Monday, May 4, 2009

AGOA’s Truest Champion

When the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was conceived in the mid-1990s, its intention was to help small and medium enterprises in Africa and America do business with one another and build their mutual wealth together. Of all those who have backed this trade process, none understood that goal better than the late Jack Kemp. He was a strong supporter of entrepreneurial opportunity and was an AGOA champion from the beginning.

He is perhaps best known for his tireless support for tax cuts, which he firmly believed would provide lower and middle-income Americans more of their own money with which to build a life of their own making. However, Kemp also was the originator of the enterprise zone program to revitalize areas in which poor Americans live by encouraging investment that would create jobs. Some of those jobs would be in support of trade.

In testifying before the House Subcommittee on Trade in 1999, Kemp explained why he was so bullish on AGOA: “Much of Africa is growing dynamically today – growing economically, politically, socially and most of all in the attention of the United States and the world. Shifts toward political and market liberalization are revitalizing and energizing the continent,” he said. “We see a new generation of leaders implementing democratic reforms, expanding economic growth and unleashing the human spirit that will help bring greater prosperity and democracy to African nations. Problems and challenges abound, but the potential of both human and physical resources in enormous.”

The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and member of Congress was tireless in his effort to help Africans and Americans succeed in trade-related business. When Mel Foote asked him to join the Board of the Constituency for Africa, Kemp did so and took on whatever task he was asked to in order to build support throughout the country for helping Africa to become a more important facet of U.S. foreign policy. When Rosa Whitaker asked Kemp to join her as co-chair of the AGOA 3 Action Committee, he did so and helped pass a subsequent version of AGOA.

Kemp wanted to join the Board of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation at the request of its founder, Hope Masters, but had to withdraw his bid earlier this year when he learned he had cancer. It would have been just the latest in his efforts to help Africans and Americans through self-help – in the tradition of the late Leon H. Sullivan. Those of us the congressman and the pastor left behind must see that their efforts continue and help make AGOA more than a promise.

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