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August 4, 09

NEWS / Civil Society, Private Sector Important to AGOA U.S. ambassador to Kenya says groups have key role


By Charles W. Corey
Staff Writer

Nairobi, Kenya — The role of civil society groups and the private sector in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forums and the AGOA process is more important than ever, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger said August 4.

Addressing the combined opening session for the civil society and private sector forums at the eighth annual United States-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, known as the AGOA Forum, Ranneberger said while both groups have always participated in AGOA meetings, “your role now is more timely and important than ever.”

“Economic development and democratic institutions are inextricably linked,” he explained. There are many reasons why some nations in sub-Sahara Africa are failing to take advantage of the trade preference terms offered under AGOA, he said, and those reasons center on a lack of transparency, weak anti-corruption efforts and the need for stronger democratic institutions.

One key area to be discussed at the forum, he told the delegates, is how to energize the relationship between civil society and the private sector.

“That relationship must embrace the spirit of frank and constructive dialogue if it is to succeed,” he said. “Private sector and civil society bear a responsibility to speak truth to power to encourage and press for the economic and political reforms necessary to promote economic development and democratic stability.”

Civil society and the private sector must play broad roles, he said, “helping to ensure that free and fair trade exists and that policymakers are held accountable for their actions in a transparent process, especially with respect to trade and governance policies that negatively affect producers and consumers.”

Ranneberger quoted President Obama in explaining why civil society is so important, noting that the rule of law, civil participation and the need to find concrete solutions to eliminate corruption are of major importance.

The presence at the forum of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; the U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk; other Cabinet-rank officials; and members of the U.S. Congress, he said, “underscores the importance we attach to AGOA as a means to foster economic development.”

Ranneberger praised remarks by Secretary Clinton at a different forum session that highlighted the particularly important role women play as “drivers” of economic growth and democratic stability.

He also praised U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) efforts that are assisting women’s’ groups in East Africa to access U.S. markets through the AGOA program. Gahaya Links of Rwanda, which is exporting baskets to the U.S. retailer Macy’s, and Kenana Knitters of Kenya, which is exporting its knitted goods and novelties to the United States, are just two of the many success stories, he said.

Ranneberger told the delegates, which also included African government officials, that “the crisis that Kenya experienced last year highlighted the key role which civil society and the private sector can and must play.

“Civil society, the private sector and the media all came together in an historic way to exert influence to promote peaceful pressure to reach a political solution and to develop a far-reaching reform agenda to deal with the underlying problem which fuelled the crisis.”

Full implementation of that reform agenda, he told the delegates, is “absolutely essential. Failure to do so is one factor holding back economic recovery and full exploitation of the opportunities offered by AGOA.”

Ranneberger applauded the “courageous work” that civil society groups and the private sector are doing across Africa.

“I urge you all to use your deliberation today to explore the relationship between economic development and strong democratic institutions, to examine the relevance for AGOA and to develop constructive recommendations,” he said.

“I want to assure you that your voices are heard throughout the conference and the United States and that your input will most definitely be used to improve the impact of the [AGOA] program.”

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga officially opened the one-day civil society and private sector sessions as the representative of the host nation.

Secretary of State Clinton will address a ministerial session that begins August 5. Her arrival in Kenya will mark the first stop on a seven-nation Africa trip.

The Eighth AGOA Forum runs through August 6.
http://www.america.gov/st/develop-english/2009/August/20090804100458wcyeroc0.2602655.html?CP.rss=true

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