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Can Wakanda Become a Real Place in Africa?

Can Wakanda Become a Real Place in Africa?

When the Marvel Studios film Black Panther hit theaters in 2018, it created a couple of sensations. The first, of course, was that a major movie featured not only a mostly black cast but credited that cast for portraying an innovative, futuristic African society based on their natural blessing of vibranium, a mineral that fell from the sky in meteors and allowed that society to advance into the technological society we witnessed. The second was the prospect that the mythical country and society of Wakanda could be recreated in real life.

 

            The popularity of the second film in this franchise – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – was confirmed by the $180 million opening weekend revenue in North America. The sequel set a record for a November opening in North America, besting the previous high-water mark of $158 million set by 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Globally, the superhero adventure netted a spectacular $330 million with $150 million of that figure coming from 55 overseas markets, not including China at this point, which prefers films that salute Chinese heroes.

            In addition to the merchandising of sweatshirts, t-shirts and other items, as well as DVDs of the original film, pride within Africa and its Diaspora spiked. There was much discussion of recreating the mythical land of Wakanda in present-day times. In fact, the Senegalese singer Akon said he raised $2 billion – or one-third of the estimated total cost – to build AKONCITY, an eco-friendly futuristic metropolis, in his home country.

            “AKONCITY is an extension of the sea into the land with waves diving deep into the roots of each building, making it dance on the music of Akon reflecting nothing but happiness bringing no less than success,” the singer said on the city’s website (www.akoncity.com).

            The futuristic town is envisioned as using an advanced, interconnected network of devices, including vehicles, home appliances and sensors that share information, which, stored on the cloud, would use data analytics to facilitate “the convergence of the physical and digital city elements, thus improving both public and private sector efficiency, enabling economic benefits and improving citizens’ lives,” according to AKONCITY promotional materials.

 

            Wow! That is an impressive concept. If you’re tempted to think that this is merely a vanity project by an entertainer who can gather donors to support his dream, consider this: humans have landed on the moon and used equipment to explore other parts of our solar system and beyond, researched and cured diseases, developed communications equipment that enables even video connections from the farthest reaches of this planet using satellite linkages and created artificial intelligence that can think for itself to a large degree beyond its basic programming.

Furthermore, consider the advancements Africans made even in ancient times. Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement. Aside from the oldest stone tools in the world having been found in eastern Africa, the history of science and technology in Africa since then has been grossly underestimated, compared to other regions of the world, despite notable African developments in mathematics, metallurgy, architecture and other fields.

In 295 BC, the Library of Alexandria was founded in Egypt and was considered the largest library in the classical world. Al-Azhar University, established in 970-972, was the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt after the Cairo University. The Greeks came to Africa to study before taking their learning back home and eventually passing what they learned onto the Roman Empire. Advanced construction such as aqueducts to move water and ventilation systems were known in Africa even before they appeared in Europe. Ancient African structures such as the Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt demonstrated a technological knowledge far in advance of what was evident elsewhere in the world in that time. Could such structures be built today with the precision the ancient builders managed with the tools they had at that time?

            So, yes AKONCITY is certainly possible, but one must realize that in the films, Wakanda was not built in the matter of a few years. It developed over time, and this concept will take more than a couple of years to be realized as well. By now, construction was supposed to have begun near the Atlantic Ocean village of Mbodiene. The city was supposed have some planned infrastructure, including hospitals, malls, residences, schools, police stations and solar power plants underway by now. The project’s second phase was scheduled to start in 2024 and end in 2029.

It should be no surprise then that despite assembling a third of the projected funds to build this city, the AKONCITY project is now on hold – not cancelled but delayed for the time being.

            According to Quartz Africa, two other advanced cities in Africa have been delayed for various reasons: Kenya’s Konza Technology City (now called Konza Technopolis), which was to be the biggest smart city south of the Sahara, is still trying to prove to investors why they should inject capital in it more than a decade after it was conceived, and Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic City promised to house 250,000 citizens on land reclaimed from the sea but remains unfinished and unoccupied.

            There are currently other smart, or techno, cities being built or planned on the continent – including HOPE City in Ghana, and the Ethiopian city Bahir Dar, billed as the “real Wakanda,” and Kigali Innovation City in Rwanda – all promising to solve the problems of poverty and economic stagnation in their respective countries through innovating technology to reach the heights of the fictional African country of Wakanda.

            On the website restofworld.com, we are reminded that the African desire to create their own cities beyond what the colonizers developed is not a new phenomenon:

            “Cities such as Konza also tap into an older phenomenon. In the decades after the end of colonial rule in the 1950s and ‘60s, African countries began building new cities from scratch as a way of redefining themselves,” an article on the site states. “These cities, which were then appointed as capitals, were to be centrally located and politically and ethnically neutral. Abuja, constructed in the 1990s to replace Lagos as Nigeria’s capital, is the biggest. Dodoma, hitherto a small town with a population of 40,000, replaced Dar es Salaam as Tanzania’s capital in 1974. Gaborone was set up as Botswana’s capital in the 1960s; while Nouakchott, previously a minor village, was selected in 1958 to be the capital of the new state of Mauritania.”

            There is a fervent desire to construct a real-life Wakanda as a point of pride, but what can be written and shown on screen is not so easy to replicate. In addition to the fantastic sums needed to make Wakanda a reality, there also is the question of city management. High-tech requires not only skillful planning to make integrated parts work well, but also constant maintenance and upgrading of parts and processes. Moreover, citizens must respect the advanced applications by preserving that with which they come in contact. People who don’t understand technology or how to use it properly would be a detriment to an advanced city. How will residents be selected? What sort of training will be necessary to prevent unnecessary technical problems? What will be done to those citizens who are careless or even malicious?

            A point that some may ignore in the movie version of Wakanda is that that society has managed to be modern without abandoning long-held traditions. Furthermore, while there are still some jealousies and enduring resentments among the various Wakandan tribes, for the most part, they have created a functional society that finds ways to diminish outright conflict. Are the African technocities prepared to achieve the same throughout their citizenry?

The push for advanced technocities in Africa may be helped by the Alliance for Green Infrastructure in Africa (AGIA), an initiative to help scale and accelerate financing for green infrastructure projects in Africa, created by the African Union, the African Development Bank and Africa50 in partnership with several global partners, including the African Union Development Agency, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the French Development Agency, the Rockefeller Foundation, the US Trade and Development Agency, the Global Center on Adaptation, the Private Infrastructure Development Group and the African Sovereign Investors Forum.

