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Rwandan President Paul Kagame, address CARICOM leaders in Trinidad on Wednesday, July 5, 2023.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, address CARICOM leaders in Trinidad on Wednesday, July 5, 2023.
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By Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Wednesday, urged CARICOM countries to move beyond declarations of intent and look to solidify their relationship with Africa while focusing “on concrete initiatives which address the challenges that nations like ours face today”.

Kagame, who is making his first ever visit to Trinidad and Tobago, addressed CARICOM leaders on the final day of their 45th annual summit, telling them “we need to come together in real terms…”

He said over the past 50 years, CARICOM has distinguished itself as one of the most vibrant regional integration organisations in the developing world with “many accomplishments”.

Kagame said that the Organisation of African Unity, as the African Union was originally known, was founded just 10 years earlier than CARICOM in 1963 and that “these anniversaries are an opportunity to respond to the desire for closer collaboration between our two regions.

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“We are closely linked. The horrors of the Middle Passage, and the indignities of colonialism, join our peoples in a shared story of struggle, survival, resilience and, ultimately, renewal.”

He said many intellectuals and professionals from the Caribbean served in Africa in the years after independence, helping to build the continent’s new institutions.

“The African diaspora, which is known as the Sixth Region of the African Union, has particularly called for deeper cooperation with the Caribbean, and this call has been reciprocated.

“But I want to suggest that it is past time to go beyond declarations of intent. We need to come together in real terms and focus on concrete initiatives which address the challenges that nations like ours face today. It is possible to do so.”

Kagame said that since Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley launched the Bridgetown Initiative last year, “we are already seeing changes in the global conversation on climate, vulnerability, and debt.

“Countries like ours can’t print money when we face a crisis. We have to borrow. Yet some of us are no longer eligible for concessional interest rates. Tools like the United Nations Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, and the Commonwealth’s Universal Vulnerability Index, reveal the special needs of Small Island Developing States.

“In Africa, we have countries such as Seychelles, which I have just had the opportunity to visit, with similar climate financing difficulties as you face in the Caribbean. We can work together to advocate for a more responsive and inclusive international financial architecture.”

The Bridgetown Initiative, named after the capital city of Barbados, a climate-vulnerable Caribbean nation,  is essentially an action plan to reform the global financial system so the world can better respond to current and future crises.

Kagame said that in June 2024, Rwanda will host the third United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, adding that “in fact, in terms of climate vulnerability and financing needs, there are similarities between landlocked countries and small island states.

“We could think of it as a coalition of the landlocked and the sea-locked, if you will, working together to make sure our voices are heard. But money isn’t everything, and we should concentrate on what we can do on our own, without waiting for anyone else’s approval or funding.”

Kagame said the geopolitical interests that underpin the international system are not going to change easily or quickly, adding “change won’t happen, just because it’s the right thing to do, or because we point out the unfairness.

“In any case, we should not be comfortable blaming others for our problems, including the harm we inflict on ourselves. The starting point here is how we govern our own individual countries, striving to be the best we can be, with a culture of accountability.

“As smaller countries, we gather strength by working together in our regional organisations, integrating our economies, and sharing infrastructure costs. Building on the cooperation within our respective regions, however imperfect it might be, we are in a good position to collaborate  across regions.”

He said that  involves enabling the free movement of people by removing obstacles to travel and exchange.

“I can give a few examples, and I know there are many others for us to discuss later on. As a start, Guyana, Barbados, and Rwanda have embarked on a programme of mutual support for the local manufacturing of vaccines and medicines.

“The next step is to commit to a pooled procurement mechanism that will make these facilities sustainable over the long run. Another clear opportunity is to solve the issues of connectivity between Africa and the Caribbean in terms of transport and telecommunications.”

Kagame said digital jobs will be a critical driver for high quality youth employment for our economies, and also a key lever for offering our brightest young people an alternative to migration.

He said the Commonwealth has a number of initiatives in this area, “which can give us a head-start.”

In his address, the African Head of State, said he wanted to comment on the ongoing situation in Haiti “from which we cannot look away.

“Rwanda and Haiti enjoy long-standing ties of friendship. The history of my country shows that no matter how bad things are, nothing is beyond repair, and there is always a way forward.

“The turning point starts with the leaders in the country, and the wider region, at different levels, coming together to forge a new, unified path. When that process begins to occur, then external support can be part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem.

“Let’s come together, as Africa and the Caribbean, and do the best we can for ourselves and our people. If we are determined to join forces, there is no one who can impede that. More importantly, it will benefit all of us. That is the message I came here to share,” he told the regional leaders.

Haiti has been plunged into a crisis highlighted by the assassination of its President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 and the escalating activities carried out by criminal gangs that have also joined in the call for the removal of the government of Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry.

CARICOM leaders are discussing the Haitian situation and United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, speaking during the ceremonial opening the summit here on Monday night urged the international community to assist in mounting an international security force to restore peace and stability in Haiti.

Guterres noted that CARICOM and some African countries  have expressed a willingness to contribute towards solving the problem.