BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Phillip J. Pierre has called on CARICOM countries to deepen their relations with Africa as the Egypt-based Africa Import-export Bank (Afreximbank) opened its Caribbean office here hoping to further develop the region.
Pierre, who was among CARICOM leaders in attendance at the ceremony, said “this partnership agreement with the Afreximbank which virtually comes to life today with the launching of the office in Barbados, is the signal for us in CARICOM to deepen our relations with Africa.
“The government of St. Lucia is committed to doing so and it is our intention to establish a diplomatic presence in some African countries.”
But Pierre noted that with the bank now operating in the region for all CARICOM countries, “it is perhaps time for CARICOM countries to establish joint diplomatic missions in Africa rather than the individual diplomatic offices that some of us have in a few African states”.
Pierre told the ceremony that the establishment of the office in Barbados is “a great service to the people of CARICOM and Africa”, recalling the words of the Afreximbank president, Professor Benedict Oramah, who, in April, said the decision to move into the Caribbean was intended to “right the wrongs of the middle passage.
“Today, we are not only poised to do so, we have joined hands to open a new passage, a new crossing between Africa’s sons and daughters in the Caribbean and their brothers and He noted that the opening of the office comes three days after some Caribbean countries officially observed Emancipation Day, a celebration of the freedom which enslaved African people in this chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea.
“Emancipation, on 1st August 1838, effectively brought an end to a trade which forcibly brought our ancestors from Africa, to work as slaves on plantations in the then British Caribbean,” Pierre said.
“The launching of this office is therefore a reversal of the unjust and inhumane links that were forcibly set up between the Caribbean and Africa by Europeans 400 years ago; and it establishes the foundation for free, meaningful and dignified relations between CARICOM and African countries.
“This ceremony today also validates and pays homage to the many Caribbean men and women, who, over the centuries have sought to re-establish the proper bonds between the Caribbean and our African homeland.”
Pierre said that as far back as the late 18th century, the Haitian revolutionary leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture had conceived the idea of sending thousands of his best troops to Africa in order to put an end to the slave trade and had allocated the financial resources to do so.
He spoke also of the roles played by other Caribbean people in the development of Africa, adding that “since that era, the ties between CARICOM countries and Africa have been minimal and in the area of trade there is practically nothing to write about.
“The partnership agreement between CARICOM member states and Afreximbank is the opportunity to transform this, to lay to rest the ghost of the Atlantic slave trade and to usher in a new era for CARICOM and Africa.
“The economic sectors that have been identified for the bank’s activities are critical for the development of CARICOM economies and will therefore give Africa a vital role in our economic futures,” Pierre added.
He said what is also significant about the partnership agreement is that it represents a very good example of South – South cooperation.
“For decades, we have recognised and spoken about the necessity for South – South trade as we seek to diversify the traditional ties that have characterised our international economic relations here in the Caribbean and also in Africa. The presence of the Afreximbank in the region will give practicality to our words,” Pierre said.
In his address to the ceremony, Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said the establishment of the CARICOM office will “undoubtedly amplify our collective efforts to harness the vast potential that exists in both regions, opening doors to new avenues of trade cooperation and deeper integration of our peoples.
“We have already identified sectors where we complement each other’s strengths in critical development areas, such as information, communication, technology, agriculture, renewable energy, the creative industries and education”.
Mitchell said that small island developing nations possess a wealth of natural resources and cultural diversity that can meet the demands of the African markets.
“Similarly, Africa’s booming industries offer a plethora of opportunities for Caribbean businesses to expand their global footprint. Through joint initiatives and collaboration, we can drive sustainable growth and job creation, enhancing and deepening South-South cooperation, promoting economic resilience and reducing our dependence on traditional trade partners.”
The Grenada prime minister said moving forward it was also necessary to remember that this collaboration demands or collective effort and dedication.
“I therefore call on all of our governments, businesses, citizens to actively engage with Afreximbank’s CARICOM branch, tapping into the wealth of experience, knowledge and financial expertise that the institution holds, having played a pivotal role in facilitating trade and investment across the African continent.
“Importantly, this collaboration also provides opportunities to foster cultural exchange, people-to-people connections and mutual understanding. I therefore particularly welcome the announcement of the diaspora day homecoming in November. So through dialogue and shared experience we can deepen our appreciation of each other’s cultures and heritage, further strengthening the bonds between Africa and the Caribbean,” Mitchell said.