Los Angeles Wave: African Union leader outlines vision to modernize continent
One of the leading voices in Africa was in South Los Angeles earlier this month to discuss the future of the continent.
At a community town hall meeting at Holman United Methodist Church, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, told residents she and other African leaders wanted to change the world’s viewpoint of Africa.
The Oct. 1 event was organized by Holman, in collaboration with Rep. Karen Bass, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
Bass said she, too, is seeking to transform how Americans think and engage African nations, shifting away from “images of war, disease and famine to images of opportunity.
“This is not about charity, this is about business,” Bass said. She urged the attendees, many of them business owners, developers and investors, to support the reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunities Act, the U.S.’s trade preference program with eligible sub-Saharan African nations. The act allows for products to be exported to the U.S. tariff-free.
The act was signed into law in 2000 and will expire in September 2015. According to Bass, two years ago when the textile portion of the act expired, factories couldn’t order from Africa and 100,000 jobs were lost.
“The textile industry needs six months lead time. If the whole [act] expires this time around — the textile and non-textile portions — I can’t say the number of jobs that would be lost,” Bass said. “We’re looking to get it extended this year before the lame-duck session is over or at the beginning of next year. Support for it is bipartisan and looking pretty good.”
Under Zuma’s leadership, the 54 African Union countries have pledged to rededicate themselves to Africa’s development and transformation in areas such as science and technology and pushing for Africa’s place in the world.
Elected in 2012 and the first woman to lead the group, Zuma will seek to implement Agenda 2063, the 50-year plan for the continent’s socioeconomic development and regional integration through industrial, political and institutional mechanisms.
The African heads of states adopted the agenda in May 2013 during their celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African States (OAS), the African Union’s predecessor organization.
Zuma told the town hall gathering that Africa is a net importer of food.
“It needs a skills revolution and to modernize. The future is in the agric-processing industry,” Zuma said. “Women of the continent are tired of farming with a hoe, it must go to a museum,” she added.
According to Jean-Baptiste Natama, chief of staff for the African Union Commission, Africa’s agriculture sector has generated growth and been responsible for job creation, foreign exchange, and food security and poverty eradication.
The sector employs 70 percent of the labor force, provides 50 percent of exports, and 30 percent of gross domestic product.
Africa grew at about 6 percent during the past decade, making it one of the fastest growing regions of the world after East Asia.
The African continent will achieve Agenda 2063 through agri-processing as well as through investments in and development of “minerals and natural resources, clean energy, and water and transportation infrastructure, and science, technology, engineering and math curricula,” Zuma said.
She welcomed the skills of the Diaspora community, inviting them to “come and work there or invest and get good returns.”
“The Diaspora community is an integral part of Africa,” she said. “We value the opportunity to share ideas and views at the turn of the century. We must mobilize the continent.”
During the meeting, Zuma also responded to questions on democracy in Africa, the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, Boko Haram, female genital mutilation, future leadership and students, the monetary fund and African debt, development of regional currencies and free trade, Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, technology, joint citizenship and a potential United States of Africa, land grabs, corruption, conflicts and the role of women and children.
Zuma said “women and children are critical” in the vision for a new Africa. “Men would still be a part of the picture — they have been there all the time. Women and youth are there to bring and use all the talent.”
African countries are doing well, Zuma added.
“In Rwanda, the Parliament is composed of 64 percent women.”
Referencing the need to resolve conflicts peacefully, Zuma said “the goal is to silence guns on the continent in 5 years — by 2020.”
On the subject of the Ebola outbreak, Zuma said it was in rural areas of Uganda and “it took time for us to realize that it hit in the cities in West Africa [and not in the rural areas where it is easier to isolate.] The health care systems in these countries are fragile,” she said, “Ebola should be used as an opportunity … to strengthen health care systems in the countries.”
Rep. Bass said, “I do not believe there is any danger in the United States of an Ebola outbreak and I believe that all of the press coverage is over the top and is creating a lot of fear. I am very pleased with the leadership that President Obama is displaying by deploying U.S. troops to help in the construction of hospitals that are so desperately needed.”