Clinton speaks at Opportunity:Africa conference in Wilmington

 (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Former President Bill Clinton visited Wilmington on Monday to deliver the keynote address at the third annual Opportunity: Africa conference.

In a wide-ranging address to a sold-out crowd, Clinton urged those in attendance to be “agents of change.” Clinton updated the crowd of several hundred on progress being made in Africa on issues including expanding access to health care, improving agricultural output and fighting AIDS.

“I think Africa is worth believing in, it’s worth committing to, it’s worth partnering with,” Clinton said. “We dare not let the ethnic and religious and tribal conflicts overcome the staggering human potential.” 

Clinton said that the most progress in Africa has been made in the area of health care, thanks to recent efforts to reduce the costs of medication, especially AIDS drugs. He also highlighted an expansion of health care clinics in Ethiopia as evidence of improving conditions.

Regarding agriculture, he said that there needs to be concerted efforts to increase food production and to prevent the relocation of small farmers off of their land. He highlighted an anchor farm program in Malawi that links numerous small farmers with one larger farm to help workers improve their methods.

“Intelligence and effort are evenly distributed throughout the world; opportunity and the flow of capital are not,” Clinton said.

Coons’ brainchild

The Opportunity: Africa conference is the brain child of Delaware Senator Chris Coons. The focal point of the conference in its three year history has been connecting Delaware businesses, faith communities and individuals with experts on African affairs. Workshops at this year’s conference included sessions on conducting business in Africa, protecting wildlife, increasing access to energy and leadership opportunities for women.

Coons has long championed the economic potential of investing in Africa: It was time spent on the continent while he was in college that instilled Coons’ passion for Africa. While in Africa as a younger man, Coons studied at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, eventually returning to Africa to do relief work in Kenya with the South African Council of Churches.

The time spent in Africa was transformative for the future Senator. Not only did those visits change his political views, it also secured a lifelong commitment to improve conditions in Africa.  

Coons is currently the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, a position that affords him the opportunity to return to Africa on a somewhat regular basis. In 2012, he visited with a native Delawarean who opened a business in Kenya.  

Matt Meyer’s company Ecosandals makes footwear from recycled materials such as used car tires and other scrap collected from the streets of East Africa. Meyer joined Coons at the conference for a brief breakout session with some students from local schools.

The Opportunity: Africa conference aims to create more success stories like Ecosandals, both in Africa and in the United States.

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