Interview with Congressman Bobby Rush, Co-Chair of the Africa Partnership for Economic Growth Caucus (APEGc)
U. S. Congressman Bobby L. Rush is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the first congressional district of Illinois and is one of the senior Members of the powerful Committee on Energy and Commerce. He is also the Chairman of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. Given his position and experience, he is uniquely equipped and positioned to influence U.S – Africa trade relations. It was his leadership as Co-Chair of the recently launched African Partnership for Economic Growth Caucus (APEGc) that sparked our interest. The primary mission of APEGc is to develop U.S. policies designed to strengthen U.S. –Sub-Saharan Africa relations by promoting growth and economic development. Despite major successes in Consumer Product Safety and other domestic matters, we honed in on his interest in enhancing opportunities for U.S. and African businesses through trade.
AfricaBusinessSource.com: Congressman Rush thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions. I’d like to say that I’ve been greatly encouraged by recent statements made by you at both the Africa Partnership for Economic Growth Caucus (APEGc) launch and a recent joint hearing on U.S. – Africa Trade Relations that call for a much more aggressive and sustained approach towards trade in general and more specifically with Africa. What will you as Chairman of the new ‘Africa Trade Caucus’ do differently to facilitate more US-Africa Trade?
Congressman Rush: First of all, thank you very much for having me here. It is a privilege and an honor for me to engage with the leaders of tomorrow. I represent one of the poorest districts in the United States so I understand what African leaders are dealing with as they try to create jobs for their constituents. Today, the world is suffering an unprecedented financial crisis – especially in Sub-Sahara Africa. I helped create the Africa Partnership for Economic Growth Caucus (APEGc) to develop U.S. policies designed to strengthen U.S. – Sub-Saharan Africa relations by promoting growth and economic development. What makes the caucus different is the fact that we will focus not on fighting poverty like many organizations are doing but on creating prosperity. To do so, our policy has four pillars: mutual respect, engagement of the African Diaspora, economic empowerment and technology and innovation.
1. First, I strongly believe that Africa holds the key to its own development. We will therefore listen to Africans because U.S. policy should be based upon mutual respect. The U.S needs Africa as well. I recently introduced a bill H.Con. Res. 128 to recognize the importance of Africa to the U.S. This will put an end to the paternalistic approach the U.S has used in the past toward the continent and create a mutually beneficial policy framework for our nations.
2. Second, we will engage the African Diaspora. The Diaspora represents a driving force that has not been tapped yet. Africans in America are sending billions of dollars back to their home countries every year through remittances. The cultural connection between Africa and the United States spans four centuries. These cultural ties are a tremendous asset in our quest to spur democracy and build a strong African economy. Their networks open new possibilities for trade and commerce. We can see a great example of the importance of the Diaspora in India and Taiwan. By acting as experts and ambassadors, they contribute to the burgeoning technology industry by linking businesses with markets in their home countries.
3. Third, we will encourage private sector development on both sides of the Atlantic. In Africa, building a strong middle class is very important for two reasons: (1) the absence of a middle class is an obstacle to trade; and (2) creating a middle class will create the economic freedom Africans need to exercise their political rights. They will then have the ability to hold their leaders accountable for their failures. Empowering Africans is a more effective way to spur democracy.
In the U.S. only one percent of all small and medium sized enterprises (239,000) are exporters, although they represent 97 percent of U.S. export companies. However, these small businesses account for only one percent of all small businesses and less than one-third of U.S. exports by value. Small business trade with Africa is almost non-existent. It is important this number increases. APEGc also aims to create a platform for U.S. business recovery during these tough economic times.
4) We will encourage the transfer of technology in areas of importance like agriculture. Many reports are concluding that developing economies — especially Africa — are disproportionately impacted by global warming. The transfer will provide Africa options to manage climate change and achieve sustainable development. It will also create numerous “green jobs.”