Monday, May 27, 2024

United States is right to delist Swaziland from AGOA

Two weeks ago the United States delisted Swaziland from a select group of African countries whose goods had enjoyed entry into the American market through an arrangement called AGOA (Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.)

The reason given by America is that authorities in Swaziland are standing on the way of democratic development.

To give an example, political parties have long been banned in Swaziland and trade unionists are routinely incarcerated. All voices of dissent are viewed as against the King and thus against the law.

AGOA is a law passed by the American Congress at the instance of former President, George W. Bush whose aim was to allow goods manufactured in Africa, chiefly, but not exclusively apparel enter the lucrative market duty free and without having to be subjected to intricate requirements that have often disqualified African goods along the way making them less competitive against their Asian counterparts.

The reasons behind AGOA were manifold. At face value was the intention to boost manufacturing in Africa and allow African companies to get access to the lucrative but otherwise hard to enter American market. Along that was to create jobs and uplift millions from poverty. At another level there was a desire by the then American President to use economics to strengthen Africa’s social and political institutions. Only countries that showed a desire to democratise and allow more political freedoms were listed as AGOA beneficiaries. AGOA, we want to admit was a carrot arrangement. But from the criteria spelt out at the time, the carrot was much brandished much more wantonly than the stick.

But most importantly, AGOA was created with the primary aim of strengthening institutions in Africa in the face of dictatorship from which vast swathes of the continent were just emerging.

For Africa, without question AGOA was one of the most farsighted innovations by George W. Bush.

Other than his hands on fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, nothing comes ahead of AGOA in underscored Bush’s foreign policy commitment to Africa.

Given the thousands of jobs that AGOA has created across the continent – which by the way would be much higher were it not for instances of cheating and abuse by Africans who colluded with Asian mafia to beat the system (by entering the lucrative American market masquerading as Africans) ÔÇô the arrangement has lifted multitudes of Africans from poverty.

Incidentally, one African country that has benefitted immensely from AGOA is Swaziland. It is a matter of paradox that while earning the millions of American dollars through AGOA, Swaziland has regressed, literally going against the very same principles of spreading democracy through economics that George W. Bush had in mind when he came up with AGOA.

As Botswana we should not make light the actions taken by the United States government against Swaziland.

The actions by the United States Government should send a strong message home that there is no room for turning back on the gains of democracy made over the years. Democracy and all its attendant values universal.

All people aspire to freedom. And it is even more appropriate when such freedoms are accompanied by accountability which is impossible in the absence of strong institutions.

Swaziland lacks democracy. The country also lacks accountability as the king still treats the entire country from where he chooses multiple wives in a near medieval fashion.

We choose developments in Swaziland to also highlight concerns that we have here in Botswana.

Over the last few years Botswana has witnessed a glaring momentum towards the weakening of institutions.

During that same time a culture of impunity has crept in with some in power literally viewing themselves as indispensable.
Loyalty and friendship are all of a sudden more important than the rule of law. In fact some of these individuals have become a law unto themselves. And in some instances they behave very much the same way like a King does in Swaziland.

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