 

Therefore, there is money and technical capacity to make replicas of Wakanda possible, but it still is the will to make societal changes that will allow this dream to become reality.

 

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Can Lasting Peace Come to Ethiopia?

Can Lasting Peace Come to Ethiopia?

The announcement of a so-called “permanent” cease-fire agreement in Ethiopia’s Tigray war sparked optimism among those outside Ethiopia, as well as those clinging to hope inside this beleaguered country. War in Ethiopia’s northern region has continued for nearly two years exactly. There have been ceasefires attempted previously, but none of these efforts lasted because they depended on whichever side felt a halt in fighting suited them at the time, while success on the battlefield made the aggressor at the time less likely to want to halt its momentum.

            After a fragile cessation of hostilities gave hope of the conflict ending several months ago, clashes between the Ethiopian army and forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) erupted around Kobo, a border town in the Amhara region to the south of Tigray. 

            At the signing of the current ceasefire in South Africa on 2 November, remarks by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, expressed the optimism of African officials about this new development:

“Today is the beginning of a new dawn for Ethiopia, for the Horn of Africa and indeed for Africa as a whole. Let me hasten to thank God for this new dawn. We are seeing in practice and actualisation what we have tried to achieve for ourselves over the years – African solutions for African problems. We also see in today’s peace agreement signing exercise the implementation of Agenda 2063 which embodies silencing the guns in Africa,” Obasanjo said.

 

Unfortunately, BBC News reported that a day after the agreement’s signing, the sound of artillery was still booming over the mountains of Tigray. The source of those guns may not be definitive since the Government of Ethiopia, the TPLF militia, the Amhara militia and the Government of Eritrea all have been engaged in the fighting. Additionally, clashes between the government forces and militants from the Oromo Liberation Army in the Oromia region have led to casualties estimated into the hundreds days after the signing of the ceasefire.

 

According to al Jazeera, the Ethiopian government and the TPLF have opened a link to directly communicate to stop any new fighting. According to an official familiar with the talks, the news service reported, the hotline will address any flare-up in fighting and coordinate disengagements, with both sides recognizing “the challenge of fully communicating with all their units to stop the fighting.”

           

But how will that account for Eritrea’s continued intervention since that government was not a party to the ceasefire? While the internal Ethiopian elements may be willing to come to some resolution of the Tigray conflict, Eritrea’s government has long shown its willingness to intervene in its neighbors’ affairs, using military force as in Tigray or supplying dissident elements fighting with neighboring governments.

 

As I stated in an earlier blog, Eritrea has formed an alliance with Russia that has given this rogue nation access to sophisticated weaponry. This regime is known for instigating conflicts with neighboring countries (Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen) since the early 1990s. The Isaias Afwerki regime has regularly supported armed opposition groups against governments experiencing internal disputes, such as the militant Islamist al-Shabaab in Somalia, and these conflicts have led to the unnecessary loss of lives and instability within the region. The addition of heavy Russian weaponry will only exacerbate an already tense relationship between Eritrea and its neighbors. Absent an arms embargo on Eritrea, the situation will only worsen, incurring an even greater humanitarian crisis and political instability in East Africa.

Eritrean intervention is not the extent of the dangers to the ceasefire’s fragile peace offering, though. In describing the scope of the agreement, AU High Representative Obasanjo laid out a limited scope for this agreement:

 

“The two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to the cessation of hostilities as well as to systematic, orderly, smooth, and coordinated disarmament, restoration of law and order, restoration of services, unhindered access to humanitarian supplies, protection of civilians especially women, children, and other vulnerable groups, among other areas of agreement. The agreement also takes care of assurance of security for all concerned within and outside Ethiopia,” Obasanjo said at the signing ceremony.

            The longstanding antagonism non-Tigrayans have felt toward the TPLF, which dominated the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front government until Abiy formed a new political coalition two years ago, to which the TPLF virulently objected and held its own elect ions in Tigray when the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali postponed the national elections. Hard feelings against the Tigrayan elite (and hopefully not against the Tigray people) is a real phenomenon that must be accounted for in moving beyond the terms of the ceasefire.

 

            In a 17 September 2021 letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, Abiy demonstrated the strong antipathy he and his government hold for the TPLF, which sparked the conflict in Tigray that has expanded to surrounding areas.

“As the rest of their peers in the country pursue their studies and lives, our children of Tigray have been held hostage by a terrorist organization that attacked the State on November 3, 2020, exposing them to various vulnerabilities. While the use of children as soldiers and participation in active combat is a violation of international law, the terrorist organization TPLF has proceeded unabated in waging its aggression using children and other civilians,” Abiy wrote.

 

“The cries of women and children in the Amhara and Afar regions that are displaced and suffering at the hands of TPLF’s enduring ruthlessness continues under the deafening silence of the international community. Unfortunately, while the entire world has turned its eyes onto Ethiopia and the Government for all the wrong reasons, it has failed to reprimand the terrorist group openly and sternly in the same manner it has been chastising my Government.”

Prior to the ceasefire signing, President Biden announced that it would continue its sanctions on the Government of Ethiopia considering the ongoing violations of human rights.

 

“The situation in and in relation to northern Ethiopia, which has been marked by activities that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region — in particular, widespread violence, atrocities, and serious human rights abuses, including those involving ethnic-based violence, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and obstruction of humanitarian operations — continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” the statement read. 

 

“For this reason, the national emergency declared in Executive Order 14046 of September 17, 2021, must continue in effect beyond September 17, 2022. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 14046 with respect to Ethiopia.”

 

The U.S. government has appointed three Special Envoys for the Horn of Africa since the Biden administration took office last year, but despite their diplomatic experience, this government is seen by Abiy’s government as biased toward TPLF and therefore ineffective as an honest broker in the governance talks that lie ahead. The United Nations and the European Union haven’t been effective in leading to this point either.

