SEATTLE, Washington — West Africa continues to face high levels of poverty and socio-economic inequalities. More than 30% of the population lives below the poverty line in West African countries. This is higher than in any other region of the continent. These countries also face high-income inequality with a large fraction of profit held by a small portion of the population. This disparity suppresses the growth of the national economy and places smaller scale businesses at a disadvantage.
For the sustainable, long-term growth of West African economies, businesses must have the capability and resources to produce and sell high-quality goods in local and global markets. Many small businesses currently lack access to economic resources and investment opportunities, face trade blockages and operate under ineffective regional and national policies that deter growth rather than facilitate it.
The West Africa Trade and Investment Hub
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is currently the lead U.S. agency working to end extreme global poverty. On January 28, 2020, USAID launched the new West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, a five-year initiative that uses a market-based approach to spur economic growth in West Africa. Like its previous hub from 2012 to 2017, the hub’s goal is to provide businesses with the resources to expand their operations and integrate them into the region’s economy through private sector investment.
The global development firm Creative Associates International leads the initiative along with five other organizations and consulting firms. These organizations specialize in grant administration, technical assistance and trade partnerships.
The Trade Hub’s Partners and Actions
The West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, also known as the Trade Hub, is partnering with private sector companies, research institutions, universities, nonprofit and for-profit organizations to generate funding for business ventures in West Africa. This funding will go toward stabilizing supply chains and introducing new technology to increase production capabilities, facilitate relations and expand trade between West African countries and the U.S. It will also create sustainable jobs for the region’s youth. These steps will accelerate economic growth in the area by integrating it across global markets. To meet the varying economic needs of the region, the Trade Hub will work specifically in six West African “focus” countries.
The Trade Hub’s Initiatives for its “Focus” Countries
Nigeria: Nearly 75% of Nigeria’s working population works in the agricultural sector, making it critical to both the job market and food security. Alongside Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the Trade Hub will introduce new agricultural technologies to increase food production and quality in Nigeria.
Ghana: Gender inequality remains a pervasive issue in Ghana. A set portion of the Trade Hub’s funding will be directed toward creating jobs for women, aligning with the U.S. government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. Increasing the country’s exports is also a priority, particularly for highly demanded commodities such as maize, shea, soy and fish.
Côte d’Ivoire: Following the Prosper Africa initiative, the Trade Hub will provide technical assistance to increase the efficiency and reach of exports from Côte d’Ivoire across several sectors.
Senegal: Because of its role as a major shipping and transport hub in West Africa, the Trade Hub will work on increasing Senegal’s value of its exports. The Trade Hub will also provide better sanitation, water supply and sustainable energy throughout the country.
Burkina Faso and Niger: In this landlocked region, the Trade Hub is working to increase exports of metals and processed goods, the area’s main contributions to the economy.
Further Initiatives and Goals
In addition to its focus countries, the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub encourages co-investment in multi-country or regional ventures focused in countries within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). These countries include Benin, Cabo Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Togo.
West Africa faces disproportionally high levels of gender inequality in comparison to the rest of the African continent. As such, the Trade Hub will support female entrepreneurs, providing them with the necessary funding, product registration, duty-free exporting and access to economic tools. The empowerment-centered initiative aims to create at least 20,000 new jobs for women in West Africa, integrating women into the workforce and making the region’s economy more inclusive.
Currently, the Trade Hub is also allocating special funds toward international COVID-19 relief. These funds will assist with providing food security, stabilizing jobs and bolstering productivity for companies in healthcare and related fields.
All partnerships and ventures within the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub prioritize ethical, sustainable and fair activity. The initiative, above all, works to create a positive social impact within the West African region by facilitating market-driven, long-term economic growth. Through investment and innovation, these partnerships will allow countries to maximize their existing natural and human resources and increase their value.