KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — The St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) government has held talks with the Egypt-based Africa Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to make Kingstown a logistic hub.
Afreximbank last Friday opened its CARICOM branch office in Barbados at an event attended by several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders including Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
“We’ve discussed extensively the plans to make this country a major logistics hub in terms of development and redeployment of port, development of industrial parks and … extension of cruise ship handling capacities,” Afreximbank president, Professor Benedict Oramah told a joint press conference with Gonsalves here last Saturday.
“These are areas Afreximbank has expressed strong interest not only to fund but also to bring investors that can work together with the appropriate authorities in the government to make sure that these are delivered in a timely manner and in a manner that brings the full benefits the government is seeking,” Oramah said.
“The goal is to promote trade and investment in African and in the Caribbean,” he said, noting that “some of the biggest beneficiaries are usually the private sector, because we are a trade bank”.
But Oramah said that the head of the Barbados office will visit SVG for talks with the private sector “so that the businesses will know the programmes and facilities that are available to them.
“We are also hoping that the instruments we have used to support the development and redevelopment of hotels, tourism facilities and the other services that are important to the islands here, that we are able to use them,” Oramah said.
“So, we are looking forward to a very exciting next few years not only in supporting the economies but promoting trade and investment between the continent of Africa and the Caribbean.”
The announcement comes as the government is constructing an EC$600 million seaport in Kingstown, due to be completed by 2025.
Gonsalves told reporters that it is well established that Africa and the Caribbean have had shared experiences, adding that these experiences “have to be translated into shared expressions, including institutional expressions of different kinds”.
He said that Africa and CARICOM have been doing several things in the political sphere, diplomatically and institutionally.
“But this is the first time that we have had a bank, a commercial bank with a developmental dimension coming out of Africa and linking with the sixth regional of Africa, the diaspora,” Gonsalves said, noting that financial institutions such as Republic Bank from Trinidad and Tobago have established a commercial bank in Accra, Ghana.
“But now, we are having a continent-wide bank in Africa establishing a presence in the Caribbean. I think this is a very important strategic development,” Gonsalves said, noting that Afreximbank has made an initial US$1.5 billion in credit available to the 11 CARICOM countries that have become members.
“That sum of money can be leveraged through other alliances with other financial institutions, including financial institutions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said he had discussed with the Oramah’s delegation several matters relating to the state sector, “in which we can work with the Afreximbank by itself or in partnership with other financial institutions in other parts of the world with which the Afreximbank has links, including in the Middle East. And we talked conceptually about many areas in which the private sector might be interested.”
Gonsalves, however, said that politicians and bankers can talk about the areas that the private sector may be interested in but the bankers have to get in touch directly with the private sector and the private sector with them.
“This is why the roadshow is so important and the office which has been set up in Barbados, where those officials will be linking here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and elsewhere.
“I think this is a matter of great significance to our region, to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and to our linkage with Africa,” Gonsalves said, noting that Africa has a population of 1.4 billion and is one of the richest continents in the world in terms of resources.
“Those resources have not always been exploited by African people for Africans. We know the story of colonialism and imperialism. We know very well Walter Rodney’s book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’. We know, very much, the literature in this area.
“But, Africa and the Caribbean, increasingly, are coming of age and we are standing in tandem with one another and looking out for our interest and seeing our interest through the prism of our own eyes, not through other people’s eyes.”
Gonsalves said half of Africa’s 1.4 billion people are under the age of 30 whereas in many parts of the world, there is an ageing population.
“So, Africa is going to supply — and so, too, India — a lot of people for productive purposes across the world increasingly.”
He said SVG has welcomed students from Africa, including Nigerians students, some of whom are studying medicine at medical schools here.
“Some of them because of the financial arrangements which have fallen apart in Nigeria, for example, some are from Ghana, some are from Cameroon, different places in Africa…”
Gonsalves said his government has given these students work permits to seek employment in the meanwhile.
“And even some of the churches, these young people have become important in their choirs, the church choirs and they are very much involved in the life and living of our country and, of course, we are happy to have them here. I have said that repeatedly,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that his government has also given scholarships to Ghanaians to study nursing at the local school or nursing.
“… and we will like to see greater exchange between Africa and the Caribbean and I am sure the Afreximbank will play a role in that — universities, post-secondary institutions, cultural institutions and the like,” Gonsalves said.
“So, this is a phenomenal lift off and man and woman cannot live by bread alone but they also have to live by bread… We have to live by the word of God and we have to live by culture and sports but the formulation you can’t live by bread alone means that you also have to live by bread. You can’t live without bread and this is where the Afeximbank comes in very critically,” he said.