Cheick Sidi Diarra didn’t hesitate in answering his rhetorical question about what the United States could do to further economic development in Africa.
Mr. Diarra, the United Nations’ special adviser on Africa, was in Atlanta in late February at the invitation of the World Affairs Council here and the Africa Heritage Foundation.
Speaking to an audience of 110 attendees at Georgia State University’s Buckhead Center the evening of Feb. 28, he had four suggestions for the U.S. government.
The first was to increase the flexibility of the U.S.’ rules of origin for African goods in keeping with recent initiatives of the European Union.
The rules of origin determine whether or not certain goods are to benefit from preferential rates of duty and apply to a wide variety of goods ranging from fish to textiles.
Mr. Diarra said that Europe has loosened its rules enabling more African exports to enter EU markets and he encouraged the U.S. to do the same.
Second, he encouraged the U.S. to further assist private companies invest in African countries by providing greater tax and dividend benefits for those that do.
He also suggested that the U.S. provide small- to medium-sized companies with easier access to credit and finally he recommended that the government get rid of subsidies on cotton, which is keeping Mali, Benin, Chad and Burkina Faso from exporting their cotton to the U.S.
In addition to his responsibilities as a special adviser on Africa, Mr. Diarra also serves as an under-secretary general at the U.N. and a high representative for the members’ least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small-island developing states.
His office was assigned such an expansive portfolio in 2008 in an attempt to reinforce its advocacy role and enable greater inter-agency coordination and donor contacts.
While promoting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Diarra also is actively working with the African Union through NEPAD, the union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development that was adopted in 2001.
Additionally, he supports the U.N.’s International Court of Justice; he is involved in assisting programs involved in capacity training, especially for women and young girls, and seeks support from the continent’s diaspora communities around the world.
He is adamant that African émigrés who have found success abroad share their skills and wealth with their homelands.
“They have a huge responsibility,” he said, adding that aside from their knowledge they need to participate in their homeland’s development with an entrepreneurial spirit. “You can have all of the knowledge, but if you don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit nothing gets done.”
Despite all of the setbacks to economic development that some African nations endure, he said that he has “never been as upbeat about Africa’s progress in the past three decades.”
Investments in Africa, he said, have been known to result in earnings greater than 15 percent, which are unmatched even in China.
Since Africa is responsible for only .87 percent of all global financial transactions, not necessarily a plus, he said, it nevertheless avoided the global financial crisis, definitely a plus, he added.
Besides citing the continent’s enormous natural resources, including a large number of minerals used in the most sophisticated technology, he said that the continent is experiencing more political stability.
The U.S. has a special relationship with the continent, he added, because 50 million African-Americans trace their origins to Africa, and the country receives 15 percent of its crude oil from there.
While there are great opportunities for technology transfers, the development of power grids and new roads, he said that agriculture also provided opportunities for agribusiness companies such as Agco Corp. and Caterpillar Inc., which both have Georgia operations and already are involved on the continent.
“We need best practices,” he said. “We have had agriculture for millennia but if you want to scale up you need that equipment.”
Mr. Diarra had a busy schedule arranged for him by Tunde Adetunji, who heads the Africa Heritage Foundation here and has actively been promoting the development of cultural, educational and business ties between Georgia and Africa since before the 1996 Olympics.
Aside from his presentation to the World Affairs Council, he visited Southern Polytechnic State University with which the Africa Heritage Foundation signed a formal agreement last year to develop students and faculty exchanges.
Mr. Diarra also addressed the state Senate, visited the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and placed a wreath on the grave of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, he met with state Senator Donzella James and reviewed her proclamation that Georgia become a gateway to Africa through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Port of Savannah.
To see GlobalAtlanta’s article about Ms. James’ proclamation, go here.