Here's a little-known black history fact: during the past decade, six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa. The continent has shown robust growth, new commitments to health and agriculture, and significant advances in science and technology.
The United States has played a meaningful role in Africa's progress through life-changing assistance programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Sustaining this commitment and others like it will help create the future we want for all of our sisters and brothers -- a future marked by growth, shared responsibility, and mutual respect.
African-American Voices for Africa (AAVA), a network of religious and civic leaders formed in partnership with Bread for the World, promotes empowerment of African people through U.S. policies that eradicate hunger, poverty, and disease.
As President Barack Obama's second term begins, AAVA urges him to ensure that our nation's policies toward Africa make justice and equal partnership key principles of engagement. Strengthening democratic institutions and boosting broad-based economic growth through trade and investment can support the efforts of African people to lead more prosperous, stable, and healthy lives. With this in mind, we are pushing for the following vital U.S. policies:
Maintain effective development assistance and trade policies for African agriculture. With an estimated 80 percent of Africans deriving their livelihoods from farming, making resources available through well-planned initiatives such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challenge Corporation will enable African countries to develop their agricultural infrastructure and diversify their economies. Trade policies that encourage these goals through revising subsidy levels, reducing tariff limitations, and strengthening smallholder farmers are critical for poverty reduction.
Continue efforts to promote maternal and child nutrition. Rising food prices and the global financial crisis have led to an increase in hunger and malnutrition among children under age two. The consequences of malnutrition during this critical window -- the 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child's second birthday -- are long-term and irreversible. We must promote access to and awareness of better nutrition and hygiene through breast-feeding, healthy staples, hand-washing with soap, and therapeutic foods for malnourished children.
Reduce the African debt burden. The United States should use its leadership to leverage support for funding multilateral agencies such as the International Development Agency (IDA), which provides interest-free loans and grants to governments of the poorest countries.
Encourage standards of social responsibility. We have a responsibility to enact regulatory policies that restrict corporations from business activities that harm life or the environment in Africa. Through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, established at the May 2012 G-8 Summit, private sector partners must be transparent about current and committed levels of funding and be guided by country-led plans. Such commitments must include accountability mechanisms to ensure that private sector action contributes to sustainable, poverty-reduction goals.
Ending hunger by empowering our African brothers and sisters is possible, but it will take a strong U.S. commitment to do so. For more information on these priorities and the African-American Voices for Africa initiative, visit www.bread.org/voices-for-africa/.