Thursday, September 12, 2019

Can Africa's New Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA) Transform the Region? One Key Will Be Keeping SMEs in Mind!

With the coming into force of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA), hopes and goals are that the AFCTA will not only help transform the region's economic sectors, but equally as important, help with job creation for the region's population of nearly 1.3 billion, which is on track to reach 2.4 billion by 2050, with Africa's youth represent over half of these figures.

Africa Map (open source)
It is this latter point -- job creation -- that for many will make the real difference in changing the lives of so many young Africans overtime and, in turn, grow the region's middle class. Estimates are that the Regions middle class is roughly 300 million, and it is fundamental that this number increases in order to demonstrate an improvement in the quality of life. Thus, there are great hopes among Africa's young people that the AFCTA will do this as the free movement of goods and services increase. What will be key as the AFCTA gets stood up, is for it to ensure there are special initiatives (or windows) for small businesses, know in the region as small and medium size enterprises, or SMEs.  Thus far, SMEs are discussed very little in concrete terms in the context of the AFCTA, but what is needed are special inter-regional facilities for SMEs to assist with cross-border and regional trade, with possibly an AFCTA-approved one-stop window to help SMEs through the new processes. Additionally giving SMEs a seat at the table in any AFCTA meeting will be important along with a "SME Office" being included in the new AFCTA's secretariat.  Just like other developed world regions, small businesses are fundamental to development, trade, growing the middle class, and job creation, and they will contribute the same to help Africa continue to move forward.

By way of background, the AFCTA was first signed on March 21, 2018, in Kigali Rwanda, with an initial 22 countries signing up ( › cfta › about). By July 2019, all 54 African nations had signed -- making the Continent potentially a $USD 2.4 trillion trading block. The rather quick turn-around on the AFCTA being signed by 54 nations in slightly over a year left many traditional doubters who touted the mantra that the "AFCTA will never be fully ratified," and again left flying in the wind -- having based their sentiments on the region's history of having previous draft agreements languished for decades. .

2019 AGOA Forum. Hosted by
Ivorian President Ouattara
So, what's next? There is a lot of filling in the blanks to do. With the headquarters slated to be in Accra, Ghana, first steps for this mega-trade behemoth, will be trifold:
 -- Policy formulation, including harmonizing trade tariffs,
--  Infrastructure development, including the building of the Ghana HQ, and;
-- Technical assistance, including on how to run a large trade organization.

However these three areas must be managed through the vision and leadership of Africa nations. Furthermore, there are still underlying questions as to how Africa's leading partners (China, the U.S.,  Europe, and possibly a post-Brexit UK), are going to engage with the AFCTA, given the number of existing bilateral trade arrangements, and those that are being courted for the future. Reports also are that China has already agreed to build the Ghana-based HQ.

As for the U.S., at the recent August 2019 US-Africa African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, in Abidjan, West Africa (which FEEEDS attended)  the importance of the AFCTA was raised further. Of note, AGOA is the only U.S. annual meeting with African Trade Ministers, but also thus far, the only large-scale yearly event the U.S. holds with a region that will eventually become the most populous Continent in the world. (;

At the AGOA Forum, AFCTA was the marquee policy noted by every African trade minister at every roundtable and every plenary session. The message to the U.S. and all partners in attendance is "there is no day light among us," on how Africa's future  trade relationships will and shall proceed, and "efforts that are not inline with this direction will be concerning."

In reading the tea leaves then, we all need to do the utmost to help the AFCTA succeed. To do so is in our interest as we in America look for sustainable trading partners, and markets for our goods and services. Remember the three areas I mentioned above -- policy formulation, infrastructure development, and technical assistance -- as well as having an emphasis on SMEs. The U.S. can provide value added in all these areas and we should because we do these things very well. These are our strengths and we should be at the table with our African partners as they set out to put in place and operationalize one of the most important trade institutions since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on January 1, 1995. (

Country Flags from 2019 AGOA Forum participants
A FEEEDS BlogSpot Series

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Dr Sanders Gifts Famed Nigeria Artist Nike Davies-Okundaye Paintings to Prestigious Smithsonian Museum

