Africa and the Caribbean: The Ties That Bind
On March 6, 1957, The British West African colony known as the Gold Coast became Ghana, the first African country to reclaim its independence from British colonial rule. Ghanaian independence was not a gift from the British. Rather, it was the culmination of a 50-year long struggle as Ghanaians fought to re-claim control of their country which they had lost due to the avarice and fire power of British imperialists. And their victory against British rule would catapult Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President, into a global icon of African liberation.
Ghanaian independence also had cataclysmic consequences for the European empires in Africa and beyond. In fact, between 1957 and 1964, in the glow of Ghana’s glorious march to freedom, Europe’s African empires crumbled as African independent movements swept the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Italians, and the British colonial masters from their citadels of colonial power.
St Vincent and the Grenadines and indeed our sister Caribbean islands also benefited from the collapse of British colonial power in Africa. Indeed, in the 1960’s, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and Guyana were the first of the beneficiaries as they divorced themselves from British rule. By the 1970’s, however, with the exception of Montserrat, all of the British colonies in the Eastern Caribbean including our own St Vincent and the Grenadines had thrown off their colonial cloaks to become fully independent nations. Hence, as our Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves greets the Ghanaian people during a state visit to Ghana this week, we are certain that he would not fail to acknowledge that Caribbean countries owe a tremendous debt to our Ghanaian comrades whose anti-colonial struggle would inspire a global anti-colonial struggle.
Ghana and the Caribbean, of course, share far more than a history of a common colonial master. The development of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade stands as the greatest sustained assault on the people of one continent by the people of another continent. In the 1400’s the trans-Atlantic slave trade had begun as a trickle – the forced removal from Africa of hundreds of Africans a year to meet the various desires of European slave masters. But 400 years later that trickle had become a flood as Europeans seized more than 12 million Africans, transported them to the Americas, and transformed them into a brutalized enslaved population who would be consumed in the maws of plantation slavery.
The history, demography, and culture of SVG and the broader Caribbean are a direct legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. West Africa populated the Caribbean. Hence, the overwhelming majority of our population is Black. The struggle against slavery remains the defining historical legacy of the Caribbean experience. And the greatest of our cultural expressions are deeply informed by that history. When Becket crooned, “I Am An African” he was directly confronting and rejecting colonial and racist narratives which had justified slavery, colonial rule, and ideologies of racial supremacy. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves can therefore remind his Ghanaian hosts that in the Caribbean today, we treasure our ancestral roots, and that Caribbean novelists, musicians, poets, and other artists have serenaded Africa with artistry and power that is second to none.
Dr Gonsalves undoubtedly has other goals beyond expressing his reverence for Ghanaian and Caribbean history. Seen from the perspective of 1950, no one then could possibly have imagined that in 2018 a Vincentian and Ghanaian could meet in the palaces of Accra as leaders of two sovereign countries. But what for them would be the wine of astonishment is for us simply the granularities of inter-state relationship. One of these is a commitment to deepening the relationship between Ghanaians and Vincentians. The presence of several international medical schools here in St Vincent has acted as a magnet to Ghanaians, Nigerians and other West Africans.
Equally important, Ghana and SVG need to develop new economic relationships which can see a transfer of capital, commodities, and skills across the Atlantic. Our recently re-energized cocoa industry can surely benefit from the global expertise and dominance of Ghana in this area.
For whereas the trans-Atlantic slave trade was imposed upon us for the benefits of others, we now have the capacity to design a trans-Atlantic trade controlled by ourselves for our mutual benefit. It is certainly the most powerful rebuke we can make of that history of brutality: to demonstrate that both African peoples and their descendants in the Caribbean have not only survived, but have succeeded in reconstructing binding relations in thriving societies.
The Prime Minister therefore has much to say and do during his visit to Ghana. And while he goes about tying the knots of state, he just might want to remind his hosts that young Vincentians and Africans are already tying their own knots creating new families and proclaiming anew bonds that can never die.