President Clinton has been talking about putting a “human face on the global economy.” However, the Administration is working to get a quick vote on the misnamed Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which would impose on Africa the worst aspects of the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs, major elements of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, and leftover provisions of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, while proffering illusive, short-lived trade “benefits.” Last year I called this GOP Africa trade bill the Africa Recolonization Act.
At that time, friends in Africa warned us that the bill was designed to advance US corporate interests at the expense of the interests and needs of the majority of African people and at the expense of African sovereignty. Indeed, the corporate coalition promoting the bill comprises US-based oil companies and other multinationals, many of whom are infamous in Africa for their human rights and environmental practices (and in the United States in some cases for civil rights violations and unionbusting). The coalition’s advisory board includes the likes of Chester Crocker, the architect of the Reagan Administration’s shameful “constructive engagement” policy with South Africa.
Labor unions in many African countries (for example, South Africa’s COSATU labor federation), and other civil society groups as well, strongly oppose what is called the NAFTA for Africa Act, even as ambassadors representing them in Washington are being led around Capitol Hill by the corporate coalition and Administration officials to lobby for its passage. Last year an ad hoc coalition of prominent African-American leaders, including TransAfrica president Randall Robinson and Bill Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, concluded that no bill at all would be better than NAFTA for Africa. I joined 186 of my House colleagues in voting no in the last Congress.
Yet I, too, want to see legislation that would promote equitable, sustainable African development while respecting national sovereignty. That is why I have just introduced the HOPE (Human Rights, Opportunity, Partnership and Empowerment) for Africa Act. Sponsored by many of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus (such as Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and CBC chairman Jim Clyburn) and Democratic leaders (such as Congressmen David Bonior and George Miller), the bill was developed in consultation with African and US citizens’ groups as well as US and African economists and trade specialists.
Many African nations have overcome centuries of imperialism by declaring their independence. Washington must not encourage the reversal of that progress by imposing an economic neocolonialism of US corporations and speculators. The HOPE for Africa Act endorses the Lagos Plan on African economic development created by African finance ministers in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity. It provides broad trade benefits for African nations with rules to insure that the corporations respect the rights of African workers and protect the local environment, and that the jobs and new entrepreneurial opportunities generated by the bill go to Africans.
Contempt for African economic self-determination permeates the NAFTA for Africa Act. This is most clearly exemplified by its declaration that not one shred of its alleged benefits shall be conferred upon any African nation until that nation submits to US-imposed terms on how it shall run its economic, legal and social systems. We treat no other region of the world in this fashion. The HOPE for Africa Act focuses on policies necessary for sovereign economic development in Africa, beginning with the elimination of its $230 billion external debt, whose service now takes more than 20 percent of the export earnings of the sub-Saharan region, excluding South Africa.
Africa is the only continent where production per person has declined in the past two decades. Per capita income for sub-Saharan Africa averages less than $500 annually, compared with $752 in 1980, when the neoliberal development model was first imposed on numerous African countries. The NAFTA for Africa Act would force greater compliance with this destructive approach. The HOPE for Africa Act is the human face on the global economy the President says he seeks.