Caribbean Community nations and Africa have been talking about formalizing trade and other ties for decades, but delegates who attended a three-day forum in Barbados last week now say there is no turning back and that direct air routes bypassing transit through the U.S. and Europe, especially, will soon become a reality.
More than 1,000 people from across the region had registered to attend the Africa-Caribbean trade investment forum last week, and of this number, more than 120 had chartered an Ethiopian Airlines plane to bring them out of the assembly point, Nigeria, non-stop to Barbados in less than seven hours.
Because there are no non-stop or direct air routes between the Caribbean, Northern South America and Africa—despite the relatively close proximity of the landmasses—travelers must take a flight to the U.S., Canada, The Netherlands or Britain, then come all the way back down south to the continent instead of simply flying east across the Atlantic in less than seven hours. Forcing travelers to transit Europe and the U.S. is one of the worst legacies of the colonial era, several delegates told the conferences.
For example, Senegalese Economy Minister Amadou Hott complained that it took him more than a day to reach the Caribbean’s most easterly island and one of the closest across the Atlantic to Africa, because he had had to transit Europe. Delegates such as host Prime Minister Mia Mottley say this cumbersome and expensive travel route will soon be eliminated or minimized.
Additionally, Mottley and the group of about six regional leaders who had attended the forum, say they are also ready to help Africa’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank to establish a branch in Barbados with the same diplomatic immunities and privileges as enjoyed by the umbrella Caribbean Development Bank. The bank could play a role in getting an air service going.
“The reality is that we have started more serious conversations than I have seen before. As recently as Thursday evening my minister of tourism and international transport met with a number of people from the bank and from other countries. We are trying to see how best we can create a framework that will allow for charters first, if necessary. Barbados has indicated that we are prepared to work with one or two African countries to be able to co-market because you have to be able to sustain the traffic. So, I am hopeful that within a few months we can make a reality of this pipedream that has been spoken about,” PM Mottley said.
No start-up date for the first charter has been noted but Exim Bank President Benedict Oramah says that not only could financing come from his agency for an air travel service, but African commercial banks might well be interested in setting up shop in the region. “And you have a bank like Afreximbank that says good ideas that come, we are not going to use the standard ways of assessing their credit.”
Lined up, meanwhile, as possible carriers are RwandAir, Etihad Airways, Ethiopian Airways, and Kenya Airways, says Barbadian Transport Minister Lisa Cummins. “We have already signed air services agreements with Kenya and Ghana. We should be signing further air services agreements with our partners as we move forward, and that in itself will then lend to negotiations with our commercial partners,” she said as hope for an end to intransit travel via the west soars.
The forum was a follow-up to the first Africa-Caribbean summit that was held virtually last September. Leaders back then had vowed to ensure formal relations are established, even asking the African Union to help them fight former European slave trading nations for reparations.
Not to be excluded from current plans are media exchanges with the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation receiving a mandate to liaise with African television stations to exchange programs. African music and Nollywood sitcoms and movies are growing in popularity in the Caribbean.