 

In describing the scope of the agreement, former High Representative Obasanjo laid out the limited parameters of this agreement:

 

“The two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to the cessation of hostilities as well as to systematic, orderly, smooth, and coordinated disarmament, restoration of law and order, restoration of services, unhindered access to humanitarian supplies, protection of civilians especially women, children, and other vulnerable groups, among other areas of agreement. The agreement also takes care of assurance of security for all concerned within and outside Ethiopia,” Obasanjo said at the signing ceremony.

 

Obasanjo stated that Africans are now taking over to ensure peace in Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa. Hopefully, they will not be as willing as Western governments have been to merely force warring parties into a “unified” government. That hasn’t worked elsewhere, such as South Sudan where elements of the two sides fought even as their leaders sat together at the same table to discuss governance issues.

 

It remains to be seen whether the TPLF will continue to accept in ongoing negotiations the refusal to acknowledge them as the Government of Tigray. This likely is of little concern to outside actors, but the TPLF was willing to start a war over their desire to control the affairs of this region. Moreover, many of the ethnic groups in Ethiopia – the Oromo, Amhara, the Somalis, the Anuak and others see the TPLF as oppressors from a long history of being denied agency. A neat solution of forming a unified government probably won’t be as possible as outsiders would want it to be. Other ethnic groups – large and small – will look at any agreement giving Tigrayans more autonomy as a signal to press for autonomy for their own regions. Oromo elements, as stated earlier, already have demonstrated their opposition to the current government coalition and their willingness to engage in armed struggle to press for what they consider ethnic majority rights.

 

Efforts to assign accountability for human rights abuses also could upset the negotiations as all sides have something to fear from investigations into the rapes, murders and forced starvation in Tigray. Assigning blame will be difficult if the investigation cannot prove such human rights violations were ordered by leaders of the various actors. Perhaps a truth and reconciliation process could address such matters without the accountability effort derailing overall peace and security.

 

Furthermore, the Tigray people shouldn’t bear the burden of the antagonism many Ethiopians have for that ethnic group’s elite. They have suffered more than many others during this war fought on their home ground. Some Tigray living outside the province have been suspected of being TPLF collaborators and jailed. They are a minority whose elite controlled the political and social environment in Ethiopia, and non-Tigray may have difficulty separating most of the Tigray from the victimization brought on by their elites.

            Ethiopia is too important a nation to design a cookie-cutter approach to sustainable peace and governance – not only in the Horn of Africa. It has offered a lot to Africa and the world at large, such as its contributions to peacekeeping. The people of Ethiopia deserve more than a papered-over solution to their longstanding governance issues. One hopes African interlocutors, understanding the complexity of issues Ethiopia faces, will help Ethiopians craft a sustainable way forward.

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Africa’s Dilemma: Energy or Environment

Africa’s Dilemma: Energy or Environment

            Pollution has been significantly diminished in developed countries due to the use of less polluting energy sources such as unleaded gasoline and natural gas. As a result, the skies over cities in developed countries are much clearer today than they were decades ago. Still, there continues to be pollutants that many are concerned will lead to a global catastrophe. The countries and regions seen as contributing the most: China, India, North America and Europe are constantly engaged in discussions over how to mitigate this threat. Climate change is real; the source and the most effective mitigation strategies are still uncertain.

            The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) current Global Environment Outlook report says that Africa must act now on the environment given the continent’s population growth.

“Africa faces a great challenge of sustaining rapid economic growth as its population is expected to double to approximately 2.5 billion by 2050, while safeguarding the life-support system provided by its rich natural capital, which underpins the realization of its long-term vision. It is therefore imperative that such growth must consider the region’s relatively weak environmental governance and a paucity of accurate and up-to-date environmental and socioeconomic data for evidence-based decision-making,” the UNEP report states.

Despite having 65 percent of the world’s arable land and 10 percent of the planet’s internal renewable fresh water source, the continent’s environment is threatened by poor environmental management that affects not only its countries, but also by extension the rest of the world. According to UNEP, more than 70 percent of people living in sub-Saharan Africa depend on forests and woodlands for their livelihoods, but a significant share of African resources are used unsustainably, including in the increased mining for critical minerals that enable modern technology. Significant resources are lost through illegal activities in mining, logging, wildlife trade and unregulated fishing, as well as environmental degradation and loss. It is estimated that Africa loses an estimated USD $195 billion annually of its natural capital through illicit financial flows alone.

            So, there is much work that needs to be done in safeguarding Africa’s environment, and it doesn’t have to be an either-or question of Africa protecting its environment without developing sustainable energy resources.

Then again, heatwaves and wildfires in developed countries have increased fears of out-of-control climate change effects. Unfortunately, Africa finds itself caught in the middle of global debates that too often center on what African countries must do now when none of the major culprits in global climate change are successfully pressed to do likewise on an accelerated timetable. This leaves Africa to deal with a three-sided conundrum: abundant fossil fuel resources Africans are urged to forego, the need to industrialize during an era of concern over climate change and the lack of technology and funding to make the transition to lower emission societies. Each one would be troublesome in and of itself, but when you add all three, they become an almost insurmountable obstacle absent outside assistance.

            In recent years, African governments have been asked to help bear the burden on fighting climate change by abandoning fossil fuels in lieu of renewable energy. Of course, while African countries have abundant sunshine for solar energy, coastlines for tidal energy, mountains for wind energy and some volcanic activity for geothermal energy, the technology is not yet sufficient to allow these forms of energy to immediate supplant fossil fuels, on which many African economies depend for revenue.

            In an article in the 1 August issue of The Guardian, the quest for African abandonment of fossil fuels has now run contrary to the sudden energy needs of developed countries.

“New exploration for gas, and the exploitation of Africa’s vast reserves of oil, would make it close to impossible for the world to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the article stated. “However, soaring gas prices have made the prospect of African supplies even more attractive, and developed countries, including EU members, have indicated they would support such developments in the current gas shortage.”

Now that African natural gas is required to replace what is lost due to sanctions on
Russian gas, production in Africa is now seen as a boon despite earlier environmental concerns. It must be remembered, though, that Chinese gas exploration in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region has caused serious health issues for residents without sparking significant environmental outrage globally. If the search for and production of African energy supplies are to be accelerated, the environmental watchdogs must be as scrupulous about safeguarding Africa’s environment as they are on their own environments.

