We've all heard that if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day, while if you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime.

We’ve all heard that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, while if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.

Wouldn’t it benefit everybody if you and he could start buying and selling fish with one another as trading partners?

That’s the goal behind a piece of legislation being co-sponsored by Sen. John Boozman, R.-Ark., meant to increase exports of U.S. goods and services to Africa by 200 percent over the next 10 years.

The legislation would require government agencies dealing with trade and foreign relations to develop a comprehensive strategy and better coordinate efforts to increase trade between the United States and Africa. Loans through the Export-Import Bank would be more available to American businesses wishing to trade with the continent, while small businesses would have help gaining access to African markets.

The bill is significant because it redirects not only American policies but also American attitudes toward seeing Africa as more than an aid recipient or raw materials exporter but instead as a business partner. It moves the relationship from aid to trade and gives an entire continent a chance to escape the “give a man a fish, teach a man to fish” mentality.

Boozman’s interest came as a result of visiting at least 13 countries during the past eight years in the House and Senate. He’s been to Kenya and Ghana, and he was a member of the first congressional delegation to visit the new country of South Sudan after it broke away from the murderous Sudanese government. He says the South Sudanese are “natural traders, so they were very interested in trade.”

He also visited Rwanda, where Arkansas already has a toehold. The Rwanda Trading Company, founded by former Alltel CEO Scott Ford, exported 6.3 million pounds of green coffee from that country in 2010 — 15 percent of Rwanda’s coffee production. The company’s American retailing arm, Westrock Coffee, employs 25 Arkansans whose jobs were created as a result of trade with an African country more than 8,000 miles away.

Boozman said he has seen remarkable progress in some African countries during his eight years of travel. He believes U.S. aid programs have been administered effectively in recent years.

A number of African countries are ready to do business with America, but so far America hasn’t been ready to do business with them, leaving a void that the Chinese are filling. While American tax dollars are building African institutions, Chinese companies are creating business relationships, and not always fair ones.

So can Africa become a viable trading partner?

I spent four months in 1993 as a relief worker in Kenya and Somalia in the wake of the Somali famine that led the first President Bush to send U.S. troops to help deliver food. I arrived on the scene after the starvation was over and served much of my time at a Kenyan relief camp near the Somali border. I also spent a lot of time in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi as well as two weeks in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

Yes, I saw poverty on a scale Americans can hardly conceive, as well as Somali refugees living in a cycle of dependence and the complete collapse of law and order in Mogadishu.

But the continent of Africa, which is far more diverse than the continent of North America, is also a place of beauty, vibrant colors, and life.

Africa is a place of plentiful natural resources and a lot of people willing to work – words that could be used to describe Arkansas.

Arkansas in 2011 exported $5.6 billion in goods worldwide, a 7 percent increase over 2010, according to the International Trade Association. Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.

Could there be a greater Arkansas-Africa connection in the near future? As 25 Westrock Coffee employees will tell you, you can do a lot of business with someone 8,000 miles away.

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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at Arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is brawnersteve@mac.com.