October 31, 2008 | Backgrounder on Africa
The ascendancy of Africa in U.S. foreign policy reflects not only the continent's growing importance to U.S. national interests but also President George W. Bush's determination to join compassion with resources. U.S. accomplishments with its African partners are undeniably positive and will be a central theme in the Bush Administration's overall legacy.
The 2008 presidential election offers an opportunity to reflect on recent U.S. policy and program interventions in Africa. The next President of the United States will soon decide which efforts have borne fruit, which programs require modification, and what new approaches will shape the growing ties between the U.S. and Africa.
Africa's future is routinely described as a mix of challenges and opportunities. Many Africa-pessimists focus on the seemingly unbearable burdens of conflict, disease, hunger, corruption, and poor economic performance. However, Africa is not monolithic. Many African countries exhibit unprecedented economic growth, advancement in good governance, and substantial investment in basic human development, such as education and health. Overall, the continent is moving decidedly toward multiparty democracy, with almost two-thirds of sub-Saharan African countries now governed through democratic elections. Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Burundi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Sudan have made significant progress toward peace and stability, offering millions of Africans new opportunities to build their economies and address fundamental development and governance needs.
While Africa shows many hopeful and tangible signs of progress, the next U.S. President will need to help it address many concerns. Zimbabwe stands out as a black mark on the continent's scorecard, even as democratic forces move closer to wresting power away from the authoritarian Mugabe regime. Darfur persists as an international failure of conscience, and Sudan's north-south Comprehensive Peace Agreement is moving into rocky waters with the national census scheduled for April 2008 and national elections in 2009.
Average life expectancy in Africa has fallen over the past 20 years--dramatically in many places-- because of the rapid and ongoing spread of HIV/AIDS. In addition, malaria kills more than 1 million Africans each year, even though it is treatable and preventable.
International support can play an important role in narrowing the gap between underdeveloped Africa and an increasingly prosperous world. This summer's G-8 meeting in Japan emphasized that the high standard for development resources set by President Bush is compelling other donors to rise to the challenge. As President Bush said,
At recent Summits, G-8 countries have made pledges to help developing nations address challenges, from health care to education, to corruption. Now we need to show the world that the G-8 can be accountable for its promises and deliver results.
The U.S. reauthorized the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) at a cost of $48 billion, leading G-8 countries to increase their contributions from $30 billion to at least $60 billion in HIV/AIDS funding over the next five years. Similarly, G-8 leaders agreed to match the targets set for the President's Malaria Initiative.
If resource commitment alone could determine the success of Africa's development agenda, the United States would be a long way toward boosting the world's poorest continent. In President Bush's first term, development assistance to Africa more than doubled. The President's pledge to double total bilateral and multilateral assistance again to $8.7 billion by 2010 is on track--an expansion on an unprecedented scale.
Yet the amount of aid provided is not a key determinant for development. Sound policy and the rule of law in developing countries are far more important. The next U.S. President needs to ensure that resources are used strategically and leveraged to promote sound economic policy, good governance, and the rule of law. The Bush legacy on Africa is secure, and it is incumbent upon the next White House to apply the lessons learned during the past eight years of unprecedented U.S.-Africa engagement.
U.S. Engagement with Africa
U.S. relations with the countries of Africa have evolved significantly over the past decade and are now as robust and multifaceted as with any region in the world. While the next President must develop a comprehensive strategy for U.S.-Africa cooperation, this can only be achieved through a balanced sector approach that relies on overarching U.S. national security, economic, and humanitarian interests.
HIV/AIDS. The U.S. leads the world in its partnership with African nations to fight HIV/AIDS. Broadly understood as the largest international health initiative in history to fight a single disease, PEPFAR has fundamentally reshaped the war on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
As of 2007, Africa accounted for 67 percent of all HIV infections and 75 percent of AIDS deaths. Prevalence rates are hovering around 25 percent of the adult population in a number of sub-Saharan countries. The pandemic is directly and measurably affecting rural livelihoods and workforce productivity. African militaries have long had prevalence rates dramatically higher than the general population, which threatens national security structures and international peacekeeping capacity. The fight against HIV/AIDS is therefore a fundamental part of the overall economic, human development, and stability effort in Africa.