During the height of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States, from about 1760 to 1840, it did not include much of the rest of the world except as sources of raw materials. The secrets of mechanized textile production, the development of industrial tools, steam power and efficient steel making were not shared with the developing world at that time. Colonialism expanded after industrialization as the demand for raw materials such as cotton grew exponentially. Japan began trying to catch up in industrialization in the late 1800s, but by then African nations had begun to succumb to colonial control, preventing any independent effort to join what by that time was considered the Second Industrial Revolution.

Just when African governments and their private sectors are trying to industrialize, COVID-19 and the Ukraine-Russia war have caused many developed country companies to withdraw from operating in developing country locations, mostly in Asia, and brought their production home in a process known as deglobalization. This wave of deglobalization initially does not affect Africa as much as Asia, but it will inhibit future investment in industrial activities in Africa (except perhaps energy production).

The African Continental Free Trade Area will not be able to expand on its current timetable, small and medium enterprises will lose connection to global value chains and technology will become scarce if African countries are disconnected from the global economy and unable to access financial and technical resources needed to catch up sufficiently to effectively integrate into the global economy.

That brings us to the issue of investment in pollution mitigating technology. African countries release minimal greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere but suffer an outsized impact. Swedish child environmental activist Greta Thunberg said she was avoiding all future international environmental conferences because of her disappointment that promises made at such gatherings are not kept. One might dismiss the preaching of an adolescent advocate, but such complaints are not confined to her. Dr. Rose Mutiso, Kenyan research director of the Energy for Growth Hub, told the BBC News recently that one refrigerator in a developing country uses more electricity than the average African uses in a year. That the deficit of electric power in Africa undoubtedly is known by donors.

“Yet African countries are being constrained by rich nations who make grand statements about their commitments while continuing to burn fossil fuels at home,” she recently lamented in the article.

In addition to financial and technical assistance being requested by African government for environmental efforts, Dr. Mutiso said developed countries could also try lessening their own contribution to greenhouse gasses. She estimated that “Kenya already generates a far greater share of its renewable power than the US or Europe.”

In her opening speech at the current 27th Conference of Parties (COP26) on the environment, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said the devastating loss of lives and livelihoods this year due to extreme weather events clarified how important it was to convene COP27 despite the impacts of COVID 19 still being felt.

“We are on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7C, while we should be heading for the 1.5C goal. Clearly, we are in a climate emergency. Clearly, we need to address it. Clearly, we need to support the most vulnerable to cope. To do so successfully, greater ambition is now critical,” she said.

But the question remains whether developed countries will live up to past promises and look beyond their concerns about how climate change affects their own countries. There is a reported $100 billion requirement to support developing countries in their fight against climate change that affects them. There is hope expressed about Africa “leapfrogging” the technology gap to produce renewable energy for electricity, but it requires significant funding. The question is: from where will it come?

If we are all in this together on our planet, will the developed world end up using some of their resources to help others facing melting ice on mountain tops and eroding shorelines, as well as drought and other natural disasters that do not directly affect them?

Talk is cheap; action is not.

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Africa’s Role in the War in Ukraine

Africa’s Role in the War in Ukraine

In a little reported development this month the Kremlin TV mouthpiece RT, the propaganda channel formerly known as Russia Today, opened its first Africa Bureau which will broadcast from a new base in Johannesburg.

 

Although RT has been banned from broadcasting in the UK and the European Union for what the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said was “spreading their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union”, RT has now found a new home in South Africa to propagate President Putin’s message that it is the West not Russia that is to blame for his invasion of Ukraine.

 

As predicted in Ambassador Partnership’s AP Insights in February at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Africa is now a key battleground in Putin’s mission to win friends and open up a new front to out-manoeuvre the West.

 

In another development this week which has been barely reported in the Western media, the South African Defence Minister Thandi Modise has travelled to Moscow along with 35 other African, Asian and Latin American defence ministers to take part in a Russian-sponsored Security Conference.

 

Addressing the conference Minister Modise called on “warmongers to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table of peace and multilateralism”. She failed to specify who she thought the “warmongers” were but her spokesperson Cornelius Monama confirmed that South Africa and Russia “enjoy cordial relations and both countries have signed a number of military-related bilateral agreements”.

 

Just as the East-West Cold War conflict was often prosecuted as a “hot war” in Africa particularly in countries like Angola and Mozambique, there are fears that the African continent could again be a battleground for Russia and its authoritarian partners to undermine the continent’s fragile democracies.

 

You will recall that back in March at the start of the invasion of Ukraine some 25 African countries at the United Nations abstained from calling on Russia to end its invasion. Since then we’ve seen a robust Russian campaign to build on that diplomatic reticence to criticise Putin’s aggression and there is mounting evidence that some African states are responding positively to Putin’s message that the West is to blame for the war.

 

As one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s senior Ministers, Lindiwe Zulu, put it at the start of the war: “Russia is our friend through and through and we are not about to denounce that relationship”.

 

In July potential Russian investors attended a closed-doors meeting with South African government ministers. It was organised by Russia’s state-owned agency the Russian Export Centre Group and discussed a range of enterprises across agriculture, manufacturing, oil and gas and telecoms. News media were barred from attending.

 

Collaborations like these build on Russia’s deepening presence in Africa with economic deals, arms sales and military and mercenary collaborations. Trade between Russia and Africa has doubled since 2015. It’s now worth around $20 billion a year.

 

Meanwhile thousands of Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner Group, controlled by Putin’s associate Yevgeny Prigozhin, are operating in countries like Mozambique, Angola, Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic – and through them Russia’s influence and footprint in Africa is spreading.

 

This month Mali received military jets and a combat helicopter from Russia in what its Defence Minister Sadio Camara called a “win-win partnership with Russia”. Local Russian sympathisers in Mali have organised pro-Kremlin rallies in support of the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group mercenaries at the expense of France’s peacekeeping troops. Russia has managed to exploit anti-Western sentiment and regional instability to create new alliances in Africa.

 

In African countries like Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic pro-Russian films are screened spreading the Putin worldview that the West remains an imperialist and neo-colonial power and that Putin is Africa’s anti-imperialist friend and bringer of stability. These messages are magnified through sponsored pro-Russian news stories and messaging from the bot factories in St Petersburg.

 

There are also Russian ambitions to reinvigorate the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa into a wider anti-Western political entity. Africa has long been a source of economic interest to a range of countries including Russia, China and the West. It is now also becoming a diplomatic battleground as well in a new Scramble for Africa.

