Africa: ‘If Africa Prospers, America Prospers’ – New Prosper Africa Leader British Robinson Speaks

Cape Town — Prosper Africa Co-ordinator British Robinson participated in the AGOA Forum, where it was agreed that the Act should be renewed, and the draft reauthorisation was made public, but there are still discussions about what form it will take. The trade ministers of African countries’ who participate in AGOA called for an extension of at least a decade for all the countries who are currently benefiting in order to preserve value chains and support the continent’s efforts to industrialise.

allAfrica’s Juanita Williams sat down with newly appointed Prosper Africa Co-ordinator British Robinson after the AGOA Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to hear how this initiative fits in to the work of AGOA.

First and foremost, Prosper Africa is the US government’s signature initiative. It’s a presidential and national security initiative, to crowd and more funding private sector funding onto the continent through to trade and investment. But you can obviously see our website link to get the complicated explanation.

In a nutshell. And how does AGOA fit into that?

So AGOA fits into that, because AGOA itself is an instrument through which we can deliver on some of our investment and trade opportunities. So that’s how it fits in that, in a real way, it’s implementing programmes such as anything from a farmer, doing juice products, all the way to someone building out, you know, perhaps a data centre or other sectors.

With the AGOA Forum just completed, I was hoping you could share with us some of the interactions that you had with African leaders, the governments.

So the forum was very helpful, I think most importantly, was to listen to African businesses, about what they need, how we can be helpful. We have a number of technical assistance and training programmes, trade promotion programmes, as well as trade access programmes, anything from bringing African suppliers to the United States to our trade shows our Fancy Food Show, so that they can pair and matchmake with US buyers. We heard from the African private sector that this is very, very important, and very needed, that that sort of support and promotion is important for them to get their products sold. And for them to develop long-term partnerships with US buyers. We also do as I said, some matchmaking so that they can learn about AGOA, how they can take advantage of AGOA, so that supporting those suppliers, as they kind of navigate all the opportunities. So promotion and access.

As you’ve just joined Prosper Africa as Co-ordinator, well it’s been a couple of months. What is your vision for Prosper Africa? Especially with your background, in well, government work, but specifically on social issues like education, and women’s rights? How are you planning on integrating that with your work at Prosper Africa?

When you talk about exponential growth and scale, you are fundamentally talking about growing an entire economy, but also it’s about social growth as well. So when you support, in this case, a continent to be wealthier, to be more middle class to have access to global markets, you in effect are supporting social goals. So if a country is wealthier, then they have better health care outcomes. If they are wealthy, wealthier, or they take advantage of AGOA, maybe that woman farmer or that woman that’s part of a longer supply chain, she can pay the school fees for her girl child. So that’s how we touch on education. That’s how we touch on social growth, by crowding in those additional investments in dollars, support social growth, as well.

And your vision for Prosper Africa, what is it going forward?

So going forward is to scale our work here, so go beyond sort of small projects, and create larger projects with more funding from US investors to deepen that if we bring in more funding we can do more on projects.

And when you speak of that funding for bigger projects, do you have some examples you can share?

I don’t have any right now that I can share. But you can to get a sampling of what we do you those are on our website, some some major initiatives of how we’re doing that. And we hope to see more and to do more in the future. I think the big piece around vision is that we don’t have enough funding, we will always want more, so we can do more. But in a way to crowd in that funding, we’re looking at different types of funding. So we’re looking at partnering with US pension funds, and other pension funds around the world. We’re looking at sovereign wealth funds, we’re looking at foundations and their endowments. We’re looking at university endowments, as well as family offices and ultra high net worth people in the US and Europe and otherwise, to come alongside us and join us in co-investing. So bringing in those new types of dollars, and de-risking the opportunities here in Africa, but also to do marketing and promotion, that Africa is a place where people should invest. And there’s lots of really good opportunities to do so.

The take-up of AGOA on the continent has been quite low. Does that match the experience that Prosper Africa has had?

Well, I think it’s perhaps the way you look at the question, which is for us, it’s in order for the utilisation to grow. So we can see a greater uptick is we have to do more promotion, and more sort of matchmaking. And so that’s the goal of Prosper Africa is to do the promotion and to do the matchmaking, and education. But in doing so, we will see utilisation grow. So for us to hear that what’s needed. And then to double down and to further commit to those interventions is what we’re about and we believe that will lead to greater utilisation going forward.

What’s the ideal for Prosper Africa in five years?

The ideal, without getting into specifics, is if Africa prospers, America prospers, and so we want to prosper together.

So when you say when when Africa prospers, America prospers, there’s been quite a lot of conversations and statements and analysis about how there’s a scramble for Africa. A couple of years ago, there was a “scramble”, now there’s a “new scramble”. And so I’m just wondering how Prosper Africa is going to position themselves in terms of getting there first because now it’s a race between Asia, China, Russia, India, to a certain extent, and America. So there’s this competitive conversation. How do you see Prosper Africa fitting into that battle?

I’m not sure we’re a part of the battle or that we want to be a part of the battle. Again, I would look at the question a little differently. I don’t think there’s a scramble. The US government for over 20 years, and decades has been supporting Africa, particularly when I look back at the last 20 years. And I look back at my own experience, I was privileged and honoured to help be a part of the leadership team that stood up PEPFAR, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, that significant investment made on the continent by the American people helped Africa become healthier. And the goal of Prosper now is that Africa will become wealthier. And so in fact, Prosper stands on the shoulders of incredible initiatives, like PEPFAR, like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the compacts that have been done on the continent, we stand on the shoulders of those incredibly innovative initiatives that have helped build and grow the continent. And Prosper is kind of the next step in that growth, exponential growth for the common. So that’s the way I kind of view it. I don’t view it as a scramble, we’ve been here, will always be here. We are committed – the word of the conference was commitment. We are committed to this continent, and we’re committed to the utilisation of Agoa and the penultimate growth on the continent.

Is there anything else you want to expand on?

Being new in this role, it’s a joy and a pleasure to come back to the continent. And I’m privileged to be able to work here and to partner with the African continent, and all of its people. It’s incredible to see the growth that’s happened in the last 20 years. And I hope we can double that growth in the next 20 years.

When last were you in South Africa? 

I mean, I haven’t been to Cape Town in about 20 years.

Oh, wow.

This is just such a treat. It’s beautiful. It’s visual. It’s palpable. The growth and the hope of the continent. You can see it. (as she looks back to the view of the central business district of Cape Town)

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