1998 NCC News Archives

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African Ambassadors Urge Passage of Fair Africa Trade Bill

September 18, 1998, NEW YORK CITY -- The ambassadors from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe participated in forums on The African Growth and Opportunity Act (HR1432/S778) in Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma this week to urge the passage of a fair Africa trade bill currently before the United States Senate.

The ambassadors’ visits to the states of Senator Trent Lott, Senator Don Nickles and Senator John Ashcroft are part of an urgent national effort by African ambassadors with the support of the Africa Office of the National Council of Churches to mobilize American support for the Africa trade bill. "Building constituency support in these key States will send the right message to our leaders that the passage of a fair bill is important to people of Africa and the U.S.," said Willis Logan, NCC Africa Office Director.

The ambassadors visited more than 35 congregations and briefed thousands of people on the importance of the trade bill to Africa and the U.S. In each state, the ambassadors also met with leaders representing legislative, business and grassroots community organizations. The people of Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma were asked to immediately contact their Senators urging them to support the passage of the Africa trade bill and to add their names to the petition supporting the bill. The petitions will be delivered to Senators prior to the Senate vote on the Africa trade bill.

Leaders of national organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ), National Baptist Convention of America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the National Council of Churches (NCC), have passed resolutions or spoken in support of the economic development of Africa, including strengthening U.S.- Africa trade and investment relations.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (H.R.1432/S.778) is seen as a positive shift from the U.S. Cold War policy to one that will emphasize expanding trade with Africa. It is an attempt to change U.S. development strategies to balance aid with debt relief and long term trade and investments.

The shift is welcome by African nations as an important change for Africa at a time when Africans are seizing post Cold War opportunities to seriously tackle social, political and economic challenges that have plagued Africa for the last four centuries. Ambassador Edith Ssempala of Uganda urged support in Missouri saying that "The African Growth and Opportunity Act is a start to make right the wrongs done to the people of Africa."

Support for The African Growth and Opportunity Act has come from most members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with leaders such as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) leading the charge for support of The African Growth and Opportunity Act in Congress. His influence was key to the passing of the bill in the House of Representatives in March 1998.

The primary source of support of the bill comes from African leaders who have been involved in promoting the bill in Washington, D.C. In a recent letter to President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Roble Olhaye of the Republic of Djibouti and the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, urged support of the bill stating that the continent remains "in great need of long term investment to develop its abundant resources." The signatures of 48 African ambassadors were attached to the letter.

Ambassador Amos M. Midzi of Zimbabwe insisted in Oklahoma that even though the passage of H.R.1432/S.778 would formalize U.S. corporate involvement in Africa, the bill "must be used to strengthen ties with Americans who are concerned about the development of Africa." Africa’s economy is already greatly influenced by former colonial nations like Britain and France. Asian nations such as Japan and China have also increased trade and investments in Africa. The current level of U.S.- Africa trade relations exceeds those with Eastern Europe but trade and investments are mostly limited to South Africa and major African oil producing states: Nigeria, Gabon and Angola.

The ambassadors’ visit to build support in Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma is at a time when The African Growth and Opportunity Act is greatly challenged by election year politics. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has just passed a watered-down version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives in March. Benefits to Africa such as manufacturing textiles for export to the United States have suffered greatly in that erosion of the bill. Ambassador Roble Olhaye described the recent Finance Committee action as a "slap in our face" and an empty gesture to a continent in great need.

The House of Representatives’ version had some key benefits to sub-Saharan African nations, such as: duty free access of African textiles to the U.S. market; allocation of funds for the development of Africa’s infrastructure; debt relief to very poor African countries; and maintaining U.S. annual development assistance to Africa.

At each church visited in Tulsa, Okla., the Rev. Paul Harris of the Ad Hoc Committee for Passage of the Africa Trade Bill introduced Ambassador Archibald Mogwe of Botswana, saying that "The African ambassadors have traveled far and wide with the news of a new beginning for Africa. One in which our children will help to rebuild our homeland ravaged by slavery, colonialism and corrupt politics." Meanwhile in Mississippi, Ambassador Eunice Bulane of Lesotho reminded congregations of "the significance of the American people in helping to make Africa accepted as equal partners with the U.S."

-end-

Contacts: NCC News Department

        Willis Logan/Rev. Paul D. Harris, (212) 870-2645
        Ad Hoc Committee for Passage of the Africa Trade Bill

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