Few observers could have imagined the impact that PEPFAR would have on the psychology of those affected. "When the President launched the initiative in 2003, about 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral treatment." HIV was a death sentence, and the lack of access to treatment greatly discouraged testing and counseling--a key component of disease prevention.
PEPFAR is on track to reach its goal of providing anti-retroviral treatment to 2 million sub-Saharan Africans by the end of the year. This has fundamentally changed perceptions about living with the disease. With expanded treatment availability, many people are tested for HIV who otherwise would not have bothered. Greater awareness by individuals of their HIV status supports prevention goals.
Although early and continual criticism focused on PEPFAR's perceived overemphasis on promoting sexual abstinence, a broad consensus holds that preventing new HIV infections is the key to reversing the epidemic. The 2008 UNAIDS Report highlights that "to maintain a robust prevention response, countries need to maintain a 'prevention movement,' build the human and technical capacity that will be needed to sustain prevention efforts, and work to stimulate greater demand for prevention services." The report also notes that "in every country where HIV infection rates have sharply fallen, community mobilization for HIV prevention has been a critical element of success." PEPFAR's emphasis on abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage should continue to be central themes in HIV/AIDS prevention.
PEPFAR's often maligned narrow focus on delivering measurable results in treatment, prevention, and care has shown that focused assistance can produce tangible results. PEPFAR also requires that a majority of funds go directly to programs in the target countries, rather than through multilateral programs. This direct aid ensures that assistance is provided efficiently and effectively in accordance with the law's strategic purposes. As PEPFAR has advanced its mission and worked alongside broader international efforts, it has become increasingly clear that new gains will require concerted efforts to address Africa's beleaguered health care systems. The trend is clearly toward better integrated donor support for country-owned strategies.
Critics and allies alike praise President Bush's leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. Congress appropriately authorized PEPFAR for another five years. The next President needs to build on this bipartisan support to move PEPFAR, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said, "from the emergency phase to the sustainability phase." The key challenge will be to ensure that PEPFAR does not stray from the focus and strategies than have made it successful.
Malaria. Malaria is still fatal to over 1 million Africans every year. Even though malaria is preventable and treatable, Africans are dying at a rate of one every 30 seconds, and most are infants and children under 5 years of age. In 2005, President Bush committed $1.2 billion over five years to the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) to reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent in 15 target African countries. By 2007, the second year of implementation, as many as 25 million Africans had benefited from PMI interventions.
The PMI, although much smaller than PEPFAR in terms of resources, again demonstrates the impact of U.S. global leadership. Through coalition building and leveraging of resources, the PMI has compelled international action to dramatically reduce the impact of malaria in Africa. The PMI works closely with the World Bank Malaria Booster Program, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, UNICEF, the World Health Organization Global Malaria Program, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Like PEPFAR, the PMI has also provided an essential vehicle to rally faith-based organizations and the private sector. The next President needs to continue building support for the fight against malaria by providing new funding and by leading a coordinated global response. Because of President Bush's efforts, the next President will be uniquely positioned to deal a severe blow to one of Africa's greatest enemies.
Democracy Promotion and the Millennium Challenge Account. The spread of democracy-inspired governance systems across Africa constitutes a continent-wide revolution over the past 15 years. However, in some countries, below the surface of election-day voting, the democratic process suffers a litany of insults from outright vote rigging and vote buying to severely uneven playing fields. A number of African countries, such as Kenya, are clearly backsliding from democratic governance, and anachronistic authoritarian regimes such as the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe find it disturbingly easy to hold on to power.
The spread of democratic governance has been a primary focus of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. As the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the U.S. Department of State explains:
Supporting democracy not only promotes such fundamental American values as religious freedom and worker rights, but also helps create a more secure, stable, and prosperous global arena in which the United States can advance its national interests. In addition, democracy is the one national interest that helps to secure all the others.
