VIEW VIDEO | Full TextAbout the Authors: Lynn Butler and Kari Jaksa, summer interns at the U.S. Department of State, report on their experiences during the ministerial events of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum.
Most articles you will read concerning the Seventh AGOA Forum will be filled with facts and figures. As interns in the Bureau of African Affairs and volunteers at the forum, we had the opportunity to see a more human side of US-Africa trade relations.
For those of you new to the acronym "AGOA," it is the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and is a piece of legislation that eliminates trade barriers between the United States and qualifying African nations. To qualify, one must meet standards of democratization and good governance. Currently, 41 African nations receive AGOA benefits.
The annual forum, held this year in Washington, D.C., focused on mobilizing private investment, and was attended by delegations from each qualifying nation as well as representatives from the civil society and the private sector.
Our jobs were to escort dignitaries and ensure that the forum ran smoothly. We also helped to assist the press and document the activities of the day. We seemed to impress many African delegations with our language skills, both breaking into Swahili and French throughout the day as we mixed and mingled with the guests. Though the masses of dark business suits could sometimes appear intimidating, African delegates broke into huge smiles after hearing a familiar language. Our new friends were eager to take pictures and swap business cards during the breaks between sessions. We were just as pleased to meet them and to hear their opinions on topics that we had studied. Just as exciting was the chance to see Secretary of State Rice speak in person for the first time, especially because it was a topic in which we were so invested.
Though the plenary and breakout sessions discussed many crucial issues facing Africa today, it was during the recesses that some of the most significant interactions took place. From these friendly exchanges, true diplomatic relations emerged. Overall, the forum seemed to be successful, and for these two "summer associates" it was an exciting experience and an invaluable lesson in international relations.