 

The Russian diplomatic offensive prompted the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to visit South Africa, Rwanda and DRCongo this month to launch a new US strategy for relations with African states based on what he called an “equal partnership”.

 

In a speech at the University of Pretoria he said: “Our strategy is rooted in the recognition that Sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force – one that shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future”.

 

His visit followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Egypt, DRCongo, Uganda and Ethiopia. He constructed an alternative narrative of the invasion of Ukraine, blaming the West as the villain of the peace and responsible for the war-related food shortages which are a matter of life or death for millions of Africans.

 

Lavrov told African leaders that the grain shortages existed long before the war began and in echoes of the East-West Cold War urged Africa to resist a world “totally subordinated to the United States”

 

For his part, Anthony Blinken has described Lavrov’s Africa mission as “a desperate game of defence to justify to the world the actions that Russia has taken”.

 

It’s fair to say that Africa was not a top US priority during the Trump Presidency and it is now racing to catch up with the inroads made into the continent during that time by Russia, China and other major players. Some ground has undoubtedly been lost. Last month a US-Africa business summit took place in Morocco to discuss infrastructure projects. Although some 450 American companies were present only five African government delegations – Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana and Cameroon – were there to meet them.

 

Contrast that with Putin’s last Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi pre-pandemic when deals were signed with 43 African leaders. It will be interesting to see whether Russia pushes ahead with its long planned 2nd Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg this October as that will be a public test of the depth of Putin’s African charm offensive.

 

The battle for African resources has a long history, now the diplomatic battle for African hearts and minds is also being waged between East and West. Undoubtedly some African countries prefer to hedge their bets rather than fall out with Russia, and it is significant that no African countries have joined the Western sanctions against Russia. And equally significant that Russia’s information warfare in Africa remains a potent tool which RT will undoubtedly seek to exploit.

 

The war in Ukraine has sharpened Russia’s geopolitical attempts to repackage itself as an anti-imperialist force just as it tried to do in Africa during the Cold War.

 

The West has been late to wake up to this Russian “hearts and minds strategy” and it’s clear that it would be a pyrrhic victory if the West eventually won the war in Ukraine only to lose it in Africa.

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Africa Caught in the Middle of Big-Power Conflicts

Africa Caught in the Middle of Big-Power Conflicts

 —> Much has been written and said about how the world’s big powers have squeezed Africa into the middle of their global conflicts – from the Scramble for Africa in the late 1800s to the current impact of the Russia-Ukraine war. However, recently reading the book Modern Africa, one of the series of Captivating History book series, reminded me that these situations were not historical outliers, but rather part of a tragic trend that has plagued the continent and its inhabitants for more than a century and a half.

            The Scramble for Africa in the late 1800s was motivated by the desires of European countries to become the dominant world power at that time. European conflict with Muslims in the Middle East inspired a search for the legendary Prester John, whose attraction was as an ally in the Crusades in the Middle East from the 11th to the 13th centuries. He was said to be incredibly wealthy and have numerous soldiers to help defeat the Muslims who held the Holy Lands.

What the Europeans found were divided tribes that engaged in the slave trade, albeit with quite different ideas about the humanity of those enslaved. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was devastating to Africa, spiriting away millions of Africans who might have been significant contributors to their homelands, but whose descendants became significant contributors to their new homelands. Eventually, the slave trade profits waned, but European explorers found that the interior of Africa held significant natural resources beyond its people.

In 1878, Belgian King Leopold II was briefed by explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who told him of the riches that could be extracted from the Central Africa Congo Basin, such as gold, rubber and timber. Unfortunately for the Belgian king, information is fungible, and the French learned of Leopold’s plans and sent a naval officer – Pierre de Brazza (for whom Brazzaville in the now Republic of Congo was later named) – to investigate and create a colony north of where the Belgians had planned to begin their African empire.

Meanwhile, the British had their sights set on many parts of West, East and southern Africa, Germany carved out colonies from Cameroon and Togoland in the East to Namibia in the south to Tanganyika in the East. Italy sought to capture Eritrea, Ethiopia and other parts of northeastern Africa. Portugal ended up with five colonies – from the islands of Cape Verde and Sāo Tomé to Guinea-Bissau and Angola in Central and West Africa to Mozambique in the East. Spain grabbed several small territories off the Mediterranean coast and Equatorial Guinea. The Dutch, who had declined as a world power since 1700, didn’t have what was necessary to compete with other Europeans colonizers in Africa with one major exception: South Africa.

At the outset of the Belin Conference of 1884, 80% of Africa was independent, but soon only Liberia, which was seen as an American dependent, and Ethiopia escaped European control, but Ethiopia continued to be an Italian target of colonization through World War II.  The European division of African territory was done with European interests in mind and put clashing ethnic groups together in created countries that continue to have inter-ethnic disputes.

The Scramble for Africa only delayed the inevitable European conflict, which broke out in 1914 with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Apparently, Austria-Hungary and Serbia had been spoiling for conflict for some time, and this killing proved to be the trigger. Austria-Hungary enlisted the aid of Germany and the Ottoman Empire, while Serbia was aided by Russia, France and Great Britain at the outset. The United States would later join the so-called Allied forces fighting against Austria-Hungary’s coalition.

Of course, this European war inevitably involved Africa, as colonies were seen as targets to destabilize European opponents and force their militaries to defend African territories, bases for supply or sources of recruits for the war effort. Germany encouraged a Muslim group known as the Senussi to foreswear their friendly relations with Britain in Egypt, which ended up in a 1917 defeat for this Muslim group at the hands of the British and the Italians. The Senussi had successfully frustrated Italian incursions until then.

The Germans who had lost their African colonies through their defeat in what was called the Great War, signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that placed what Germans came to see as an onerous burden on that country. Eventually, Germany broke their agreement under Nazi rule, but their land grab didn’t end in Europe. The Allies (Britain, the United States, China and the Soviet Union faced off against the German coalition known the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan).

The Axis coalition targeted the Suez Canal early in the war, even though Egypt was independent from Britain because British troops still guarded it, and the Axis countries wanted to distract British troops. The Italians attacked Egypt from Libya in 1940, but a year later, they were on the brink of defeat when the German Afrika Korps, led by General Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox) won a string of victories. The British seized the initiative in the North Africa campaign in 1942, and when the United States subsequently joined the British, the Axis’ North Africa campaign was all but over, ending their threat to the Suez Canal.

