Congress has an opportunity as well to get into the mix by working in a bipartisan fashion to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act before it expires in 2015. AGOA is the largest and most important trade arrangement between the United States and Africa, and is credited with increasing African exports to America. Work must begin now to review more than a decade of AGOAís history and to find meaningful ways to strengthen this trade policy to ensure it benefits Africa as well as American businesses.
These developments are not to say America shouldnít continue playing a humanitarian role where needed in Africa, particularly as it relates to simmering conflicts in Mali and the Congo or helping to facilitate the delivery of lifesaving drugs to slow the rate of HIV infections.
But more than simply throwing aid at Africaís problems, the United States and Africa would be best served by a continued focus on democracy and governance, institution building, and women empowerment while broadening opportunities for American businesses to invest in Africaís future through infrastructure development, agriculture, skills building and training that builds up the local African workforce.
Should President Barack Obama visit Africa in his second term, I suspect these are the themes he will build upon in expressing American values to the continent. Our leadership can serve as a counterbalance in the region and a positive force for helping Africa to truly reach its full economic potential.
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass represents Californiaís 37th District. She currently serves as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.