Tuesday, August 26, 2014

US-Africa Summit: The gaps and a response by AU

The United States recently hosted African heads of state and government for a summit dubbed the US-Africa Leaders Summit. It was a fist of its kind, themed “Investing in the next generation”. The summit focused on cooperation between Africa and the US in such areas as energy, health, climate change, developing youth leadership, security and counter-terrorism. These subjects were discussed in the context of enhancing trade and investments between Africa and the United States. Democracy and human rights protection also a focus of the summit, in this regard the summit focused at deepening co-operation in promoting democratic institutions in Africa and adherence to human rights.

Previously we have not seen such a robust attempt by the United States to woo African investments through strengthening trade ties. The relationship between Africa and the US has largely been perceived to focus on good governance and human rights. However through the Summit the US confirmed that it does not want to be left behind by such countries as China and India who are already a large part of the African investment and trade Renaissance. As this focused attention on African resources grows, we must not lose sight of the central role of human rights and good governance in trade and investments.

On the actual part that human rights occupies in trade and investments, two schools of thought have emerged. The first school views human rights compliance by governments and corporations engaging in trade as a critical factor. The second school views human rights and trade as separate fields which are provided for and regulated under separate regimes of international law, it thus draws a distinction between international human rights law and international trade law. Nevertheless, even as we engage in this debate, we must think of the actual impact that trade has on society generally. Such focused thinking will inevitably lead us to incorporate human rights, labour rights and environmental rights in the investments agenda so that sustainable development is attained.

Why do I link both concepts? Some of the challenges, we struggle to fight in Africa are corruption, mismanagement of state resources, ethnic-based politics and unemployment among others. While these issues are not unique to Africa, we should admit that they have played a big part in Africa’s economic and political stagnation. These challenges have had an impact on the rate of growth of our economies and when examined keenly, they revolve around human rights based governance, labour advocacy and environmental governance. International investors cannot therefore ignore these aspects if Africa is to truly going to achieve the theme of the summit ‘Investing in our next generation’. This means that investors will engage in ‘responsible investing’ so that multinational corporations in addition to complying with international trade rules, government regulatory benchmarks it must also comply with human rights, labour standards and environmental rights.

To demonstrate this point lets now coming on Kenya. The United states expressed interest in investing in the energy sector. Kenya is still at the initial stages of exploring oil in Turkana and when drilling and production commences, human rights concerns will distinctly come to the fore, is we take lessons from Nigeria. However there lacks a sector-based policy and legislation that are in tune with the Constitution of Kenya 2010 that entrenches economic, social cultural and political rights. The country therefore needs a robust legislation to govern the exploration of oil taking care of the rights of all stakeholders chief among them rights of communities affected by the exploration and adherence to environmental standards.

The African Union should be on the forefront in providing African countries with a common approach to investments in Africa. As interest in Africa grows, Africa must be able to speak with one voice, this will give the continent leverage in trade negotiations. Such a forum must be created urgently to allow Africa have a win-win trade and investment forum. The AU should also facilitate the development of curriculum to raise awareness among the youth particularly on the investment opportunities in various African countries so as to see more inter-Africa growth and development. A framework for incorporating human, labour and environmental rights in trade and investment agreements should also be developed by the AU to provide focused guidance on the ‘responsible investing’.

Finally is a challenge to Africa. China, US, the European Union, France and other developed countries have all shown great interest in Africa. African countries must be equally aggressive in developing policies and legislation to shepherd investments in Africa and safeguarding our national and collective interests. Respective governments should envision Africa in fifty years and continue building a firm foundation that will help us ‘invest in the future African generations’. In Kenya for instance, the Vision 2030 is such a blue print and it must therefore continue to inform our bilateral trade engagements.