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Bush vision: a trade-driven Africa

In South Africa, the president will push for the first US-African free-trade agreement.

By Nicole ItanoSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / July 9, 2003


That half of President Bush's five-day African trip will be spent in South Africa and Botswana - the continent's biggest and fastest-growing economies, respectively - speaks volumes of his vision for Africa.

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It is here that Mr. Bush will push trade and development, not handouts, as Africa's quickest path out of poverty. It is here that he will call for the first free-trade agreement between Africa and the US. And it is here that he will find African leaders who share his vision.

To be sure, the trip is also about US interests. Open trade with Africa means greater access to its oil reserves, which experts say will become increasingly important as the US looks for energy sources outside the Middle East. And a more stable and prosperous Africa is seen as reducing potential breeding grounds for terrorists.

But for a continent that has largely stood on the sidelines as the world globalized, Bush's commitment to opening trade - coupled with $100 million in antiterrorism money for East Africa and $15 billion to fight AIDS continentwide - marks a pivotal moment for US-African economic relations.

"In a time of growing commerce around the globe, we will ensure that the nations of Africa are full partners in the trade and prosperity of the world," Bush said in Senegal Tuesday.

The president gave a stirring speech on the Senegalese island of Goree, a 19th-century processing center for slaves heading to the US, calling slavery "one of the greatest crimes of history." Bush also met with several West African leaders to discuss possible US military involvement in war-torn Liberia. "We're now in the process of determining the extent of our participation," he told reporters.

Late Tuesday he flew into South Africa to begin trade discussions. With 13 percent of the world's population but less than 2 percent of global trade, Africa represents both a huge potential market and a major failure of globalization. Fifty nations, half of them in Africa, are worse off now than they were 10 years ago, according to a new United Nations report.

Because of instability and corruption, foreign investors have often been reluctant to pour new money into Africa. As Secretary of State Colin Powell said last month in a speech about the continent's economic potential, "Capital is a coward" that flees insecurity and poor governance.

In an effort to make Africa more attractive to investment, three leaders on Bush's itinerary - Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria - crafted the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) in 2001, a plan that seeks to woo more investment in return for greater African responsibility for peace, security, and good governance. Bush and other Western leaders have pledged their support to the plan, although emphasis on the program has fallen since Sept. 11.

Bush is expected to advocate the success of programs like the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows duty-free access to the US for selected products from 38 African countries.