The U.S. budget aimed at "governing justly and democratically" in Africa is robust, and the U.S. continues to emphasize:
(1) free and fair electoral processes, with a level playing field to ensure genuine competition; (2) good governance, with representative, transparent, and accountable institutions operating under the rule of law, including independent legislatures and judiciaries; and (3) robust civil societies, including human rights and democracy defenders, independent media, and labor unions.
In addition, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), established in January 2004, brought a dynamic new focus to U.S. democracy promotion. The MCA emphasizes delivering foreign assistance based on a country's commitment to ruling justly, embracing open economic systems, and investing in the health and education of its people. The "country compact" concept focused on identifying individual countries that display a measurable track record of democratic values and investing in them according to the country's own development priorities. The MCA also initiated a "threshold" program for countries that aspire to full MCA eligibility.
The MCA eligibility criteria and its threshold program put significant resources on the table both to strengthen African countries that already pursue good governance and to provide incentives to countries on the edge of significant democratic reform. Equally beneficial, selection as an MCA-eligible country provides additional credibility for countries as they seek to attract foreign direct investment and to participate in global financial markets. To date, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has signed compacts with seven African countries for a total of $2.4 billion. Both Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have expressed support for continuing the MCC.
As the next President examines U.S. engagement with Africa, democracy promotion should remain a central theme. Democracy building should not be confused with or exchanged for the more generic notions of "good governance." Many of Africa's more effective and economically reform-minded leaders, from President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda to President Paul Kagame in Rwanda, have demonstrated autocratic tendencies. Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa's most populous countries, fall short of democratic standards.
Military coups, although occurring with less frequency, remain a part of the African landscape, as proven in Mauritania in August 2008. Democracy building in Africa will loom large during the next four years with Thabo Mbeki resigning from office in South Africa, south Sudan preparing for an election and then a referendum, Zimbabwe hopefully ending its dictatorship, Kenya wrestling with power sharing, and post-conflict Liberia undertaking its second democratic election.
Peace and Security Cooperation. Over the past eight years, most of Africa's long-running and tragically costly violent conflicts have dramatically receded, giving way to peace and stability. Bush Administration diplomacy, development, and military training have contributed significantly to these gains. In Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Southern Sudan, and Uganda, large swaths of territory once ravaged by violent conflict are now at peace, enabling the spread of democracy and economic development.
U.S. diplomatic leadership in ending the 22-year-old north-south conflict in Sudan is often overshadowed by ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region. The north-south civil war killed more than 2 million people and displaced an additional 4 million. Ending the war was a major international achievement that was largely inspired through U.S.-led initiatives. However, Sudan is a tinderbox, and the national elections in 2009 could reignite conflict on a scale not yet seen. These initiatives, in conjunction with ending the conflict in Darfur, should continue to be a cornerstone of U.S. Africa security policy and receive personal attention from the next U.S. commander in chief.
Liberia emerged from its long and violent struggles to elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president, making her Africa's first female president. Beginning with the removal of Charles Taylor from power, the U.S. has played a pivotal role in Liberia's conflict resolution and reconstruction. U.S. disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration efforts have worked alongside the U.N. peacekeeping presence to secure the country. The U.S. has also led efforts to rebuild and restructure the Liberian armed forces. As Liberia moves to redevelop its economy, the next Administration needs to maintain the country as a primary focus and to center its attention on economic growth and job creation to help Liberia win the peace.
To be effective in Africa, U.S. military and intelligence efforts to deny terrorists safe havens, operational bases, and recruitment opportunities must remain integrated with development and diplomacy. The East Africa Regional Security Initiative helped the U.S. respond to ongoing instability stemming from the 2006 defeat of the Council of Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, Somalia. Alleged U.S. backing of Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government forces did not create stability, and the subsequent insurgency has made Mogadishu and parts of south central Somalia a permissive operating environment for Somali and foreign terrorists.
The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) also provides a foundation for continued cooperation in countries where radical Islam threatens both U.S. and African interests. TSCTP provides assistance to Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal and has helped them act against al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups in the region, both individually and together.
