I had the priviledge of attending the official opening of the AGOA forum on Wednesday and I must say it was a learning experience.
Going into the forum, the Prime Minister had made it very clear that he would be preaching the message that Africa, and in particular Kenya, does not need lecturing on governance. What we require is assistance from the U.S. to improve our trade ties under the AGOA.
To me this is a clear indication that our leaders are cognisant of the problems that afflict our beloved country. What he was also echoing is our mutual fatigue with the constant belligerent attitude from our self-imposed big brothers. His speech evoked memories of the rights of passage we went through as young men and our right to demand recognition thereafter, as adults.
I daresay that what we are witnessing is Kenya’s fight for supremacy. By standing up to the world, we are saying that we are our own people and we ought to be treated with dignity. We are coming of age.
There are a couple of other salient messages that stood out in my mind.
First, that by sending a delegation of 250 people, the U.S. is trying to woo us back into its fold after snubbing us when President Obama went to Ghana. In his video speech, he pointed out that Africa is a fundamental part of an interconnected world.
In my understanding, if we are indeed connected to each other as partners, our relationship ought to be more symbiotic; not skewed in favour of Western States. I strongly agree with the PM that what Kenya needs is “…partnership not partner aid.”
Secondly, this forum provides an opportunity for us to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the World. Our image was tainted by post-election violence. If we can show that we are capable of safely hosting international forums and are working together as Kenyans, perhaps we will recover some of the direct investment that had been diverted to our neighbours. If I was a politician, I would be asking Kenyans to behave with extra-decorum, in the same way that we do in our own homes when we have visitors. Let us market ourselves favourably by our actions.
The most powerful message however, came from Hillary Clinton. That if Kenya could increase our exports by one percent, the income generated would be sufficient to cover the aid we get from our donor partners. This possibility is very exciting to me. Can you imagine if we no longer had to jump hoops to get conditional aid?
Right now as we speak, we have a really unfavorable trade balance with the West. I keep saying that our government needs to enhance the capacity of our local producers and manufacturers to compete favourably on a global scale. Of what use is it for us to give incentives to foreign companies in the name of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), when we cannot give the same incentives to local firms and enable them to become more competitive?
I have also previously spoken about Africa’s political fragmentation as being a part of the reason why we are not able grow our share of the world GDP more rapidly, yet we are endowed with many of the world’s natural resources.
Might the PM’s attempts to promote intra-African trade in turn lead to Africa being empowered to trade as a bloc?
Might the relationship between African countries enjoy more equity? I feel like there is a big lesson to be learned here from such an experience. Such collaboration has huge potential to negotiate for better deals in terms of AGOA or any other trade agreements that Africa is involved in.
As the AGOA forum continues, I will be watching hawk-eyed to see whether Africa is successful in getting some of the provisions revised.
The next big market for Kenya lies in value-addition to agricultural products. We have witnessed the decline of exports since the Act first came into place and if we are not able to tap into such opportune markets, I fear that we will never fully realise the potential of AGOA.