Miniature flags representing Africa’s 54 nations and the U.S. decorated a table top in the reception area of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Northwest, where nearly 200 guests attending the annual Africa Day Gala gathered to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African States, now known as the African Union.
The Wednesday, May 24 event highlighted the historic signing of the African Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) last March in Rwanda. Leaders of 44 African nations set the stage for creating a single trade market for goods and services in Africa, and a removal of tariffs, import quotas and other barriers to trade on the continent. Once ratified, AfCFTA will allow goods and services to flow freely between signatory African countries.
The Africa Day theme — “Creating One African Market: Opportunities and Challenges” — drew attention to the fact that AfCFTA is considered the largest free trade agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization.
Ambassadors and members of the African Diplomatic Corp based in Washington, D.C., who were joined by State Department officials, along with representatives from the D.C. Office of African Affairs, all reiterated the fact that Africa, which represents home to the fastest-growing economies in the world, is “open for business.”
Co-chaired this year by E’Toundi Essomba, ambassador of the Republic of Cameroon, and Lydie Flore Magba, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of the Central African Republic, both extended a “warm welcome” to the many guests and thanked their business partners and supporters for contributing towards the promotion of Africa in the U.S.
“This occasion was planned as both a framework for continuing the exchange from our meetings this morning and also as a moment of relaxation and conviviality. It is planned to show the beauty and richness of the continent,” Essomba said. And following that, along with other speakers, the evening included menu, of African-influenced food, along with entertainment by Burundi and Cameroonian dancer, and comedy from Kenyan native Anna Mwalago.
Mamadou Samba, director of the Mayor’s Office of African Affairs, acknowledged the African diplomats as D.C. residents that are served by the District as the entry point to opportunities and services.
“I assure you, we remain committed and passionate [about] making sure we support the African community,” Samba said. “No matter which country you come from, no matter how long you’ve been here, you can call this city home.”
Stephanie Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of State Bureau of African Affairs, affirmed the United States’ “long history of bipartisan support for Africa.”
“We will continue to work to advance our common goals and mission including promoting good governance and spurring trade and investments,” Sullivan said.
“Continued growth,” she warned, “will depend on good governance, prevention of corruption, maintaining rule of law, respect for human rights; and assurance that Africa’s youth, who represent 70 percent of the population that are under 25 years old, must be included in the growth in Africa.”
She said the U.S. applauds the African Free Trade Agreement because it lays the groundwork for greater competitiveness and growth.
“It’s a major milestone and represents a significant opportunity for Africa and the U.S. which could boost Africa’s GPA by 50 percent and farming by 60 percent,” Sullivan said. “Investments in energy, communications and transportation in African are also needed to ensure success.”
Ambassador Arikana Chihombori Quao, representative of the African Union to the U.S., read a lengthy letter from Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki, the new chairperson of the African Union Commission, in which he spoke of the AU’s ability to survive despite challenges both in Africa and from African colonialists.
Most importantly, he urged, the AU has strived to find African solutions to African problems. He concluded that “as a united front of Africa’s children, Africa must reclaim is rightful place on the world stage.”