This week United States President, Barrack Obama addressed 500 youth in Washington D.C. at the Young African Leaders Initiative Network (YALI Network). According to Kenya’s The Standard, the President pledged to renegotiate the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) to increase trade between Africa and the US. Obama said, “We are strongly committed to ensuring AGOA is reopened when it expires in September 2015.”
(Read more at: The Standard Digital News)
I applaud the attention that the US President is giving trade with Africa. More so, I am happy to see his office recognize the importance of and working towards empowering the African youth. These young leaders of today are the only chance for positive change in Africa. US Secretary of State John Kerry said at YALI 2014, “Africa can become a beacon for the world…it will be a place of great growth in this century, and you will be the witnesses to remarkable transformation.”
However, that said, my spotlight is on the YALI Network (#YALI2014). Such organizations and their programs are extremely important in African business as they: 1) give the youth a platform to share information, brainstorm, and collaborate on globally impactful subjects; 2) act as a link between US Government resources and the eligible beneficiaries and 3) can do lots more. Without such connecting mediums in international business, valuable resources go untapped or are inefficiently disbursed. As a result, businesses and individuals miss out on great opportunities to expand globally and eventually cross-continental trade is hampered.
In relation to this, I am weary of a potential dark cloud that looms over efforts such as AGOA. That of bureaucracy fueled by lengthy eligibility requirements. While rules and requirements are necessary tools of control, more emphasis needs to be placed on the real nitty gritty. Who is there to help the lay business person totally understand the jargon of the AGOA agreement? Just how do small businesses convert those incentives that AGOA has to offer into beneficial assets? Where does the craftsman, looking to sell his wares from Africa, start to benefit from the existence of AGOA and the like? This is where bodies such as YALI Network and others can step in. Perhaps they can create programs that educate and guide the small business person on the specific ins and outs of how to use AGOA to grow his or her business. While organizations such as the Small Business Administration exist to assist small businesses in the United States in general, such cannot specialize in every trade agreement or region; therefore there is a need for concentrated attention and action specific to Africa, especially at such a crucial time for economic growth on the continent.
I speak from my own experience. As a small business engaged in the import and export of goods between Africa and the United States, we struggled recently with where to start in determining if AGOA was of any benefit to us, that is, where the importation of certain consumer goods were concerned. We thought it might be straight forward to source and implement AGOA policies in our business, instead we found the jargon, the quotas, the eligibility requirements, all of it, just confusing and time consuming to read through let alone understand! We gave up and just continued on, knowing we were probably passing up some benefits that we just did not know how to access in an efficient and timely manner. When we tried to call various international trade agencies for assistance, we found ourselves hitting dead ends. For small businesses like craftsmen and artists, simple benefits like duty free importation as may be allowed via a trade agreement, plays a key role in making or breaking a potential business opportunity. The process of determining and then qualifying for such benefits however, is draining to say the least.
If indeed the underlying purpose of AGOA is to further trade between the two regions, and small businesses are the driving force of today’s economy, there should be more specific tools in place to assist the layman – that start-up business, or the small craftsman who knows he has a potential market in the United States but does not know how to start exporting his or her goods from Kenya.
It is crucial to develop simpler yet modern means of educating and assisting the key players in this quest for increased African growth and opportunity. My hope lies with organizations like YALI and other likeminded entities, it is the fellows of such programs that are paving the way and have their hearts truly vested in Africa, therefore they would be the best candidates to spearhead personalized, straightforward programs to propel African business to the next level. We look forward to seeing what else YALI can do for the young leaders of tomorrow and more importantly how hands-on their future work will be.
About Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network
YALI Network connects the next generation of entrepreneurs, educators, activists, and innovators with resources from the US Government and to one another. http://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/
Written by Catherine Njeri, an africatrademaker, a young African business woman.