The African Coalition for Hillary discussed U.S. policies to Africa at a town hall Oct. 24, citing the Democratic hopeful as the more suitable candidate to continue relations with the continent. (Courtesy photo)

The African Coalition for Hillary, a group of professionals and political activists who support Clinton for president, convened a town hall meeting on Oct. 24 at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. The town hall’s topic was “Options for the Future of U.S. Policies to Africa.” Angelle B. Kwemo, managing director for Africa at the Washington Media Group, told the gathering of 30 people that Africans are set to play a role in this year’s election and beyond.

“This campaign is dominated by other issues on foreign policy but Africa isn’t discussed,” Kwemo said. “We want to make sure that we are influencing the next administration when it comes to Africa.”

There are 1.8 million African immigrants living in the U.S., according to 2013 U.S. Census data. African immigrants reside more in the South (38 percent) or the Northeast (27 percent) than in the West (18 percent) and Midwest (17 percent), census data reveals and the largest numbers of African immigrants are found in New York, California, Texas, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Robin Sanders, a panelist who served as U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and the Republic of the Congo, said those in the African Diaspora – defined as people of African descent outside of the continent – have an obligation to get politically involved. “African involvement in the political process is growing and we are seeing more Africans elected and serving at the city council and at the state level and that is the key,” Sanders said.

Omar Arouna is the former ambassador of Benin to the U.S. and said Africans must become more politically active and assertive. “We are too laid back,” Arouna said. “We need to learn to engage politically and each of us has a role to play. African Americans can serve as guides for us.”

The scholars on the panel said that while Clinton is sensitive to Africa, it is how that sensitivity is put forth in policy that is important.

Witney Schneidman served as an African expert for the U.S. State Department and the World Bank. He said that “trade is the center of African-U.S. relations in the Obama administration and the next administration must go further and deeper.”

Schneidman said the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), legislation that governs the expansion of trade in Africa, will expire in 2025 and “that will take place before you know it.”

“Those in the Diaspora must help the administration determine the next steps after AGOA,” he said.

Arouna said a Clinton presidency must give incentives to American companies to do business in Africa. “It’s hard to convince an American corporation to come to Africa because they don’t think it is a good investment and they don’t think they will make a profit,” he said. “We must come up with a strategy to counter that or the Chinese will take over the continent.”

While Clinton has a history of dealing with African issues, her opponent doesn’t. On the Trump-Pence web site, there is no mention of Africa.

The scholars pointed out that Clinton has an international reputation as a feminist and that could work to her advantage when dealing with African countries.

“In Africa, 50.1 percent of the population is female,” Sanders said. “As president, Clinton needs

to address their needs in terms of economic development and the emphasis on that should be entrepreneurship. African women tend to operate their businesses in the informal sector and don’t have access to credit and financial information.”

Semhar Araia is the CEO of Semai Consulting and the founder of the Diaspora African Women’s Network, an organization whose mission is to support and help develop the next generation of African women. Araia said that from her experience, Clinton has the temperament to understand the challenges African women face.

“Secretary Clinton has been an advocate for African women since her earlier years as first lady and then a senator,” Araia said. “A group of African women met with her when she was a senator to talk to her about what was going on in Darfur. She was very receptive to us and pledged to do what she could.”