Nearly 15 years after President Clinton signed into law the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), business and political leaders and scholars of all backgrounds from Africa and around the world gathered in New York to appraise the progress of AGOA at a sensitization workshop.
In a message to the participants at the workshop, Mr. Navid Hanif, Director, Office of ECOSOC support and Coordination, UNDESA at the AGOA International Trade and Commerce Workshop spoke of the changing image of Africa.
In his words, “far too often, the challenge of development is told in clichéd stereotypes of inescapable poverty, disease, and conflict – there is no human focus. For too long, the media portrayal of inevitable hardship has persisted. But such notions are not only stale and outdated; they are wrong. Africa is ready, and Africans are making progress”.
Mr. Hanif who was represented by Mr. Alberto Padova, deputy chief NGO’s branch office for ECOSOC support and coordination, department of economic and social affairs paid glowing tribute to AGOA especially its ability to break barriers to facilitate and support job creation and ultimately improve lives of Africans.
To put the success of AGOA in perspective, the diplomat recounted the experience of Caroline Jose Ernestine, a swimwear manufacturer from Cameroon whose ability to secure attractive contracts with American contractors following AGOA’s latest renewal enabled her to increase the bottom line of her business in addition to increasing the workforce from 110 to 800, nearly 700% expansion.
With the positive record of AGOA also comes the flipside that indicates chronic apathy by many African countries. To illustrate this trend, Mr. Hanif noted that the sharp explosion of AGOA related non-oil exports from Africa to the US is not matched with participation of only small group of Sub-Saharan African countries. According to the UN official only Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa dominate 80% of trade under the aegis of AGOA.
What this shows is that there is more work to be done in creating necessary awareness about AGOA and this is what the workshop attempted to do. The participants were mostly Nigerians and this shows that more African countries need to avail themselves of the opportunities available with AGOA.
Dr. Sarah Jubril, Adviser on Ethics to President Goodluck Jonathan spoke extensively on the importance of ethics and transparency in business and public policy formulation and implementation.
The workshop coordinator, Dr. Sylvester Okere, a Nigerian-America who spear heads Nigeria-Maryland Chamber of Commerce lamented the apathy of Africans towards issues that have the potential to lift them out of poverty.
He maintained that the workshop initiative was purely non-sinecure and altruistic effort driven by love of Africa and expressed frustration at the lack of support from African diplomatic circles.
Among the participants at the workshop include Mr. Michael Blake, a former White House official, Ms. Sire Dione Conde, President of UNESCO Peace Center in New York, Dr. Uchenna Ekwo, President of Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, Karim Camara, Executive Director, Africa Cultural Center, Mr. Norman Wokoma, Trade & Investment Minister, Nigerian House New York, Ms. Maureen Ideozu, Representing the CEO of Nigeria Export Promotion Council NEPC, and King Gaga of Savalou Kingdom in Benin Republic , and members of the National Association of African Importers USA.
Others are Dr. Nnamdi Obiago President PT Groups, an oil & gas/mining company, Ms. Christabel Unobe, Director of AGOA International Trade and Commerce Expo, and Ms. Afolabi Abiola, CEO of Young African Business Entrepreneurs.