- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

Africa a continent for charity or opportunity? President Clinton said during the National Summit on Africa in Washington last week that the United States should provide both. Attendees agreed, and approved 250 recommendations which would call for everything from total debt forgiveness in the African public sector to support for expanded trade opportunities under the Trade and African Growth and Opportunity Act now before Congress. They recommended the United States gather and motivate other world powers and institutions to provide “reconstruction and reparations” for all the continent has suffered over the course of its history. The vision of the conference to strengthen U.S.-African ties and empower the African lobby was an appropriate one. But making victimhood or race a basis for aid places recipients in a position of dependency that will ultimately do more harm than good.

And there was more. As long as the United States and others provide the beleaguered continent with aid due to its “historical losses due to slavery, colonialism and the Cold War,” they might as well provide those of African descent equally for their losses as well, so advocates of reparations recommended. While they’re asking the international community to put a fiscal salve on historical wounds, it may be worth proposing legislation to see if the United States would like to compensate any descendants of Pilgrims for the trauma they received from the British government for suppressing their free spirit all those years. The recommendation to “systematically transfer capital and resources” to Africa would strengthen a message to the benefactors that they, just by their birth race and place, are inherently and indefinitely disadvantaged and thus not capable of achieving for themselves.

Trade rather than charity is what Africa needs. Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi noted in an interview with The Washington Times the impact that free trade would have on his country alone: “If even 1 percent of our goods are permitted to enter the United States, it will have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.” In an effort to make this change possible, Congress should stand behind the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives Africa duty-free access to U.S. markets for more products. This may not provide the “systematic transfer” of assets the summit policy plan envisions, but it could provide opportunities for the African countries’ economic growth and stability for the long term.

What will happen to the other 250 suggestions the summit attendees approved Sunday is uncertain. The interest shown in the policy proposals, which were formulated in six regional summits around the country since 1998, should be an impetus for change in U.S.-Africa trade relations. Congress can do its part by approving decreased trade barriers for African products in U.S. markets. For its part, the Africa lobby should aid this effort by ensuring that economic development does not begin and end in victimhood.

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