PRESIDENT Obama has announced a decision to remove the eligibility of three African countries, Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger, to continue to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, based on their current poor performance in providing their people good governance.
AGOA was initially an undertaking of the administration of President Bill Clinton, signed in 2000. It was then “accelerated” by President George W. Bush in 2004, extending its application until 2015. Its intention was to help poor African countries by encouraging their exports to the United States through import quotas and the removal of U.S. import duties. It has helped the economies of its some 38 countries. Their exports to the United States include cut flowers, agricultural products, textiles, clothing and, in the case of South Africa, BMWs.
Where Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger went astray and got kicked off the sled was that continued participation in AGOA obliges respect of a list of requirements, including a market-based economy, honoring the rule of law, political pluralism, effective measures against corruption, and observation of labor rights. There is an annual review of AGOA eligibility.
Guinea was expelled because of a 2009 military coup d'etat. That coup led to a massacre in its capital Conakry in September with 157 dead and rapes by soldiers. An assassination attempt in December against its self-declared leader, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, kept power in the hands of the Guinean military and was the last straw for Guinea's AGOA eligibility.
Madagascar suffered a military coup d'etat in March. Its president, Andry Rajoelina, is self-proclaimed and remains in power at the sufferance of the country's military.
The third country expelled from AGOA this year was Niger. Its president, Mamadou Tandja, is a former military officer who unilaterally extended his time in office to a third term, at variance with Niger's constitution, putting Niger also clearly in the column of badly governed states.
AGOA is an effort on the part of both Democratic and Republican U.S. administrations to attack the problem of providing assistance to African countries that encourages good government and the development of an export economy. Its approach very sensibly involves classic diplomatic carrots and sticks.
Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger just felt the stick, as they should have.