An African Renaissance

©2003 Copley News Service, 7/15/2003

As I prepare to leave for Africa to attend the Leon H. Sullivan U.S.-African Trade Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, President Bush is returning from his historic tour of Africa as the first-ever Republican president to visit the continent. The Sullivan Summit is named in honor of the late Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, the tireless and courageous advocate of civil and human rights and building bridges of trade and investment between the United States and Africa. Ambassador Andrew Young is the chairman of the Sullivan Summit and it is my privilege to serve as his vice chair.

Bush began his five-nation tour with a memorable address on Goree Island, off the coast of Senegal, by discussing our own country’s history with slavery and race relations as well as his vision of hope and opportunity for the people of Africa. During his address, he correctly called slavery “one of the greatest crimes in history” and further quoted President John Adams, who referred to slavery as “an evil of colossal magnitude.”

The president also observed that “Enslaved Africans heard the ringing promises of the Declaration of Independence and asked the self-evident question, then why not me?” Escaped slaves like Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman touched our hearts and opened our eyes to the harsh realities of slavery. Educators like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois opened our minds and awakened our consciences to the possibilities of a future where all could share in the promise of America. Ministers like Sullivan and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stirred our souls with faith and hope that one day all Americans would be free at last.

What unites the people of the United States with the people of Africa is what Bush rightly characterized as our “belief in the natural rights of man, this conviction that justice should reach wherever the sun passes.” To advance these ideals, the administration has adopted three policy priorities: to promote good governance, advance political and economic freedom, and combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

It would be ironic if Congress cuts the budget for the president’s main proposals for combating poverty and AIDS in Africa while many of its members continue to lambaste his policies for AIDS victims and the poor at home. And, despite the criticism of some Democratic operatives about Bush’s visit to Africa as nothing more than photo-op diplomacy, I think Secretary of State Colin Powell had it exactly right when he said the substantive proposals on Millennium Challenge Accounts, trade and AIDS demonstrate that Africa is a priority for this administration. That said, the visit would have been significant if for no other reason than to work to bring peace and stability to Liberia.

Bush’s audacious Millennium Challenge Account initiative is a perfect example of the importance this administration gives to Africa. If fully funded, MCA could be the seed corn of a 21st century Marshall Plan, not only for Africa, but for Central Asia and the Middle East, as well. The cornerstone of MCA is that development is most effective when recipient countries embrace reforms and expand individual freedom.

However, no matter how much money we provide in aid, prosperity must come from sound policies and the expansion of business and trade. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal put it best when he said, “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit.” This is why I am a staunch supporter of trade and why I am proud to serve as the co-chair of AGOA III, the third round of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, along with Rosa Whittaker, former assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa, and Carl Ware of Coca-Cola.

U.S. imports from Africa have increased 10 percent under AGOA, and last August Bush signed into law “AGOA II” enhancements to further liberalize U.S.-African trade, but there is more we can do to facilitate trade. As President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President John Kufuor of Ghana and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria have made eminently clear on numerous occasions, ultimately it is trade not aid that is critical. I have also heard President Hamid Karzai and Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan say the very same thing.

It has been estimated that E.U. Common Agricultural Policy and U.S. agriculture subsidies decrease African agriculture exports by as much as 65 percent. To remedy this perverse situation where the wealthiest regions of the world block imports from the poorest, I have suggested that the European Union and the United States should allow all products from Africa to enter the United States and the Euro-zone duty-free and quota-free. U.S. businesses investing in Africa should also be allowed to repatriate their profits tax-free for a five- or 10-year period as a means of kick-starting capital investment in Africa.

It is my hope that the United States will help the process of political and economic reform by creating a Marshall Plan for the 21st century to extend the president’s vision throughout Africa because of our shared belief in the values of liberty and dignity. In the 21st century, America must not be seen as an occupying force or as a country engaged in imperial conquest. Instead we should build on the successes of post-World War II policies in Germany and Japan to extend the promise of peace, economic growth and liberal democracy worldwide.