During both World Wars, African military recruits and other enlisted helpers were ill-treated, receiving substandard rations, clothing, housing and medical care. Whatever promises had been made to them were not kept. Millions of Africans suffered and died in the two World Wars, although the weakened European colonizers subsequently were forced to relinquish formal control of African colonies over the next three decades.

Unfortunately, the end of the two World Wars also coincided with the commencement of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. There was extraordinarily little room for neutrality. African governments were seen as allies or enemies. This was especially true in Angola, Ethiopia and Egypt.

The Portuguese favored one of the three independence parties – the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA in the Portuguese language acronym) – and set this political party up as the dominant power behind the scenes. After the MPLA seized the capital and declared the country a one-party state in 1975, the Soviet Union and Cuba backed them. The other two independence parties – the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA in Portuguese) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA in Portuguese) were supported by the United States and apartheid South Africa, who joined together to oppose communism in southern Africa. Any support from South Africa during this period, though, was considered a negative factor.

Despite cease-fires and 1992 national elections, the Angolan civil war continued off and on from 1975 until the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in June 1989. While this conflict was based on internal ethnic disputes, the fighting was fanned and supported by the United States and the Soviet Union as an extension of their Cold War. Not only did numerous Angolans die or were maimed in this conflict, but the indiscriminate landmine placements also prevented the return of agricultural production and prevented safe travel until a later anti-mining effort was implemented.

Ethiopia had long been a U.S. ally, and many Americans held Emperor Haile Selassie as a hero. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine as Man of the Year in 1936. Black Americans and others held a major rally in New York in that same year to urge the U.S. government to oppose Italian occupation of Ethiopia. After the defeat of Italy in World War II and the restoration of the Emperor, U.S.-Ethiopian relations blossomed.

That is, until the Marxist Dergue movement led by Mengistu Haile Mariam seized power and overthrew the Emperor in 1974. This action against a U.S. ally, in conjunction with its support from the Soviet Union and the so-called Red Terror campaign that led to thousands of Ethiopian deaths, caused a break in relations with Ethiopia. That was only reversed in 1991 with the Dergue’s removal. The incoming Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front was a U.S. ally again until internal changes in 2020 led to political dissension and a civil war based largely in the Tigray Province.

In Egypt, the United States had helped protect the Suez Canal – the gateway of oil from the Middle East to Europe and beyond – even to the extent of using its military to oust British and French forces. However, Egyptian President Abdel Nasser had pro-communist leanings. The U.S. government apparently decided to support Egyptian independence efforts. That support, as well as billions in military and economic aid eventually convinced Nasser to remain neutral in the Cold War.

Even after independence, though, Africa remains unduly affected by outside conflicts. China has been a Non-Aligned Movement partner of African since 1961. Recent concerns about China monopolizing strategic minerals in Africa caused the U.S. government to oppose what it considers Chinese hegemony in Africa. One program, called Clear Choice, created during the administration of Donald Trump, was initially intended to force an African choice between doing business with America or China. Fortunately, experienced Africa hands in the administration led the focus of Clear Choice to be changed to demonstrating the benefits of dealing with the United States as opposed to China, but frustrations with growing Chinese control over African resources could affect this calculus moving forward.

Today, the Russia-Ukraine war has had seriously negative impacts on African economies and its people. A shortage of grain from major producers Ukraine and Russia due to the fighting has caused spikes in food prices as has the lack of fertilizers from that region due to embargoes and shipping blockades. We hear about progress made in getting shipments of grain and fertilizer out, but this is a decision is driven by war politics in Europe and not because of concern over the war’s negative global effect, especially on developing nations.

So, a century and a half later, Africa still finds itself buffeted by the winds of conflict elsewhere. Pollution in other parts of the world has driven efforts to quickly move toward renewable energy sources regardless of how that affects fossil fuel-rich Africa that has a desperate need to industrialize. Critical minerals exist in abundance in Africa, but the world’s focus is on who outside of Africa has control, not how Africans can manage their own natural resources.

When will the broader world start to consider Africa’s needs as at least equal to if not superior to theirs, help to facilitate African countries to become more self-reliant and less reliant on outside assistance and stop using African countries and African people as pawns in a global, real-life Game of Thrones?

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6th US Africa Business and Policy Forum 2021

U.S. - Africa Business Bridge

6th US Africa Business and Policy Forum 2021

Theme: US - Africa Relations Partnerships, Recovery & Sustainability
Keynote speaker: H. E. Nangolo Mbumba - Vice President of Namibia Speaker: Joan Wadelton - President US-Africa Business Bridge, USA

U.S.-AFRICA BUSINESS BRIDGE

Linking US companies with a transcontinental network of
Africa’s leading businesswomen.

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Connect the American and African Peoples by Bringing Together Women Political Leaders

U.S. - Africa Business Bridge

Connect the American and African Peoples by Bringing Together Women Political Leaders

The global rise of women in politics offers new avenues to broaden understanding and strengthen ties between the United States and Africa.  New communications technologies can foster peer-to-peer alliances among female political leaders from both sides though ongoing virtual meetings.  Women from the local to the highest political levels could meet virtually with counterparts to problem solve and form relationships.  A biannual Women Political Leaders Forum designed to bring together all participants – both virtually and in-person – would review best practices and challenges overcome as well as expand long term people  to people ties among peers across the two continents.

The United States and Africa have much to learn from each other.  So giving a primary role to women is an effective – and cost effective – way to do so.

Goals

  • To forge closer ties between the United States and the 54 countries of Africa by fostering counterpart relationships between the two continents’ female political leaders at all levels and in all branches of government.
  • To take full advantage of videoconferencing technologies – not as a substitute for in-person meetings – but as an end in themselves — to promote professional relationships.

Background

Relations between the United States and the many countries of Africa — despite historical and other ties — need considerable improvement.  The dynamics of the world, changing at warp speed, offer both challenges and unique opportunities to recalibrate our interactions.  A vital element of this will be forging long term links among women political leaders from the two continents.  Because there has been a significant increase in the numbers of women in governments, parliaments, courts and various local bodies all over the world, this is an increasingly attractive and cost-effective avenue.

