first full year of AGOA implementation, she said. “We are continuing our efforts to increase the number of AGOA-eligible countries taking advantage of the program, and we are also trying to address the many supply-side constraints the Africans face and to help them increase the range and quality of products being traded and improve Africa’s overall competitiveness,” Liser said.
As part of AGOA, there is an annual meeting between the United States and African nations. This year’s forum will focus on encouraging private investment that will expand trade and economic growth in the AGOA countries.
During Clinton’s visit in Kenya, she will also hold a meeting with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the president of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, Kelly said. “In each nation, she will emphasize Africa as a place of opportunity, built on the ethic of responsibility,” Kelly said. “She will underline America’s commitment to partner with governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and private citizens to build societies where each individual can realize their potential.”
New solutions to old challenges
Clinton will stress the need to harness the power of innovation and technology to provide a foundation for future stability, human development and sustainable economic growth, Kelly said. The secretary will also address a new generation of young African scientists, small business leaders, entrepreneurs and civic leaders — all of whom will be challenged to solve real problems and create new models for progress, he added.
“She will discuss ways to foster good regional governance, partnering with regional leaders to band together to prevent conflict and violence, including gender-based violence, democratic erosions and transnational threats,” Kelly said.