Rwandan President, Paul Kagame has said the quest to strengthen relations between the Caribbean and Africa requires strategic planning and work to get it right.
Kagame was on official visits to Jamaica and Barbados last week, said achieving the goal will will not be an overnight thing.
According to caribbeannationalweekly.com, the President was in Jamaica from April 13-15 and in Barbados from April 15-17.
In both countries, President Kagame spoke of the need to strengthen the direct contact between the Caribbean and Africa. This has been an expressed goal of CARICOM Community (CARICOM) leaders over the last few years and especially since their attendance at the African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (now OACPS) Summit in Kenya in December 2019.
Getting to this goal of a deeper, direct relationship between CARICOM and Its Member States and the African Union (AU) and its member states, in my view, will take planning and work to get it right. It will not be an overnight thing.
As I pointed out in my article of February 5, 2020, on “Strengthening CARICOM/Africa Relations”, the CARICOM member states and AU members mainly meet in the multilateral arena at the United Nations and, in meetings of OACPS and the Commonwealth.
The first direct Summit between Africa and CARICOM was held virtually on September 7, 2021. CARICOM Today reported that at this Summit, CARICOM and African Leaders committed to strengthening collaboration and unity, increasing trade, investment, and people-to-people engagement. There was support for establishing a CARICOM/Africa public-private partnership; establishing a joint CARICOM/AU electronic mass media platform; establishing an African-Caribbean Forum, and drafting an Africa-Caribbean Charter and memorandum of understanding (MOU) to underpin their relationship.
The original idea had been to have an in-person meeting at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda in 2020. CHOGM is now to be held at the same venue in the week of June 20 this year. I think that CARICOM and the AU could be looking at holding some form of in-person meeting on the margins of this CHOGM. The current AU Chair for 2022/23 is President Macky Sall of Senegal.
I am assuming that some progress is being made in advancing outcomes from the 2021 CARICOM/Africa Summit. It is not in the Belize Heads Communiqué. On the diplomatic front, since December 2019, Barbados has opened a High Commission in Accra, Ghana and accredited a High Commissioner in Nairobi, Kenya. These are the only additions to CARICOM Member States’ thin diplomatic presence on the African continent. In March 2021, Jamaica established diplomatic relations with Togo and Liberia.
Expanding trade and investment opportunities
It seems that some progress is being made in promoting trade between CARICOM and African countries. From news reports out of Guyana, I am reading that in 2021, a Nigerian, Onoja Atta Onoja, established the Africa Caribbean Chamber of Trade, Commerce and Industry in Georgetown, Guyana, to expand trade between the Caribbean and Africa. It seems that the focus is on trade with Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
An article in Guyana’s Stabroek News dated March 25, 2022, reports that this Chamber has begun trade in commodities between Guyana and Nigeria, with the support of the Nigerian High Commission in Port of Spain. This Chamber intends to have direct flights between Africa and the Caribbean by the end of this year. It may be recalled that there was an initial direct flight between Jamaica and Nigeria in December 2020.
It is also reported that there has been a flurry of activity between Guyana and Ghana related to oil and gas in the past year. A report from Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation dated December 7, 2021 states that three agreements were signed between the countries – a framework agreement on cooperation, an MOU on cooperation in the petroleum sector, and another on mutual cooperation in investment promotion.
A recent news report out of Barbados also states that the country has sent a first shipment of goods valued at US$20, 000 to Ghana and is optimistic that this will be the first of many.
There was a Jamaica/Nigeria Joint Commission meeting in Abuja in February.
An article in the Jamaica Observer on Sunday, April 17, also expresses optimism about Africa as a market for Jamaican goods taking account of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and the potential for growth in Africa.
As I said in my 2020 article, there are still issues to be addressed to make trade and investment viable in the medium to long term between African and CARICOM countries.
There are issues of transportation, actually having regular, profitable direct flights and shipping between African and the Caribbean; understanding the business culture in African countries – doing the necessary groundwork to assess African markets, prioritizing markets and goods and services for trade; and considering such matters as distribution chains.
It must be understood that AfCFTA is an intra-Africa free trade agreement. Countries entering the African economic space to trade will still face tariffs and other trade barriers unless there is a negotiated free trade agreement between AfCFTA members and CARICOM.
There are also the possibilities for trade in services, in tourism and the creative industries, recalling that Caribbean service providers must be able to compete in the African market, not only with Africans, but with service providers from other countries.
This also raises a need for visa abolition agreements e.g. with Nigeria. The CARICOM private sector and media, beyond sentiment, have to be interested in doing business in Africa, in promoting South/South cooperation, and in exploring and finding real opportunities for trade and investment.