New US Ambassador: I will help Swaziland regain AGOA
Incoming Unites States of America Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson carries hope for the country’s re-admission to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – a duty-free trade agreement that enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries.
Swaziland lost its AGOA status on January 1, 2015 after US President Barack Obama withdrew the kingdom’s eligibility because of failure to fully meet five benchmarks.
These benchmarks, some of which are still outstanding, include full passage of the amendment to the Industrial Relations Act allowing for the registration of trade union and employer federations; full passage of the amendment to the Suppression of Terrorism Act; full passage of the amendment to the Public Order Act allowing for the full recognition of freedom of assembly, speech and organisation; full passage of the amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act; and dissemination and implementation of the code of good practice on protest and industrial action.
Losing the AGOA eligibility status resulted to the loss of thousands of jobs, mainly in the textile industry.
Having been sworn-in on January 4, 2016 to replace Makila James, Ambassador Peterson has since sent a video directed to the people of Swaziland, in which she briefly outlines what she would be doing during her time in the kingdom.
Greeting the nation with the Swazi salutation ‘sanibonani’, ‘which means hello’, the ambassador expresses being honoured to have been nominated by President Obama to serve in Swaziland.
Ambassador Peterson says she has never visited Swaziland before but looks forward to coming back to Africa – a continent she has worked in for years before – and is excited at the prospect of working with the Swaziland government.
She says she would work on the various projects that are supported by the US government which include HIV/AIDS, the empowerment of women and girls and that she would “help Swaziland meet the AGOA benchmarks”.
“I am looking forward to working with the government and people of Swaziland and work in partnership with government and civil society. Swaziland is known for its rugged beauty and warm hospitality. I can’t wait to experience both,” the ambassador says before signing off with the salutation ‘ngiyabonga’ (thank you) and “see you soon”.
When Swaziland lost its AGOA eligibility status, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said: “The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly. We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that the state could take to address the concerns.
We hope to continue our engagement with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on steps it can take so that worker and civil society groups can freely associate and assemble and AGOA eligibility be restored.”
The United States Government said Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognised worker rights, particularly having failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organise.
The US said of particular concern was Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labour and employer federations.
Meanwhile, information from the US Department of State indicates that ambassador Peterson is a career member of the Foreign Service, class of counsellor and has recently served as Director of the Office of Multilateral and Global Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour at the Department of State, a position she has held since 2012.
Previously, Peterson served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon from 2009 to 2012, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria from 2007 to 2009, and Deputy Director of the Office of Central African Affairs from 2006 to 2007.
Prior to that, she served as Political Officer at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya from 2002 to 2006, the US Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia from 1998 to 2002, and the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1996 to 1998.
Peterson’s previous assignments with the Department of State include postings in South Africa and the Central African Republic.
She holds a B.A. from the University of Rochester.
When President Obama announced Peterson’s appointment alongside other new ambassadors, he said: “I am confident that these experienced and hardworking individuals will help us tackle the important challenges facing America, and I am grateful for their service. I look forward to working with them.”
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said Peterson is known for her outstanding leadership and management skills and attention to morale and preparedness, including when serving in posts facing hardships and crises.
“In addition to a deep expertise in African affairs, she also holds specialised knowledge and policy expertise on important democracy, human rights, and health engagement issues, background that makes her well qualified to serve as ambassador to Swaziland,” the committee concluded.