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Africa-Caribbean relations: A good start

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It is my fervent hope that all who listened to the First African Union- Caricom Summit on Tuesday of this week would, like me, have been filled with hope for the future of relations between these two vital regions.

It is a pity though that such an important occasion was not given the pre-publicity which it deserved, so that many more people from the Caribbean in particular could have been aware of its occurrence and look forward to following the proceedings.

The historical factors which bind these two geographical regions together are many and have for centuries served as inspiration for leaders to try and build links among their respective peoples to advance their common interests. Now that the train has been set in motion, there must be no excuse for failure this time. Our fate is in our hands.

The idea of a common front in the fight against subjugation and imperial plunder was no mere romantic idea of some intellectuals. It had its roots in the struggles of people on both sides of the Atlantic to preserve their freedom and way of life and the recognition that unity in such an undertaking was vital in the face of a more heavily armed aggressor. Tuesday’s Summit represented not only that “the time has come” for such unity, indeed one might even say it is overdue.

One must warn however against the idea that the Africa- Caribbean link-up is one only “for people of African descent”. There are tens of millions of people on both sides who are not, ethnically-speaking, of African descent, but are intrinsically part and parcel of the common struggles of both Africa and the Caribbean. They include the indigenous people of the Caribbean and the citizens of Africa who are of Asian origin. They are part and parcel of our just claim for reparations.

Any way you examine the case for such a venture, the facts and figures would make an overwhelming case. From the historical inequities in trade and economic relations has come the contradictory picture of a continent that is Africa, super-rich in natural resources, but with its peoples among the poorest in the world today. The Caribbean, while not as well-endowed as the “Mother” continent, nevertheless suffers from the same exploitative relations.

It is therefore a ready-made case for common action on the part of both sides. Such collaboration has long been sought though not always aggressively pursued. In addition, differences in perspectives and the usual tendency to let minor divisions become major obstacles, have time and again ruined plans for a platform of joint action. Even within Africa, regional divisions have plagued the implementation of broader, continental plans and petty nationalism continues to undermine broader objectives.

However current realities, such as the lessons in the current fight against the Covid pandemic have taught bitter lessons and emphasized that the only way that progress will be made is on the basis of broad common platforms. In particular, the difficulty in even accessing vaccines has taught Africa and the Caribbean that developing the Africa Medical Supplies Platform and working through it with the Caribbean is the only way to guarantee access to the vaccines so necessary to protect vulnerable populations. It is beyond belief that, in the face of the experiences of these two regions, there are people agitating against the Covid vaccines!

The Summit is but a crowning moment, firmly establishing the basis for common action. It is too early to call it “a success” for, having agreed upon the absolute necessity for the platform; the hard work now lies before us. The history of weaknesses in developing the appropriate mechanisms and correct approaches should have taught us valuable lessons. In so doing, it is imperative that the people of Africa and the Caribbean be at the centre of the processes and should be allowed to develop and employ their creativity and initiative.

Too often bureaucratic approaches and high-handedness derail even the best of ideas.

Certainly there was no shortage of ideas put forward at the Summit, short-term as well as those for the longer haul. It was proposed that September 7, be observed annually as “Africa-Caribbean Day”. This is all well and good but in practical terms, how many of us remember “Caricom Day”? Will this be the same?

There were practical suggestions, not new mind you, about direct air access between the Caribbean and Africa with at least one weekly flight between designated cities; hassle-free travel with the removal of visas; and practical institutional arrangements. Of particular importance however is the proposal by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley for a “joint electronic mass media platform” to address the critical information gap between both regions. Too many of our people, on both sides, have negative opinions of each other; we must dispel the misinformation.

This is no child’s play, it is a veritable battle for survival. The entire Caribbean and much of Africa already face a grave threat to the existence of their peoples in the form of climate change. This must be a central issue as will be the related and critical issues of feeding the population, both in terms of agriculture as well as what is now called “the Blue Economy”. Caricom and the African Union have their work cut out before them.

This is but a step along the longer road, drawing in the non-Caricom Caribbean, Brazil and the Diaspora as outlined by P.M. Gonsalves. We have no time to waste.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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