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Senator Coons Does it Again

On February 11, Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) treated his constituents yet again to his annual Opportunity: Africa Conference. The half-day conference looked at how Delaware’s businesses, faith communities, and individuals can engage in Africa amid the opportunities and challenges on the continent. The residents of Delaware had the opportunity to interract with some of the nation’s leading voices on sustainable development issues- food security and nutrition, child health and trade in Africa.

Africa today offers the promise for a return on investments. During the previous decade (2001-2010), six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa. The continent has shown consistent growth, a trend that is expected to continue. A number of factors account for this growth, including technological innovations, political stability, trade, and investment. Robust growth rates, a new commitment to health and agriculture, and significant advances in science and technology are creating new investment opportunities. The United States has played a role in this progress. Senator Coons reminded participants that through life-changing assistance programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for example, HIV/AIDS infections have significantly declined in Africa. 

But challenges remain. Today, half the population in sub-Saharan Africa (an estimated 400 million people) live on less than $1.25 a day. We know that the main driver of poverty reduction in the world is the hard work of poor people themselves. Given the opportunity to improve their communities and provide a better life for their children, they seize it. It is this recognition that makes Senator Coons a champion for foreign assistance. As Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, Coons echoes President Obama’s view that a strong foreign policy rooted in American values must aim to promote democracy and freedom, protect human rights, defend U.S. interests abroad, while also increasing U.S. investment and trade through mutual partnerships. He stresed that today more than ever, development assistance is critical in reducing poverty and bringing greater stability to our interconnected world.

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Sen. Coons addresses participants at the conference - Photo by Bread for the World

This conference gave Bread for the World the opportunity to remind participants that moving the aid effectiveness agenda to achieve the MDGs is a complex task, but a necessary one. While more work lies ahead, efforts to achieve the MDGs have already saved lives, helped to lift millions of people out of poverty, and ensured that more children attend school. By investing in local capacity and building strong institutions and infrastructure, U.S. development assistance can help promote good governance, stability, and prosperity. Even as difficult fiscal choices are before Congress, Bread for the World maintains that U.S decision makers should lead the way by protecting and speaking out for investments that build resilience in communities. Making resources available through well-planned programs such as Feed the Future will enable African countries to develop their agricultural infrastructure in sustainable ways and diversify their economies. The 1,000 Days initiative takes advantage of a unique window of opportunity – the 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday – to create a healthier future for an entire generation. This is because the right nutrition during this period is critical to a child’s ability to grow, learn, and ultimately rise out of poverty.

In his keynote address, Kenyan Ambassador to the U.S, His Excellency Elkanah Odembo also urged that U.S. leadership and commitment to Africa’s development are necessary and that the recent gains on the continent be supported and sustained. The Ambassador stressed that at a time of intense debate over budget cuts, it is helpful to remember that not only do investments save lives, improve livelihoods and promote stability- they also save money in the long run and create markets for local communities as well as strong trading partners for the U.S market. Partnering for development, he noted-  would help to identify common ground between different actors and to combine their skills, resources and expertise and engage in win–win relationships around development objectives such as food security, poverty reduction, health, education and access to opportunities.

 Sustaining this commitment and others like it, is what will create the future we want for all—a future grounded in prosperity, dignity and mutual respect.

 


 

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