Clearer goals and better delineated interagency responsibilities would increase TSCTP's effectiveness. A July 2008 Government Accountability Office report calls upon "the Secretary of State [to] work through the Director of Foreign Assistance…to develop a comprehensive strategy for the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership in conjunction with the Secretaries of Defense and the Treasury, the U.S. Attorney General, and the heads of any other partner agencies."
The Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program, a part of the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), is essential to increasing Africa's ability to contribute to the continental peace and stability. Since 2005, the U.S. has trained 39,000 African peacekeepers in 20 countries, which accounts for approximately 80 percent of the African peacekeepers deployed on African Union (AU) and U.N. missions. Continued training of African peacekeepers will also substantially support the AU's proposed African Standby Force.
AFRICOM. The new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is an important step in the evolution of U.S.-Africa relations and should be strongly supported in its limited intended role. However, the new combatant command has been poorly explained to African partners, poorly coordinated with the U.S. interagency community, and poorly articulated in terms of its security and non-security functions. Yet these mistakes have not doomed AFRICOM to failure. AFRICOM is a major step forward for U.S.-Africa cooperation and will pay dividends for years to come, if it is implemented correctly.
While the logic of consolidating one region under one command (AFRICOM) rather than leaving it divided among three separate commands is self-evident, substantive issues of security cooperation make AFRICOM absolutely essential. International peacekeeping requirements, counterterrorism partnerships, energy security cooperation, and humanitarian emergencies necessitated AFRICOM's creation. Increased U.S. national interests in Africa and the concomitant increase in U.S. security cooperation with African countries guarantees that the continent can no longer simmer on a back burner at the Department of Defense. While U.S. Armed Forces traditionally focus on their chief mission of fighting and winning wars, U.S. defense strategy is evolving to address conflict prevention through enhanced regional security cooperation with and capacity building of partners and allies.
The next Administration will need to sort through necessary details, such as the locations of AFRICOM's permanent headquarters and sub-regional offices, adequate staff recruitment, status-of-forces agreements, and Article 98 agreements. AFRICOM will help the U.S. to build on its already significant training programs, such as ACOTA, and enable new collaborations on issues such as the African Standby Force.
Military-to-military partnerships beyond peacekeeping will also benefit under AFRICOM, including counternarcotics programs in West Africa, military professionalization through International Military Education and Training, efforts such as the Combined Joint Task Force--Horn of Africa, and the strategic use of Foreign Military Funding and sales. AFRICOM can also address the rise of piracy off the coast of Somalia and enhance maritime partnerships to secure Africa's coastline.
Trade and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which extends duty-free U.S. market access to about 98 percent of exports from 40 qualified sub-Saharan African countries, remains a cornerstone of U.S. trade and investment policy toward Africa. As a tool in the larger U.S. effort to promote open markets, stimulate economic growth, and facilitate sub-Saharan Africa's integration into the global economy, AGOA remains popular with African partners and enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington. However, AGOA has been only a qualified success.
Despite the Bush Administration's efforts to stimulate two-way trade through AGOA, including supporting and signing into law three enhancements of AGOA, qualified African countries have not taken full advantage of the opportunity. Total two-way trade between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa increased 15 percent in 2007 to nearly $81.8 billion, but this increase is skewed by crude oil imports. Non-oil AGOA imports to the U.S. totaled $3.4 billion in 2007, an increase of 7 percent over 2006 levels. In other words, even with duty-free access to the largest market in the world, African countries are still not competitive in most sectors.
To address the lack of economic growth in non-extractive industries in Africa, the U.S. has provided significant assistance in trade capacity building (TCB). Mali and Ghana receive TCB assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and their country compacts. Many other countries receive TCB assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development's five-year $200 million President's African Global Competitiveness Initiative and the four regional trade hubs that it supports. Disappointingly, the $92.6 million in TCB aid in fiscal year 2007 facilitated only $23.9 million in AGOA exports to the U.S. The next Administration will need to address this unacceptable return on investment.
