Opinion

The US Must Keep Aiding Africa By Extending The African Growth Opportunity Act

Africa, no doubt is one continent that inspires hope and is equally a challenge at the same time. And for long, reality has proved to be a determined rival in her concerted strides for global playership and dominance. Africa’s now 1.1 billion people have notoriously lived off financial assistance in aid, grants and loans from “philanthropic nations” in varying forms and scale, till the present day. But as the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, it is internationally known as one of the poorest continents on Earth. And just last week, the United States hosted a US-Africa Leaders’ Summit to forge out a road map to shape relations between Africa and the US.
However, the climax of events that led to the summit in the D.C was as a result of the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was signatured by the Clinton Administration as far back as the 2000’s and set to expire in 2008. However, the act has being renewed 3 successive times by the Clinton, Bush and now the Obama Administrations. We now are faced with a whole new threat of not extending Agoa beyond its expiration year of 2015 unless the US Congress decides to renew it or pass a revised version of the law. What it will mean for Africa if not renewed is devastating.

Agoa, has significantly boosted African exports to the US. The Obama administration this week reaffirmed its support for a general renewal of the act well ahead of its expiry date, albeit with reforms. It is a program that has given more than 40 legible African member countries duty-free access to the lucrative US market. Agoa is a non-reciprocal preferential trade scheme that applies to US imports from eligible sub-Saharan African countries. A centerpiece of U.S. trade, aid and investment policy, it allows for export of designated products, especially textiles and apparels into the US and provides for trade facilitation and technical assistance to African producers.

But how sincere this initiative is, is what does not seem clear. What has taken it so long to achieve its desired aim? It’s however sad to note that 1. 75 percent of the world’s poorest countries are found in Africa. This statistic includes historically poor regions like Zimbabwe,
Liberia, Burundi, Niger, Eritea and Ethiopia. For the past three years, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second largest country, has also been ranked the , poorest in the world having a GDP of just $394.25 per capita. And now, according to the UN, roughly 1.2 billion people
live in extreme poverty and 414 million people out of this block are living in sub-Saharan Africa. Estimates show that over 47% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa are afflicted with living below $1.25 a day. Critics might say it’s not always easy to help someone get out of
poverty completely because oftentimes, good intentions fail the poor. The African Growth Opportunity Act has run for 14 years now. Nothing seemingly concrete and visible can be shown for it.

Africa is the continent with the second largest number of hungry people, compared to Asia and the Pacific. Approximately 1 in 3 people living in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 842 million people in the world do not have enough food to eat. And around 30 percent of these populations are in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the highest percentage of any region in the world with the exception of South Asia. Also, the UN Millennium Project reported that over 40 percent of all Africans are unable to regularly obtain sufficient food. Now you know the source of the killer Ebola virus ravaging parts of West Africa. Bats, monkeys, porpoises, porcupines, bushbabies, and chimpanzees have been reported to carry the strain. People still eat them.

Sub-Saharan Africa has endemic electricity shortages and meeting the subcontinent’s infrastructural needs is daunting and challenging owing to several years of negligence and corruption, lack of political will and inadequate technological expertise. Obsolete power utilities in the region must be made more efficient to provide for her 547 million people living without electricity. With nearly two-thirds of the countries in the region experiencing acute energy crisis coupled with frequent and extended electricity outages. In Nigeria, about 78 percent of the population relies on biomass products, such as wood, charcoal, and dung, in order to cook and provide energy for themselves.

Nearly a billion, it’s sad to read that 884 million people do not have access to clean and safe water, and an alarming 37 percent of which live in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from different types of waterborne diseases. According to the UN Millennium Project, more than 50 percent
of Africans have a water-related illness like cholera. Diarrheal diseases are a leading cause of death in children under the age of five. It is estimated that each child has five episodes of diarrhea per year and that 800,000 of those children will die from diarrhea and associated
de-hydration.

Every year, sub-Saharan Africa loses $28.4 billion to water and sanitation problems. This amount accounts for approximately 5 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP)–exceeding the total amount of foreign aid sent to sub-Saharan Africa in 2003. In 2010, 334 million people in the region lacked access to clean water and nearly 600 million lacked access to proper sanitation facilities. People living in rural areas are the worst affected, with only 23% of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa having access to proper sanitation and 41% having access to clean water in 2010. In 2012, the WHO and UNICEF reported that, as of 2010, the MDG target for safe drinking water had been met
While this is uplifting, it masks regional disparities: In which 768 million people across the globe still do not have to access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate
sanitation.

UNHCR reveals 38 percent of the world’s refugees are located in Africa. The continent ha 11.8 million internally displaced persons in 21 countries. Many of these refugees and displaced persons have lost their homes due to widespread violence and conflict. While the sub-Saharan region has the largest total number of IDPs of 10.4 million, in countries like Sudan, Kenya, Mali, Somalia, Liberia, Angola, Sierra-Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and most recently Nigeria.

Fewer than 20 percent of African women have access to education. Uneducated African women are twice as likely to contract AIDS and 50 percent less likely to immunize their children. Meanwhile, the children of African women with at least five years of schooling have a 40 percent higher chance of survival. Women in sub-Saharan Africa are over 230 times more likely to die during childbirth or pregnancy than women in North America. Approximately 1 in 16 women living in sub-Saharan African will die during childbirth or pregnancy. Only 1 in 3,700 women in North America will. More than 1 million African children die every year from
malaria. Malarial deaths in Africa alone account for 90 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide. 80 percent of these victims are African children. The UN Millennium Project has calculated that a child in Africa dies from malaria every 30 seconds.

Now as Africans, we must be thankful of Agoa. It has its critics. They say it is a waste of energy and resources, that its benefits are almost completely restricted to the oil and gas industry and that it has done little to grow African non-oil economies, nor helped at all. They lament that petroleum products continue to account for the largest portion of US imports from Agoa countries. But the much needed improvement in infrastructure, security and investment in science and technology continue to decline. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that by passing the extension of Agoa in congress, the U.S. will be promoting African integration, industrialization and infrastructure development in no small terms. According to the AGOA.info website, U.S. imports from Agoa countries have grown from $8.2 billion in 2001 to $26.8 billion in 2013,
a threefold increase. Non-oil AGOA trade has increased almost fourfold during the same period from $1.4 billion to almost $5 billion. The Agoa official figures say US. Foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in sub-Saharan Africa has also increased from approximately $9 billion to $35 billion. And according to the African Coalition on Trade, Agoa-related investment has resulted in the creation of some 300,000 jobs in sub-Saharan Africa and almost 120,000 jobs in the United States.

Now let us hope that as Agoa enters its 15th year, African leaders will take the Act to a whole new level with innovative ideas, long-term goals and development plans for the welfare of its people and the continent at large. Despite Agoa’s achievements, I am confused as to why we as Africans can’t have our own rescue plan. While trade relations with the US and other countries are important, how much African countries trade with each other is as vital to the integration and development of the continent. The statistics on intra-African trade in comparison with other regions leaves one befuddled as to how we came to this. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s Economic Commission for Africa, only 10 percent of African countries trade with each other.
Now, the one question is, what is there to achieve if Africans can’t trade with each other? Our leaders should be more proactive in ensuring trade with other African states. As the age long adage says; charity begins at home. Let trading start at home here – within us Africans.
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The writer, Raymond Inkabi tweets via @alykka

 

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