Wednesday, August 5, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
August 5, 2009

Fire and brimstone anticipated at the AGOA opening ceremony when Hillary Clinton and Mwai Kibaki met did not take place. Hard hitting statements against graft and bad governance were missing. Even Raila Odinga, who the day before had taken on Western countries to stop lecturing Africa on good governance sounded more reconciliatory.

In acknowledging the huge number of distinguished African leaders at the AGOAS forum, Hillary Clinton did not miss an opportunity to state the obvious; that USA trade with Africa was crucial but intra trade within Africa was more crucial. And to drive her point home, she wondered why African countries were for craving a 300 people American consumer market across the Atlantic thousands of miles away before utilizing a 700 million people African market next door.

Hillary Clinton’s speech was telling in more ways than one. It indicted African political and business leadership for its failure to spearhead and accelerate regional integration in Africa. If Africa integrated and opened artificial borders erected by the Berlin colonial conference of 1884, the continent would progress and prosper faster than it is doing now.

This thinking was later reinforced by Raila Odinga when he said that it was easier for a European or Chinese investor to fly to Africa to set up business than a Nigerian or Kenyan to set up shop in any African country. He gave the example of restricted airspace, road travel and lack of cross border transport system that hindered trade and human traffic.

Looked at locally, these points became glaring enough for East African community members that have been grappling with the Common Market agenda since 1999 when the EAC Treaty was signed. Yes, the entire American market the AGOA strives to open has 300 million consumers. However the EAC alone has over 100 million consumers making it a third of the American market just next door that we have yet to exploit with less reduced travel and transport logistics.

Looking at the top delegation of the American team that accompanied the Clinton to the Nairobi forum, one could not help noticing a glaring difference between the United States and African countries. At the opening ceremony, Hillary Clinton recognized the mayor of Dallas, Texas and three congressmen as leading authorities on international trade that would be engaging the AGOA delegates from the continent. Then I sat back and wondered whether in our delegations we had the mayors and MPs from the continent with the capacity to engage the Americans and remain coherent for a one hour discussion.

In relaying President Obama’s message to the forum, it was clear that the Accra speech last month was still very much in his mind. His desire to support progress in Africa based on partnership rather than patronage was evident.

However, she was quick to add that partnership with the Obama administration came with responsibility. It would not tolerate a society where greed and graft were the dominant currency.

Clinton acknowledged that a lot of media stories emerging out of Africa were those of gloom, doom and despair. If it wasn’t conflict or famine, it was abject poverty. If it wasn’t corruption and election disputes, it was floods and aids ravaging the continent. He acknowledged that the media tended to downplay a lot of good things taking place in the continent. Her examples included Rwanda’s tremendous progress so soon after the internal strife that claimed nearly a million people. She praised President Kagame’s policies of putting a premium on professionalism and Dr. Mo Ibrahim’s philosophy of supporting and encouraging good governance practices in Africa.

According to Clinton, the Obama administration is determined to double aid assistance to Africa by 2014 but will this time do it differently. Development assistance will be directly linked to trade and growth rather than perpetuating dependency on donor aid. It will pitch for advanced agriculture-led growth to ensure that Africa produces enough food to feed its own people. In so doing, governments must in turn reject bad governance, insecurity and corruption by dealing decisively with the culture of impunity.

It was obvious that the Obama administration expects African leaders to lead their people on the path of progress, prosperity and growth and the starting point on this journey must be transparency and accountability to their people.

Using the imagery of poetry and prose, Hillary Clinton quoted an American congressman who once said that politics is governance through poetry. However, to explain politics to the people, one must go through the difficult and painful process of explaining in prose- so many words.

In concluding her speech, the Secretary of State reminded Africa of the danger of marginalizing its women folk socially, economically and politically, urging the African leaders that they must deal with this omission because it is unacceptable in the present world. And to show that the continent had capable women leaders, she cited success stories of Prof Wangari Mathai of Kenya and Ellen Johnson Shirleaf of Liberia.

Did Clinton bring any goodies to Africa? No, she only brought challenges that Africans must deal with by themselves!