In Africa, there has been an impressive number of women in senior leadership for some time, including female presidents, prime ministers, ministers of every kind and judges.  And African nations have long been among the countries that lead the world in percentages of women in parliaments.

The picture in the United States is not quite so rosy.  However, there are many women in politics at the grassroots level in particular, and women have begun to permeate the highest levels of state and federal governments. 

Women around the world share similar life experiences and face the same obstacles in running for, and occupying, political office.  They have more difficulty in raising money for their campaigns than their male counterparts.  And they are subjected to a much greater degree to insults, threats, harrassment and violence than male politicians.

Linking women political leaders to share their common experiences and discuss overcoming the challenges of their work, would be an important way to develop and deepen ties between communities in Africa and the United States.

The United States government (through the Department of State) has for decades conducted exchange programs – bringing foreigners to the United States for education and training, to meet with peers and to introduce them to Americans and American society and values.  The State Department, USAID and the Peace Corps have also long sent Americans overseas for educational and other purposes.  All of these programs have advanced cross-cultural knowledge and created friendships.

One of the dividends of the pandemic related quarantine has been the normalization of remote interaction.  Platforms now exist to enhance interaction among peers – in this case women political leaders.  The new technologies that have brought us internet meetings should catalyze exchange programs in a virtual format. 

Program Outline

This program would bring together female political leaders from Africa and the United States for peer-to-peer discussions to broaden understanding of each other’s countries, societies and cultures.

It would create lasting and productive relationships, giving female leaders the opportunity to exchange ideas, share best practices and highlight successful solutions to common problems.

While creating relationships would be the goal, substantive outcomes would be equally important.

Discussion groups would focus on exchanges of ideas, including overcoming challenges facing female political leaders.  Topics might also include improving trade and investment relations, two-way tourism, public health, dealing with the effects of climate change and much more. 

Participants would include elected and appointed officials from governments, the judiciary and legislative bodies.

Officials would be chosen from local bodies to the heads of national governments.

Building on the normalized internet communications of the pandemic era, the program would take full advantage of developing new technologies, tools and methods.  Even post-pandemic, the majority of meetings and activities would be virtual.

Over time, discussion groups would be expected to continue on a self-sustaining basis, without outside organization from the State Department or elsewhere.

A bi-annual Women Leaders Forum (in person and virtual) would bring together all of the participants to meet, exchange ideas and report on progress.  

Who Would Participate?

The program is designed to foster peer-to-peer relationships at all levels and in all branches of government.

Meetings at the highest levels would help highlight the program. 

For example:

  • a meeting between Vice President Harris and a female African President or Prime Minister;
  • a meeting between the US Deputy Secretary of Defense and the various female Defense Ministers in Africa; and
  • a meeting between a female US Supreme Court Justice and several female justices in Africa.

Meetings at other levels would also be sought, including:

  • Members of the US Congress and national parliaments across Africa;
  • US governors and their African counterparts;
  • US state senators and delegates and their African counterparts; and
  • Local US officials such as mayors and county managers and their African counterparts.

How Would the Program Work?

The State Department has run exchange programs for many years.  State – working with contract agencies who specialize in organizing in-person exchange programs – could be tasked with this. 

However, in this new world of meeting by video conference, new ways of constructing exchange programs will likely emerge.  While it is nicer to see people (and places) face-to-face, using the new technologies is cheaper and can reach a broader audience.

Online meetings offer several advantages:

  • Budgetary – it is far cheaper to arrange an online program than to fly participants around the world; there are no travel, lodging or maintenance expenses;
  • Staff numbers – State Department exchange programs normally require intensive staff work to escort foreign participants around the United States. This function would change.  Instead, they would require experts to organize the meetings, manage the technology, propose topics and much more; and
  • Participant numbers – online programing allows organizers to reach a much broader audience or set up meetings as small as one on one.

U.S. participants would be identified through the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) which has decades long experience in managing exchange programs.

In Africa, in the pilot phase, identification of participants would be done by US Embassies.  Over time, existing programs through the United Nations, the African Union and others might dovetail with this program.  At a later date, African participants might nominate peers.

Meetings/discussion groups would normally be kept small.  They would consist of several Americans from around the United States and several African women from across the continent.

Because the main goal of this program is to ensure that enduring relationships are formed, participants would need to make long- term commitments to the program before admission.

Initially, the State Department through its contract agencies would schedule the meetings and provide technology assistance, a moderator, an agenda and discussion topics.  However, because this is a permanent commitment, over time the groups themselves would be expected to handle these functions. 

To begin, US political leaders with experience in Africa might be candidates – including former Africa Peace Corps volunteers, Fulbright and other scholars plus others who have worked or lived on the continent.

On the African side, women with some experience in the United States and strong English language skills could be the first candidates for the pilot phase.  

The Bi-Annual Forum

Every other year a Women Political Leaders Forum would be held – alternating between the United States and Africa.  It would be both virtual and in-person.

When in Africa, it would rotate among countries.

Organizations that promote women’s political involvement would be key participants and constituents.

Agenda topics would be decided by the various discussion groups themselves.  They would highlight findings and best practices arrived at over the previous two years.

Conclusion

Women’s voices and viewpoints add substantial value to political stability and economic advancement both at home and abroad.  Building communities of American and African women with friendly and productive relationships would create a framework for mutual collaboration not only across national boundaries but also worldwide.

Article first published on Whirled View on Wednesday, 03 March 2021.

U.S.-AFRICA BUSINESS BRIDGE

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Africa: Time for a Reset for U.S.-Africa Trade Relations

U.S. - Africa Business Bridge

Africa: Time for a Reset for U.S.-Africa Trade Relations

Key Points:
  • The new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will bring economic development across the continent, as well as significant opportunities for American companies looking to do business there.
  • The United States should negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Africa.
  • African countries integrate under the AfCFTA, their economies will prosper and they will be eligible to graduate from the African Growth and Opportunity Act(AGOA) program. Eventually, AGOA will be folded into the U.S.-AfCFTA Free Trade Agreement.
  • The U.S. government should aggressively support American companies hoping to access African markets.

The advent of the AfCFTA completely transforms trade between Africa and the rest of the world. The United States must now forge an innovative and robust business relationship with Africa, with the goal of an eventual FTA.

