The vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that they could not meet in person for the first CARICOM-Africa leaders’ summit on Tuesday, but most of the more than a dozen contributing speakers demanded the establishment of a formal system to govern relations between the two groups including fighting Europe for reparations for the slave trade, establishing direct air services with the continent, and abolishing visa requirements to break open Africa-Caribbean travel tourism.
Chaired by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, many referred to the need to organize Africa and the Caribbean as a single force on the international scene to fight, among other issues, financial discrimination and medical and vaccine apartheid and to put heads together to engage former European slave trading nations to push them towards paying reparations for the transAtlantic slave trade.
For example, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent, a leading figure in current efforts in the Caribbean to engage Europe on reparations, said the region has not done enough in this area but called for a redoubling of efforts now that African nations are on board. He said that while all the attention now is being focused on building relations with Africa, he urged the forum, as well to not to forget the 110,000 million people of African descent living in nearby Brazil, saying a special commission dealing with Black Brazilian and diasporic issues should be established in the coming months as he touted the potential and the might of joint cooperation.
“This is a mighty force. The future of humanity rests on the fulcrum of those countries and peoples. Africa, the Caribbean and the diaspora in communion with each other must mount a strong push for reparations for native genocide and enslavement of African people. These were driven by European colonialism,” he said.
Several other leaders including Caricom Chair and Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Mia Mottley of Barbados and Andre Holness of Jamaica spoke about the dire need for a direct and sustained air transport system between Africa and the Caribbean saying there have been several starts but no service has lasted long enough to obtain a foothold between the two.
In this regard, they called for visa free travel to boost trade among a collective group of more than a billion people, noting that the tourism potential and development of a blue economy are enormous. Mottley argued that the air links should be established, even if it means we have to initially subsidize it.” She said the region cannot justify the African Union making Caricom its sixth family region without any direct-air services.
“Africans and Caribbean people should be allowed to move freely. We are the branches of a single tree created from the same root. Let us reach to the skies together. We can do it. Let us commit ourselves to this task,” said Browne.
A highlight of the virtual summit had to do with the region heaping praises and thanks on the African Union for helping the region to secure large doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the Africa Medical Supply Platform. Supplies from this arrangement were among the first to reach a region that remains very grateful for Africa’s intervention in this regard. Nearly every leader who spoke referred to the impact of the pandemic on their economies, the struggle to wrest some vaccine supplies from western nations and the need for self sufficiencies in the production of vaccines for Third World nations going forward.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pointed to the vaccine collaboration as an example of the kind of cooperation that could be achieved with the Caribbean now that the first formal summit is history.
“This initiative places us on the threshold of a new epoch of unity and cooperation. We are united by a shared history. This pandemic is a demonstration of the value and necessity of confronting challenges by working together. We mobilized vaccines for Africa and the Caribbean. We need to share our experience, expertise and technology to better respond to COVID and future pandemics. The pandemic has shown what is possible. Let us draw on this solidarity to build our economies. We must become architects of our common future,” he said.
The meeting adopted a proposal by PM Browne for the summit on this very day each year.