Conference creator and sponsor, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, calls Africa, "The continent of the 21st Century"

Fair trade, human rights and emerging global economics were the focus at the third annual Opportunity: Africa conference at the Chase Center in Wilmington on Monday afternoon.

This year’s event, created and sponsored by US Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., featured former President Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker, capping off a day of informative panels, engaging guests and – most of all – opportunities to learn about Africa’s rapidly expanding economy.

In his remarks, Clinton spoke about his efforts both during and after his presidency in bringing attention to numerous issues confronting the African continent, from the unchecked HIV/AIDS epidemic to Africa’s economic growth through trade and cultural exchanges.

Clinton also spoke about the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which he signed into law in May of 2000 and which Congress has extended into 2015.

That legislation was created to assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and to improve economic relations between the United States and the region, with exports having increased from $8.2 billion in 2000 to $54 billion in 2011.

“It had an enormous positive impact on Africans that went way beyond economics,” he said, recounting an anecdote about a woman who said that since the institution of AGOA, she has had a job and her children are being educated in a public school.

He also sang the praises of the First State, calling Delaware a place where people can disagree and still reach a conclusion, and where he joked – like his home state of Arkansas – there are “more chickens than people.”

Clinton said that 30 years ago, the demographic of Delaware was much less diverse, which he said presents an exciting change.

“This is a microcosm of the world, here,” Clinton said.

Clinton also repeatedly promoted the concept of “creative cooperation,” which he described as people bridging economic and cultural differences to find ways of achieving their goals in faster and more affordable ways.

Where those qualities exist, he added, good things happen.

Clinton said that he is currently focused on bringing as many partners as he can to Africa, in an effort to showcase the opportunities now present there.

Coons said he first started the conference three years ago in an effort to help other Delawareans connect with the African community.

“Today, a diverse group of individuals from five different countries and 18 different states came together to hear from some of the most extraordinary experts, including former President Bill Clinton, about the incredible opportunities and ongoing challenges presented by the continent of the 21st Century – Africa,” Coons said.

New Castle County Council President Chris Bullock said he felt that the keynote address was “classic Clinton,” and that he definitely touched on the issues that mattered.

“I’m glad he reminded us that he was really the president who started this whole movement,” Bullock said. “And I appreciate the fact that he stays engaged … I think this will be one of his lasting legacies.”

Bullock also said, after having been a part of the conversations that lead Coons to develop the forum from a reasonably small affair to the scale of Monday’s event, speaks volumes to the sustainability of Coons’ vision.

Guests at Monday’s event included a group of 22 students from Ghana, here with a program through the Center for Enterprise Development at Delaware State University.

Program manager Audrey Scott-Hynson said that many of the visiting students are business or government majors who come here to observe and learn policies that can be adapted to their lives and culture when they return to Ghana.

Those goals make their attendance at the Opportunity: Africa conference all the more important, she added.

“This is the purpose that they come – to try and figure out how to economically improve the Ghana situation,” she said.