When I think of weavers, what comes to my mind are the ladies in the back of the knitting store in my Southern California hometown, the ones who hang out on weekend afternoons with their handlooms – weaving cloth shawls, blankets, or the occasional modern tapestry.
Here, weaving is, by and large, a pastime. Some would call it an art form. The ladies in the back of the knitting shop are craft weavers. We might consider them "artisans" and laud them for mastering the truly ancient craft.
In the West, machines do most of the commercial weaving, not people. In Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the developing world, handloom weaving is most often an occupation for men and one that isn't usually heralded for its artistry. Weaving isn’t a prestigious job and, by and large, those who weave are the working poor.
Most discussions around development in Africa fall into the false dichotomy of trade vs. aid. The United States has commitments that inextricably connect trade and aid, development and technical assistance alongside strong economic relationships with many of the continent's countries.
Understanding these relationships and continually working to strengthen them is of vital importance, both for the African continent (in particular in sub-Saharan Africa) and for the United States. Gone are the days of paternalism – in today’s world, we must view the developed and developing states as equal partners in a complex and interdependent world.
The most comprehensive legislation on the United States’ commercial relationship with Africa is The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law by President Clinton in 2000 in the hope of creating mutual benefits for both the U.S. and Africa.
This week, the Brookings Institution hosted an event which looked back at the last 12 years of the legislation, which the Institution estimates has created 300,000 jobs in Africa and taking the opportunity to look forward.