The New York Forum AFRICA, which has taken place every year in Libreville under the patronage of Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba, is billed as “Africa’s leading pan-African business summit” and prioritizes inter-African strategic partnerships to promote sustainable growth. NYFA is known for the panels and debates that permeate the three-day summit, but it will also hold its largest ever Marketplace, a breeding ground for investment and idea-sharing.
NYFA is also inclusive of youth and promotes vocational education and skills training through initiatives like “Train My Generation” which, as a youth empowerment initiative funded by corporate sponsors founded in the global south, is one of only a few like it in the world.
This focus on growth by the continent, for the continent is a department in which the AGOA has been sorely lacking. The African Growth Opportunities Act was established 14 years ago, when then-U.S. president Bill Clinton wanted to incentivize African economies to open themselves, embrace the free market and loosen their dependence on aid. Despite its success and sustained notoriety in the interim decade and a half, in which many African nations have grown into viable trading partners of major economies like China, Japan and the U.S., the AGOA has been maligned for the way it fails to address and promote intra-African commerce and investment.
According to the AGOA website, thanks in part to that forum African imports to the U.S. had increased from $8.2 billion in 2001 to $26.8 billion in 2013. Non-oil imports, while a fraction of that total, have still seen the same exponential improvement ($1.4 billion to $5 billion). American investment in sub-Saharan Africa has totaled $35 billion over that time, and as a result more than 300,000 jobs have been created.
Therefore, the success of the AGOA in opening African economies to trade with developed economies -- as opposed to the aid-for-influence swaps of the decades prior to AGOA -- cannot be denied. However, the AGOA and various similar initiatives that promote Africa’s interaction with the rest of the world can feel a bit outdated, especially when developed nations take advantage of those relations to strip resources (after all, most of the AGOA’s success has come in the oil and gas industry) instead of building sustainable economies in the region.
Intra-African interaction continues to suffer as a result of the myopic view taken by AGOA and its ilk. As of 2013, only 10 percent of African nations interact economically with one another, as opposed to the European Union, where 63 of the trade is conducted among member nations. This is exactly the kind of regional lag in economic activity that the NYFA exists to accelerate. And in 2015, with both the NYFA and AGOA occurring concurrently in the Gabonese capital, organizers hope the fundamental issues of African commerce -- both within and beyond the continent’s borders -- will be addressed in an energetic, progressive fashion.