In 1998, I first traveled to Africa as President, visiting Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Rwanda, Botswana, and South Africa. At the time, sub-Saharan African economies were regressing – that year, GDP per capita growth was -.2 percent – and 21 million adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS. But that’s not what I remember most about my trip. Over the course of those nine days, I met people who were working to turn the tide on AIDS, women who were starting businesses with micro-credit loans to support their families, and citizens who were making a new democracy work to benefit everyone.
As President, I wanted to help turn that hope and ambition into tangible results. I knew that so many communities in Africa had the potential, but not the resources and opportunities they needed to prosper. In 2000, I signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) into law, with the hope that it would begin a new era of relations between the U.S. and Africa by enabling deeper trade and investment ties. Since then, exports under AGOA have increased more than 500 percent, reaching $53.8 billion in 2011.
After I left office, I wanted to continue supporting Africa’s progress through the work of my Foundation. Today, Africa is rich in resources and is the world’s fastest growing continent, with clear economic and health care advancement. Over the past decade alone, real income per capita has increased by 30 percent, and the number of Africans who acquired HIV infections in 2011 was 25 percent lower than in 2001. Witnessing Africa’s progress first-hand has been truly remarkable, but what’s even more incredible is seeing our work in action and meeting people whose lives we’ve changed.
This week, Chelsea and I and our delegation will visit Clinton Foundation projects in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Africa, marking my ninth trip to the continent since leaving office. We will see how people have more opportunity to change the course of their future, visit projects where we are working together with our friends and partners on the ground to increase opportunity and growth, and we’ll see some that showcase our CGI members’ efforts to help Africa reach its full potential.
We’ll see the strides we’ve made in providing access to health care and HIV/AIDS, the first challenge the Foundation tackled, thanks to the inspiration of my friend Nelson Mandela. In 2011, for the first time, 45 percent of people in low- and middle-income sub-Saharan countries who needed antiretroviral therapy were receiving it. In Rwanda alone, the number of individuals receiving antiretroviral therapy has increased from 17,781 in 2005 to 96,123 in 2011. During my trip to Rwanda in 2008, I met a teenage boy, Jean-Pierre Ntakirumtimana, who is living with HIV. Today, Jean-Pierre is alive and doing well thanks to the antiretroviral treatment made possible through the Foundation's drug pricing agreements. Jean-Pierre is just one of the 5 million people around the world who has access to treatment through the Foundation—that’s more than half the people currently receiving treatment worldwide. Our market-based approach allows us to partner with governments, NGOs, and businesses. It has proved that, often-times, doing good makes economic sense.
Another major challenge Africa faces is that two-thirds of its population is reliant on agriculture for income, yet these farmers lack access to drought-resistant seed, good fertilizer, affordable access to markets, storage, and training that could help them grow more food, earn more money to support their families, and feed their communities. Providing farmers with the tools and resources to do these things can transform an entire community. For example, in Malawi, our Anchor Farm Project operates large commercial farms that work with thousands of local, smallholder farmers, such as Evans Chaziya. Evans has improved his crop yields by as much as 150 percent each year, and as a result of productivity and market access improvements, his profitability was 567 percent higher in 2012 than in 2007 – the year before the project began. With Evans’ extra income, he is able to send his children to school and pay for their school fees. And Evans is just one of 21,000 smallholder farmers who are earning more, taking better care of their families, homes, and uplifting their communities.
On this year’s trip to Africa, I hope to meet many more people like Jean-Pierre and Evans. To create more success stories like theirs, I hope you will be part of our work in Africa – not just during the next 10 days, but also during the next 10 years – and to empower good people to build better tomorrows.