The new AfCFTA offers immeasurable development opportunities for Africa — an upsurge of American companies will mean increased capital flows, technology transfer, employment opportunities and access to the U.S. market, and much more for Africans. And it will open markets for American companies across the continent that were previously too difficult to access. In so doing, it will create U.S. jobs, augment U.S. overseas markets and boost revenue flowing back to the United States.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement 

The AfCFTA will develop Africa’s economies and offers tremendous opportunities to American companies

The AfCFTA is a remarkable achievement. It launches on January 1, 2021, with selective tariff reductions. It builds on harmonization and integration work done in Africa’s regional economic entities in recent decades.

Under the AfCFTA, countries across Africa will unite their economies into an enormous continent-wide trading block – estimated to comprise anywhere from $2-4 trillion in consumption and investment. A Secretariat has been established in Ghana and work to harmonize regulations, reduce tariffs, eliminate non-tariff barriers, promote free movement of persons across the continent and more — has begun. The eventual goal is a continent-wide, single trading entity.

The first task of the AfCFTA will be focused inward – to merge the economies of the continent. Benefits to African countries will include broadening and integrating supply chains, increased innovation, enhanced competition and productivity and more. Smaller countries will be given opportunities to catch up with their larger, richer and more economically diversified neighbors.

The AfCFTA’s second task will be outward focused — the eventual establishment of economic relations with the rest of the world as a single, continent-wide entity. The economic potential of a unified Africa will be considerable, and its desire to negotiate trade agreements of intense interest to trading partners.

The U.S. goal should be a Free Trade Agreement with Africa

The United States should make a U.S.-AfCFTA Free Trade Agreement its goal (the European Union is already referencing a continent-to-continent FTA in the future). The AfCFTA will bring significant opportunities for foreign companies looking to do business with Africa; American firms will be able to establish in one country and expand operations across national borders.

The AfCFTA will take time to be implemented, the United States should along the way:

  • Refrain from negotiating bilateral agreements with individual African countries – they undermine the objective of a unified Africa and risk alienating the rest of the continent;
  • Seek assurances from the Africans that the U.S. will not be disadvantaged by the European Union’s (EU) Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). (Indeed, it is not clear whether the EPAs will benefit the EU and Africa given the greater potential of the AfCFTA; in any case few of them have been implemented);
  • Ensure that American companies will be able to take full advantage of the provisions of the AfCFTA as they are implemented; and
  • Offer to work with the new AfCFTA Secretariat at the technical level as tariffs are reduced and the Agreement itself is deepened to include additional trade-related disciplines.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act

AGOA addresses one half of our trade with Africa – exports from the continent to the United States

No discussion of U.S.-Africa trade would be complete without a discussion of AGOA. AGOA is a 20-year-old program created by Congress that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and is in place until 2025. AGOA grants duty-free entry for 6500 products into the United States from Africa.

United States Census Bureau.

Two-way trade in goods with Africa

To qualify for AGOA benefits, countries must adhere to standards for worker rights, free and fair elections, anti-corruption efforts and more. An annual internal U.S. government review determines whether AGOA beneficiaries are abiding by their commitments to these standards, and if countries should be added to, or dropped from, the AGOA program.

AGOA has long been referred to as “the cornerstone of U.S.-Africa trade policy.” However, AGOA addresses only one half of the trade equation – exports from Africa to the United States. It was intended to allow African countries to develop their export sectors by making the entry of their goods into the United States duty-free. AGOA was never equipped to assist U.S. businesses looking to invest in, or trade with, Africa. That must be done through other means.

As the AfCFTA stands up, AGOA will wind down

Countries “graduate” out of AGOA (that is, they no longer are eligible to receive benefits) if they are determined to be “high-income economies” as defined by the World Bank. Seychelles achieved this status and was graduated from AGOA in 2017; Mauritius was recently determined to have met this benchmark and presumably will be graduated as well.

As countries begin to prosper from measures undertaken through the AfCFTA, more of them will reach “high-income status” and therefore be graduated out of the AGOA program. Over time, the number of beneficiary countries should steadily decline.

When the U.S.-AfCFTA FTA is signed, AGOA will cease to exist

FTAs are designed to reduce and/or eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers between (or among) countries. By eliminating the duty on many African products coming into the U.S., the U.S. has provided benefits normally associated with an FTA. However, U.S. goods are still subject to duties when entering African countries – and reducing or eliminating those would be a critical part of the FTA negotiations. As is the norm, an FTA with the AfCFTA would set all policy with respect to tariffs, resulting in AGOA being superseded and disappearing.

U.S. Trade and Investment Going to Africa – the Other Half of the Equation

The U.S. Government should take an aggressive, multi-faceted approach to supporting American companies looking to do business with Africa

The United States government has a broad array of programs designed to train Africans in business and to assist American companies entering African markets. Programs through the Department of Commerce, U.S.AID, the State Department and more, can be strengthened with additional resources and new programs can be created. Below are a few of my suggestions – there are certainly many more.

  • Emphasize that increasing the U.S. business presence in Africa is a top priority. Name a Special Envoy for U.S. Business in Africa.
  • Reinstall Foreign Commercial Service Attaches (including virtually) in U.S. Embassies across Africa.
  • Fully staff and fund the existing U.S.AID Trade Hubs in Africa; establish more as needed in areas that are geographically distant from the current hubs.
  • Ensure that the intent of Prosper Africa to link up U.S. government agencies helping American companies enter African markets is met, and that “deal teams” in U.S. missions in Africa have the staff, funding and flexibility to perform their duties.
  • Ensure that the U.S. International Development and Finance Corporation (DFC) is fully funded and has maximum flexibility to provide the financing and support that American companies entering the African market need.
  • Focus on the continent’s businesswomen – they form the backbone of Africa’s economies. Expand funding and resources for the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) that brings the continent’s elite businesswomen to the United States for business training and matchmaking.
  • Focus on Africa’s young people. Increase resources and funding for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Ensure that each program curriculum contains a robust business training segment.
Above all, consult closely and constantly with U.S. business to see what they need and suggest.

It is imperative that the absence of American companies in Africa be reversed. The continent is replete with old friends and allies; a strong American business presence there would be welcome and benefit both sides.

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