Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's trip to Africa, where she will emphasize the need to provide lasting food security by improving the continent's agricultural sector with American help, brings a welcome message, says Sierra Leone's ambassador to the United States, Bockari Stevens.
"I don't think Africans want to beg for aid. What we want is partnerships, private-sector investment in order to empower our farmers to be able to produce themselves," Stevens told a July 29 panel discussion on food security sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Food security and the improvement of agriculture is "our Number 1 priority," he added. "And our goal is to feed ourselves in two years' time."
"The visit of Secretary of State Clinton, coming on the heels of President Obama's [July 11] visit to Ghana, is a symbol for us Africans that, yes, maybe now America is taking our continent very seriously," the African diplomat said.
Clinton's Africa trip begins August 4 in Nairobi, where she attends the two-day African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, followed by stops in South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde, where she will discuss timely issues such as global hunger and agriculture with African leaders.
Stevens said he would also be attending the AGOA meeting. He described AGOA as "a very important trade initiative" that has benefited a number of African economies since it was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000.
The trade act provides favorable nontariff entry of goods into the United States from African nations that open their economies while building free markets. Trade and finance ministers from more than 40 African nations, as well as U.S. officials from the departments of State, Commerce and Transportation, are attending the Nairobi meeting.
Sessions will touch on a wide range of issues, including the global economic crisis; strategies for business development in Africa; good governance as it relates to business and economic development; and fostering greater regional trade integration across the continent.
President Obama set the tone for a new development dialogue in his earlier visit to Ghana when he said America wanted to be partners with Africans "in building the capacity for transformational change."
He reiterated the $3.5 billion commitment he made at the recent G8 meeting in Italy to partner with Africans to upgrade their agricultural sectors in order to ensure food security for the continent.
At the same time, Obama emphasized that America's partnership with Africa must be built on mutual responsibility. "Aid is not an end in itself," he said. "The purpose of foreign assistance must be creating the conditions where it's no longer needed."
Although Sierra Leone is not among Clinton's stops, Ambassador Stevens said her trip to neighboring Liberia "gives us hope, because what affects Liberia affects Sierra Leone, and we are both countries coming from decades of civil war" that wrought economic havoc.
For economies to thrive, hunger must end, Clinton told a January high-level aid conference in Madrid sponsored by the United Nations. Speaking via video message, she said, "The president and I intend to focus new attention on food security so that developing nations can invest in food production, affordability, accessibility, education and technology."
With that in mind, Obama's and Clinton's visits to Africa could not have come at a better time, says Lloyd Pierson, president and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation, who is attending the AGOA Forum.
Pierson, a former Peace Corps executive and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official under President George W. Bush, told America.gov, "Food security is one of the most important policy issues in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Obama administration is absolutely correct in giving priority attention to agriculture and food needs there."
As the largest international food donor, the United States committed more than $5.5 billion to fight worldwide hunger from 2008 to 2009, mainly through USAID. In 2009, USAID devoted $130 million to the production of staple foods such as corn, wheat and cassava in five West African countries with the greatest need: Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.