At the end of the day, it takes two to trade. Most sub-Saharan African countries simply lack the market development and business competitiveness to take full advantage of AGOA. The failed multiyear effort to negotiate a free trade agreement with the countries of the Southern African Customs Union demonstrates a lack of political will among African leaders to implement needed economic and regulatory reforms. Efforts to expand economic relations through trade and investment framework agreements and bilateral investment treaties can advance sound policy at a slower pace and lay the foundation for comprehensive trade agreements.
The failing Doha Round is a setback for African countries and their global competitiveness. While World Bank data clearly show that Africa's World Trade Organization members would benefit significantly from a successful global trade agreement, many African countries have not participated effectively in those discussions. U.S. technical support for education and capacity-building programs to assist African countries in better understanding and navigating multilateral negotiations would promote increased, meaningful participation.
The May 2007 creation of the Africa Financial Sector Initiative is an important development that should continue as a policy priority. Trade and investment dwarf foreign aid's impact on Africa's economic and social development. Programs aimed at accelerating the expansion of open markets, creating access to capital markets, and building Africa's regional and global trade competitiveness should remain a priority for the next President.
Agriculture and Food Security. Millions of Africans are chronically food insecure, a situation that spirals downward quickly when poor governance and natural disasters add to the crisis. In most African countries, about two-thirds of the people depend on agriculture for their sustenance and livelihoods. Given that the poor live on less than a dollar a day, the World Bank estimates that GDP growth originating in agriculture is about four times more effective in raising incomes of extremely poor people than GDP growth in other sectors.
African agriculture remains caught in a chronic cycle of poor economic governance, grain marketing board monopolies, corrupt fertilizer importation regimes, dilapidated rural infrastructure, nonexistent regional markets, and controversies over biotechnology. Interventions aimed at improving Africa's agricultural output and its rural incomes must be systemic, comprehensive, and scaled up significantly to have any real impact. African governments need to recognize the important role of agriculture in moving a country out of the ranks of the least developed. Even though 75 percent of Africans live in rural communities, donors and African governments allocate only 4 percent of expenditures to developing the agricultural sector.
In the hierarchy of U.S.-Africa partnership goals, agricultural development should be a common thread running through many areas of cooperation. Agriculture should be a higher priority in U.S. development efforts, whether MCC country compacts focused on agriculture, trade promotion under AGOA, market reform technical assistance, water utilization projects, rural road construction, or science and technology programs.
Additional U.S. support for the AU's Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program may prove a useful vehicle for this broad-based approach, provided that policy reform is given sufficient attention. In addition, Doha Round talks need to reduce farm subsidies in both developed and developing countries, increase agricultural market access for all, and reduce tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.
Education. In 2002, the U.S. launched the Africa Education Initiative (AEI) to increase access to quality basic education. The $600 million, eight-year program anticipates distributing more than 15 million textbooks, training nearly 1 million teachers, and providing 550,000 scholarships to girls by 2010.
Supported by AEI, Africa's primary school enrollment rates skyrocketed to 96 percent in 2004. For some time, policymakers have debated the merits of targeting assistance exclusively at primary education, at the expense of programs that support secondary and higher education. A growing consensus believes that economic growth and global market competitiveness rely not only on primary education successes but also on secondary education, attention to the education-employment link, and higher education.
Educational support is a key aspect of ongoing U.S.-Africa engagement. In addition to the obvious and important contributions to a country's future economic prospects, education contributes directly to family health and counters radical social influences that prey on the uneducated or use the promise of education as a recruiting tool.
U.S. education support offers an extremely cost-effective development intervention, and the next Administration should further explore private-sector models to expand educational services and make them more efficient. Education programs should also be well integrated into U.S. public diplomacy outreach to reinforce positive images of democracy, American values, and the generosity of the American people.
Building on Strong U.S.-Africa Cooperation
To build on the accomplishments of President Bush's Africa policy, the next President and Congress should:
President Bush's emphasis on Africa will remain a positive aspect of his Administration. The next Administration should build on that legacy with programs and policies that support positive African initiatives and focus on strategic U.S. priorities. The era of paternalistic big-brother relationships with Africa should be left behind, replaced by an era of increasing cooperation around shared interests from HIV/AIDS to counterterrorism.
Thomas M. Woods is Senior Associate Fellow in African Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
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