In her series of high level meetings in Washington DC, United States this week, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has been making the case for increased United States trade and investment in Africa.
She is engaging critical stakeholders in the US Congress and Senate to forge a more diversified relationship ranging from peace, and security, promotion of opportunities for trade and investment, and sustainable development.
A critical element in these engagements is getting concrete support to further strengthen the AU-US partnership through the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier this year. It also involves acting on the agreements reached during the meeting between the AUC Chairperson and President Barack Obama in June 2013.
The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is the flagship of US Trade policy with Sub-Saharan Africa. Given its positive impact thus far for both African countries and the US, it features prominently in the conversations with members of the key US policy making bodies across the political divide.
Democratic Senator Christopher Coons, Chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee on African Affairs, threw his support for any initiative that would enhance Africa-US relationship. He underlined that "support for Africa is one of few areas of consensus between Democrats and Republicans."
Senator Johnny Isakson, the most Senior Republican, Ranking Member of the Sub-Committee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness shared his recent experience visiting Liberia. He found women cooperatives running successful initiatives and wished that the media did not only cover tragedies, but also report such amazing activities. "I would be very happy to support any work that can move this forward," he remarked.
Senator Isakson and Dr. Dlamini Zuma were in unison on overcoming current challenges faced in AGOA in order for it to have wider and lasting impact in the region. There is a strong demand to extend the time period over 15 years, as strongly recommended by the Ministerial meeting held last August in Addis Ababa.
This would be an important measure of ensuring predictable, reliable and a legally secure basis to inspire investor confidence. Current US investment in Africa slated below one percent (1%) the total US investment worldwide.
Dr. Dlamini Zuma briefed her hosts on ongoing consultations with citizens to conceive Agenda 2063, Africa's ambitious vision for the next 50 years. "We are very excited seeing how the citizens are engaging in the process.
We should get a framework by January 2014, which the Governments will present back for the citizens to further refine. A final version will be adopted in July 2014, during the Heads of State and Government."
She also shared light on plans to fund this agenda and Africa's priority areas, particularly through overcoming the odds in generating funds from within the continent. Dr. Dlamini Zuma highlighted the African Development Bank's (AfDB), Africa 50 fund.
The AUC Chairperson expressed the wish to have USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation increase their support to diverse regional and sub-regional initiatives, which would greatly enhance the AU's economic integration agenda.
Local supply chain systems, she indicated, will be encouraged as trade is facilitated. International trading partners, including the US, will also increase cooperation with African countries, which will grow the trade and global competiveness.
Specific country cases were highlighted with either challenges in compliance compared to expected standards of the Act, or perceived challenges in the democratic process.
Congressman, Ed Royce, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives expressed his unhealthy skepticism in the last electoral process in Zimbabwe. He said though he was unable to observe the elections on the ground, he thought, "If both the AU and SADC cannot speak out, no one else can."
Putting the elections in perspective, the AUC Chairperson pointed out the difference between the just concluded elections and earlier ones. With a team of Long-term and Short-term Observers on the ground, the AU reported the outcome of its observation. "There were issues, but not sufficient to discredit the elections." Dr. Dlamini Zuma repeated the outcome of the AU's Observation Mission.
Nevertheless, there was an understanding of the need to balance between pursuing investment projects and punishing countries. A framework on which to negotiate around continued good governance in investment projects is highly recommended.
"Sometimes the most effective ways of doing that is through the people. The people need to understand what is right and what is wrong. They can be the arbiters as long as they understand." The AUC Chairperson said in one of the meetings.