Africa in the news: AGOA up for renewal, IMF and World Bank downgrade African GDP estimates, U.S. supports African CDC, and Kenya wants to close refugee camp

African Growth and Opportunity Act Renewal of 2015 is released

Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance committee, and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member, joined Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, last night to announce the issuance of the long-anticipated renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). While the full text of the “AGOA Renewal Act of 2015” is not yet publically available, key provisions of the legislation have emerged, including the greater ability of the United States to “crack down on bad actors” as part of enhanced country eligibility processes. Moreover, the bill provides for a 10-year extension of AGOA’s trade preferences, as well as expanded rules of origin to support Africa’s regional integration agenda, and efforts to address “unfair practices by the European Union that condition African access to the European market on signing imbalanced and substandard trade agreements.”

While the implications of these enhancements to AGOA will generate significant discussion, the ongoing dispute between U.S. and South African poultry producers remains one of the most pressing issues. During a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday, Senator Johnnie Isakson (R-GA) repeated serious concerns about the sincerity of ongoing negotiations, stating that after a meeting with South African Trade Minister Rob Davies he was convinced that South Africa is “stringing us out until AGOA is renewed.” He and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) have indicated that they intend to amend the AGOA renewal bill to further pressure the South Africans to open their markets to American poultry producers. The renewal reportedly already includes a “Sense of Congress” clause requiring review of South Africa’s role in the bill within 30 days of its enactment, among other oversight provisions. AGOA renewal will now move toward debate on the floor.

IMF and World Bank forecast weak African growth in 2015

This week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank published estimates and forecasts for growth on the African continent in their respective publications: Africa’s Pulse and the World Economic Outlook. Both financial institutions predict a marked drop in Africa’s GDP growth—mainly due to plummeting commodity prices and the Ebola epidemic—with the IMF predicting regional growth at a rate of 4.5 percent in 2015, and the World Bank presenting an even lower figure of 4.0 percent (down from growth rates of 5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively, achieved in 2014). Oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola have been particularly affected by the declining oil prices, with Nigeria’s economy expected to grow by 4.8 percent in 2015 (down from 6.3 percent growth experienced in 2014), although, for certain net commodity importers, the lower oil prices have been a great asset in reducing the costs of their imports.

In the countries most afflicted by Ebola, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, there was also a sharp decline in growth, caused by the slowing of the agriculture and services sectors, as well as the disruption of mining development projects. Other factors that have negatively affected the continent’s growth rate include the tightening global financing environment, mounting domestic security threats, and political uncertainty amid upcoming elections. Still, Africa’s 2015 growth rate remains above the estimated global average of 2.9 percent in 2015, and there remains optimism for future growth as Africa continues to see growing investment in infrastructure, increasing agricultural output, and a flourishing services sector.

U.S.-African Union Commission High-Level Dialogue yields commitment to African Center for Disease Control

African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma visited Washington, D.C. this week to co-chair the U.S.-AUC’s 3rd Annual High-Level Dialogue with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. On Monday, April 13, the co-chairs engaged in bilateral discussions on the progress toward the full implementation of the U.S.-AUC partnership in the strategic areas of democracy, trade and investment, security, and development and, notably, signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to formalize U.S. support for an African Center for Disease Control (CDC), which is expected to be operational by the end of 2015. While the idea for an African CDC originated in 2013 at the AU Special Summit on HIV and AIDS, Tuberculous and Malaria in Nigeria, it did not gain widespread attention and support until the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone intensified throughout 2014. As a part of the U.S.-AUC agreement, the U.S. has pledged to provide technical expertise for the center’s regional surveillance and response unit and its emergency operations center, as well as grant fellowships to African epidemiologists who will staff the headquarters in Addis Ababa. Upon the signing of the agreement, U.S. CDC Director Thomas Friedman stated, “The West African Ebola epidemic reaffirmed the need for a public health institute to support African ministries of health and other health agencies in their efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to any disease outbreak.”

Following terror attacks, Kenya considers expelling Somali refugees

After the massacre of 148 students at Kenya’s Garissa University by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab on April 2, the Kenyan government implemented several new measures, including banning money transferring firms and building a security barrier along the country’s border with Somalia, which it claims will help secure the country against terrorist attacks. Last Saturday, William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, even called on the United Nations to close its Dadaab refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Africa, which houses close to 350,000 Somali refugees, due to its alleged ties to al-Shabab. If the U.N. does not act within the next three months, he stated that the Kenyan government will step in to clear the Dadaab camp.

In response to Ruto’s statement, the U.N. has urged Kenya to rethink its position on closing Dadaab and indicated that it is open to working with the Kenyan authorities to strengthen the country’s security system without relocating the camp. The Dadaab camp was established in 1991 for refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war, and some refugees have lived there for more than 20 years owing to the protracted violence in their home country. Sixty percent of the camp’s refugees are children, who would be returned to insecure areas if the camp closed, which has prompted a number of U.N. spokespeople to point out the grave humanitarian consequences of the Kenyan government’s position.