- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

One year ago this month Congress passed with critical bipartisan support the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA for short. The intent of AGOA is to stimulate trade and investment in the sub-Saharan Africa. This new policy would benefit Americans and Africans by creating jobs, stabilizing those sub-Saharan nations that are new to democracy and helping them grow and develop as are post-Cold War Eastern European nations. It is by no means a panacea. To be sure, however, it shows considerable promise for the 800 million people who live there. And, as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told a gathering of mostly black media the other day, "Youve got to make sure all pieces of the chain work."

Indeed, chief among those so-called pieces was the role of the U.S. Customs Services, which has been slow to approve countries to receive trade benefits. The Clinton administration approved two Kenya and Mauritius. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has green lighted three Lesotho, Madagascar and South Africa and the approval of four others is imminent. All told, 35 African nations, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia and Nigeria, are positioned to benefit from AGOA.

Many of Mr. Clinton´s supporters think opening Mother Africa´s doors to U.S. trade and investment, particularly textiles and the apparel industry, isn´t such a keen idea. This despite the fact that many a hard-earned dollar is spent by young black America at the Gap and at the Limited and on such designers as Liz Claiborne garment makers that are especially interested in AGOA. In the mind´s eye of AGOA detractors, the answer to Africa´s woes is aid. Free money not free markets. Not capitalism. Not the duty-free aspect of AGOA, which is but one sure-fire selling point for the monster market of Afrocentric clothing as well as textile retailers and wholesalers.

One detractor, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and some of his brethren in the Congressional Black Caucus, even introduced legislation opposing AGOA. The way they saw it, the United States should have forgiven debts owed by some African nations instead of laying a road map toward Mother Africa´s self-sufficiency, which is precisely what AGOA does.

In fact, one could argue that black empathy for Mr. Clinton explains why his administration dragged its feet on implementing AGOA. Indeed, some blacks still call William Jefferson Clinton "Brother Bill," knowing he betrayed Mother Africa.

Perhaps Brother Bill´s brothers and sisters had flashbacks of his 1998 trek to Africa, where he stood on the shores of Senegal´s Goree Island, a former penal site, and where they and a flock of students from Washington´s Amidon Elementary stood alongside their principal, Pauline Hamlette, and hung on his every word. Perhaps they became overwhelmed by the political pimpmanship of Brother Bill when he spoke about poverty and disease, and joblessness, and bloodletting. "As we leave this island, now is the time to complete the circle of history to help Africa fulfill its promise not only as a land of rich beauty, but as a land rich for opportunity for all its people … the difference America can make if we are a genuine partner and friend of Africa, and the difference a new Africa can make to America´s own future."

Imagine that wrenching scene and then recall the heydays of king cotton, indigo farms and the tired and blistering hands of slaves in bountiful America. And then imagine generations later, when the poverty pimps of organized labor exploited women and implored us to "look for the union label."

Imagine all that, and then recall the waning weeks of the Clinton administration, when Brother Bill spent more waking hours scheming to spring convicts from America´s penal system than he did helping Africa be all it can be a legacy that includes refusing to allow Africa to import generic AIDS-fighting pharmaceuticals.

Indeed, many of Brother Bill´s brothers and sisters still have reservations about AGOA and the free market benefits it establishes for Mother Africa and her people. They worry even though they know that HIV and AIDS are ravaging three generations of sub-Saharan Africans and that simple trades such as knitting, sewing and constructing garments will provide them the wages to help take care of themselves and their families.

Blessedly, the Bush administration is working to undo Brother Bill´s devastating HIV/AIDS and other underhanded policies regarding Africa, including convening a U.S.-Africa summit this fall although what has been done and what is being done is not enough "to complete the circle of history." Still, for an administration that gets more than its unfair share of bum raps from Brother Bill´s brothers and sisters, the actions made by the Bush White House thus far speak louder than the words Brother Bill uttered on Goree Island.


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