Liberal Women Protest March I” (1995) by Nigeria's Nike Davies-Okundaye, gift to Smithsonian by Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders from her collection
Chief Nike explaining her work at the
Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye is one of Nigeria's leading cultural icons - a painter, sculptor, teacher-trainer of the arts, supporter of women, and preserver of Nigerian traditional cultural practices. It is in this light and to ensure well-deserved recognition that Ambassador (Dr.) Robin Renee Sanders gifted two of Davies-Okundaye's painting series from her collection to the prestigious Smithsonian Museum of African Art. The painting series by Davies-Okundaye is entitled Liberal Women Protest March Parts I & II -- showcasing the strength and resilience of Africa's women. In sum the piece represents the Collective Power of Africa's women (be they on the Continent now, or currently or historically part of the Diaspora).
Ambassador Sanders at Smithsonian
in front her donation of Nike's work

Chief Okundaye's paintings are now not only part of the Museum's permanent collection, but are two of the leading pieces at the beginning of the NMAA's newest exhibit  called "I Am...Contemporary Women Artists from Africa," which has been receiving rave reviews from leading newspapers across America such as the Washington Post. Sanders, the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, who herself is a collector of African Art and a philanthropist focused on the arts and African
education, gifted the pieces to the Smithsonian to ensure that the works of Chief Okundaye, who she fondly calls "Mama Nike," were seen not only by more Americans, but further on an international stage.

Sanders and Okundaye, first met by chance more than 15 years ago long before the former became U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. The chance encounter centered around Nigeria traditional textiles, of which Sanders is known to wear and also collect. What makes the brief encounter more than 15 years ago so significant is Chief Nike telling Sanders then that she "would return someday to Nigeria as the U.S. Ambassador" -- and so, as fate would have it,  it came to be.

Nike with Ambassador Sanders' father at Okundaye's
Center in Lekke
Since then Sanders and Chief Nike families have become family. Nike, her husband Reuben, and their daughters and Sanders' family remain in close communication today. Ambassador Sanders' family also visited Nigeria and Okundaye's cultural centers in Lekke and on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital, Abuja, several years back.
Nike Davies-Okundaye's work, Liberal
Women Protest  March I & II 

Nike at Smithsonian with Sanders' and her family -
Father (l) & cousin Dr. Frazer (r)
"What I love about Mama Nike," Sanders says, "is that she herself is the living embodiment of art and culture." "When you see her or hear her speak, you feel it... you feel just how alive art is and how much it is a part of you. "When I saw the paintings Liberal Women Protest March I & II; II," Sanders says, "the pieces just spoke to me on so many levels, but most importantly to me they were so Nike!" "Furthermore, the role of art and culture in my life has always been paramount - inherent gifts given to me by my Mom -- who was an avid lover of literature, theater and all things cultural. I inherited all those traits and they not only make me who I am today, but I believe they always made me a better (maybe a different) diplomat as I always sought to understand and respect the culture first before I did anything else.
Plague -
Sanders' donation
of Nike Davies-
Okundaye's work, Liberal
Women Protest I & II

For her part, Nike notes that Sanders was "always a giver of no equal," and her benevolence, says Davies-Okundaye "earned her the unique name 'woman of the people,' while she was the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria."  Chief Nike, DFA, who considers Ambassador Sanders one of her daughters, further explains that Dr. Sanders had always said that her art needed to be exhibited at the Smithsonian, and then promised to make it happen. Thus, exhibiting yet another of Sanders' fundamental characteristics -- being a "woman of her word," comments Okundaye. "Her donation of my work to the Smithsonian has unequivocally helped shine a global limelight not just on me but by extension to all Nigeria artists associated with my Centers," Chief Nike adds. "It is as a result of Robin's efforts, that I have been bestowed this great honor and the privilege of attending and speaking at the exhibit opening to see my work displayed alongside so many other great world artists. This is a singular moment in time which will remain ever-green in my memory throughout the days of my life, and for this I thank her."

Davies-Okundaye's work at the Smithsonian NMAA is not to be missed. Its power is . . . palatable/sapid, its message . . . is unmistakable . . . its strength . . . is undeniable. 

A FEEEDS Series BlogSpot

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ambassador Sanders Begins Fall 2019 as Robert Morris University's Rooney Scholar & Alum of the Month

Ambassador (Dr.) Robin Renee Sanders begins the 2019 Fall Season being in the prestigious position as Robert Morris University's (RMU) "Rooney Scholar" for the semester. The scholar position, named and funded by the Rooney family, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, allows for and funds scholars and professional experts to spend a semester at RMU to share both their academic expertise and/or professional experiences with RMU's students across all disciplines.  Dr. Sanders plans to focus on the importance of global topics such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Why Africa is Important to the United States, global human rights, and the key role of small businesses in the world's development, including in the United States.

Also see RMU's article on Sanders as Rooney Scholar and the University's "Alum of the Month,"