In Atlanta, Senator Johnny Isakson shares his hope for Africa

By Kristi York Wooten, ONE member

The best thing about being a longtime member of both ONE and the CARE Action Network is the opportunity we have to develop tangible relationships with our elected officials and affect their policy decisions.

It was a privilege to be one of the Atlanta friends and supporters of ONE and CARE who convened in a Buckhead living room on August 7 to hear Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., share his latest thoughts about foreign aid, policy, advocacy and Africa.

Senator Isakson’s knowledge of Africa is well-earned.

He recalled being asked by then-Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell to join the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2006, “because nobody else wanted to.” Yet, when Senator Dick Lugar, R-Ind., asked Isakson to join the Subcommittee on African Affairs shortly thereafter, it was an appointment Isakson was proud to accept –- and one that would change his life.

Never having visited the continent before, he set out to “go and find out what’s really going on there.”

So he traveled and traveled.

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Seeing extreme poverty -– and many of the solutions that are working to eradicate its root causes –- gave Senator Isakson overwhelming “hope for Africa,” especially in the wake of 9/11, he says.

“There is an endgame to poverty,” he told us the Buckhead gathering. “When you end poverty, you begin prosperity. When you begin prosperity, you end terrorism.”

In Senator Isakson’s many trips to Africa (he’s visited several countries since 2008, including Uganda, Tanzania, Benin, both North and South Sudan and others), he’s formed some strong opinions about everything from fighting terrorism to global health, women’s rights and China’s role in the future of the continent. Today, Senator Isakson calls Africa “the continent of the 21st century.”

Isakson’s bipartisan attitude toward preserving foreign aid and making smart investments, and his dedication to the empowerment of women and girls are making him a Senate star to watch from both sides of the aisle.

SEE ALSO: Exclusive Interview: Sen. Isakson on Kony and aid to Africa

Just days earlier, Georgia ONE members took to the phones to voice their support of the reauthorization of the Third Country Fabric Provision of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which would help protect the livelihood of thousands of Africans – many of them women– working in the textile trade. Senator Isakson told us that, thanks in part to our voices, the US Senate passed a bill to reauthorize that AGOA provision on August 2.

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His closing remarks were the most powerful of the evening, as he reminded us of the importance of funding for foreign assistance.

“Let me end with this,” he said. ”I’m a conservative Republican who believes in free investment. What everyone needs to understand is that 90 percent of that .8 of 1 percent of the US budget we spend on Foreign Affairs goes to people who are going to be our customers one day. It’s my job to make sure we don’t waste that money, and it’s the job of the NGOs to make sure it goes where it needs to go.”

The evening was hosted at the home of David and Melanie Nelkin and led by CARE Action Network leaders Janis Sundquist and Amy Kelly, with introductions by CARE CEO Helene Gayle and Advocacy Regional Coordinator, Derreck Kayongo. ONE Field Director Abby Sasser and Congressional District leaders Nancy Bauer and Luna Searles, among others, were also on hand to join in the discussion.

Read below for Senator Isakson’s update on the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

On August 2, Senator Isakson introduced the Economic Growth and Development Act in the Senate to “make it easier for the private sector to lead the way and be a true partner with U.S. government agencies in boosting economic development, fighting disease and alleviating poverty in developing countries around the globe.”

The bill, S.3495, which is co-sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would require the State Department and U.S. development programs to coordinate and strategize with the private sector in each country that receives U.S. assistance to better incorporate the critical role of private investment and trade in uplifting those countries.

In addition, Isakson credits ONE members and others for their overwhelming support of AGOA (The African Growth and Opportunity Act). In his August 3 newsletter, he wrote: “
On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to reauthorize the Third Country Fabric Provision of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (known as AGOA), which is set to expire at the end of September. The Third Country Fabric Provision is seen as key to the United States’ long-term trade relationship with Africa, which is currently home to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies in the world.

AGOA was passed in 2000 and has to be reauthorized every five years. AGOA’s Third Country Fabric Provision, which allows the duty-free import of apparel from sub-Saharan Africa assembled from textiles produced in other regions, must be reauthorized every three years. Its current authorization expires Sept. 30, 2012.

Apparel companies tend to make sourcing decisions months in advance, and U.S. orders for African textile exports have plummeted as the provision’s reauthorization was stalled during much of the last year. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, African textile exports have already dropped by 27 percent in the last year, and U.S. orders of African exports set to ship after the provision’s expiration are down 35 percent.

I commend my colleagues in the Senate for passing this important piece of legislation, which will greatly benefit our economy and support American industry. AGOA continues to create more customers for American businesses by supporting the growth of Africa’s middle class, and it reinforces our relationship with the people of Africa by strengthening the continent’s democratic institutions and promoting economic freedom.”


Follow Kristi on Twitter at @KristiWooten

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