By Kathreen Harrison
“The sleeping giant that is Africa is now rising,” proclaimed African Union Ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao to an attentive audience at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Maine in Hannaford Hall, Portland on September 13.
After a pointed, succinct overview of the history of colonization in Africa, and the continued exploitation of her natural resources by multinational companies and foreign governments to this day, the Ambassador described the change that is at hand.
“The baby is finally born, and the baby’s name is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). All 55 countries in Africa have come together around the agreement, which was brokered by the African Union, beginning in 2013, and ratified last March 2018. We are finally speaking with one voice. It is the monumental decision that we have needed to make for over 700 years, since the first colonizers came to Africa – to take her rightful place on the world stage. Beginning in July 2020, Africa will enter the world market as ‘Africa’ instead of 55 countries.”
Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao said that AfCFTA is a game changer. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement will allow African workers to work anywhere they would like on the continent; move goods across national borders without delay; open up tourist and business travel within the continent.
“At the moment, African countries are wanna-be boxers, constantly thrown into the ring with heavyweights. West Africa produces 65% of the world’s cocoa, for example, but only last year started to manufacture its own chocolate bars. People rightfully talk about the corruption of some African leaders, but if we’re going to talk about corruption – let’s talk about all the corruption. At least $50 billion leaves Africa each year due to corruption.”
“Africa must get out of the losing lane. We need to come together as Africans, and friends of Africa, and understand her from the point of truth, not lies.”
The ambassador ended her remarks with a plea to the American business community to please wake up to the advent of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
“The Europeans are ready – the Chinese are ready – the people who are not ready are the Americans. Wherever I go, the American business community is not aware of AfCTFA.”
Numerous dignitaries attended the event, including Representative Rachel Talbot Ross, Portland City Councilors Pious Ali and Jill Duson, South Portland City Councilor Deqa Dhalac, and Former Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction of Somalia, Eng. Nadifa Osman.
After welcoming remarks by World Affairs Council of Maine’s executive director, Kate McCarthy, Portland City Councilor Pious Ali presented Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao with a key to the City of Portland, and Portland City Councilor Jill Duson read a proclamation from Mayor Strimling announcing September 2019 as African Heritage Month in Portland.