TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

US-Africa trade improving lives across Africa

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Source: Media Newswire

Improving African lives at the grass-roots level, building businesses and supporting reconciliation after conflict are all part of the vision of the African Development Foundation, a major partner in the African Growth and Opportunity Act ( AGOA ) Forum taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, in August.

The AGOA Forum — which is held annually to examine and enhance the U.S.-Africa trade and business relationship — serves a “common purpose” to create a “better quality of life for Africans,” says Lloyd Pierson, president and chief executive officer of the African Development Foundation ( ADF ).

In a July 16 interview with America.gov, Pierson previewed his role at the 8th AGOA Forum in Nairobi August 4-6, which has as its theme “Realizing the Full Potential of AGOA through the Expansion of Trade and Investment.”

Pierson called AGOA “one of the most noble missions that you have on the African continent and for those who are consumers in other countries — and that mission is to help create a better quality of life for all involved.”

A partner in this mission, the ADF improves lives at the grass-roots level. “We have a unique mission that is different from any other U.S. foreign assistance agency,” Pierson said. “First, it is our target population. The United States African Development Foundation focuses on the most marginalized populations in sub-Saharan Africa. … We work with the former slave populations in southern Mauritania, the blind in Senegal, the widows of genocide in Rwanda and the Masai women in Tanzania. It is those marginalized populations. So there is a target population for us that we work with to help provide income and jobs.”

ADF, operating in 20 African countries, does not have a single expatriate office, he said.: “Our programs are managed by Africans. We do not have large consultant offices. We do not have small consultant offices. We have Africans who are there managing the programs, going into communities and looking for the marginalized populations where we can have results and work with them in a very participatory way to create jobs in their community.”

Pierson stressed that the “marginalized communities in Africa cannot be excluded from the global economy. When you look at what people at various levels can do — the so-called bottom billion as we know them — it can be very impressive and satisfying to see them generating income and becoming part of the global economy. That is where we work very closely with AGOA,” the four U.S. Agency for International Development ( USAID ) trade hubs in Africa and other such U.S. government agencies to stimulate trade and economic growth, he said.

More than 35,000 of the baskets and woven trays created by the women of the Gahaya Links project in Rwanda have sold at Macy’s. The U.S. African Development Foundation has also helped Masai women in Kenya create ornaments now sold by Hallmark.

More than 35,000 of the baskets and woven trays created by the women of the Gahaya Links project in Rwanda have sold at Macy’s.For example, Pierson said, ADF has been very successful “getting baskets from Rwanda to [the major U.S. retailer] Macy’s, Masai women selling ornaments to [the U.S. gift and greeting card giant] Hallmark, mangoes from Tanzania that are sold in the Middle East and camel milk from Mauritania that goes into the international market to make camel milk cheese. In a variety of ways, there is a lot of opportunity” that has been created.

Taking AGOA down to the individual level, Pierson said when marginalized people, all of a sudden through economic empowerment, have the ability to provide for their family and purchase products from the markets, “it is really an inspiration” to everyone to see that there has been a “very substantial positive change in the way in which they lead their life.”

“During this year we will sign approximately 150 grants in the 20 countries in which ADF is operating. We obviously will not sign 150 grants in Nairobi, but there are grants that we will be prepared while we are there to have a signing ceremony that we will sign and immediately thereafter the financial assistance begins going into the community,” Pierson said.

He added that the important thing about these grants is that it is “not just the United States going out there, but there is African involvement as well because that is really where the main focus is on what Africans do and what they can do. So I sign, but I am there with the senior representative from the country.”

Pierson is a former USAID assistant administrator for Africa and a former Peace Corps country director in Botswana, Ghana, Namibia and Swaziland. He opened the program in Zimbabwe and has served as acting worldwide director of the Peace Corps as well.

While USAID works at the “macro” level with a broader focus on humanitarian assistance, he said, ADF focuses on microlevel development, with the largest project totaling $250,000. He stressed that the end result of many diverse U.S. government operations in Africa is that U.S. foreign assistance to the region “has worked” in many ways in improving the lives of Africans across the continent, both through development and through democracy and governance.

One particularly successful ADF project, the Gahaya Links project in Rwanda, started with 20 Hutu and Tutsi women to build reconciliation after that country’s genocide in 1994. “The 20 widows of genocide that started the program has now grown to almost 4,000, almost all women … making crafts.” Last year, they sold 35,000 baskets to Macy’s, he said. With results like that, “they are in the global economy.”

This project, he recalled, started from the bottom and became “a real business that is going on.”

“As you know, the majority of exports from Africa are hydrocarbons,” he said. But this is an exception that has helped create jobs and “provide social benefits for a common purpose and teach better nutrition and [provide] skill training,” as well as promoting peace and reconciliation.