In barely two years, the 15-nation Caribbean Community and key institutions on the African continent have moved to strengthen relations to a level that has perhaps not been seen since the anti-apartheid era in the ’70s and ’80s with a number of important engagements that appear to signal that both sides are very determined to reap major rewards in this incarnation.
Back in September 2021, Caricom and Africa held their first summit aimed at holding long talks about opportunities in trade and direct investment, air travel, and maritime links, among other areas. Encouraged by the success of that summit at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the major follow-up had to do with the overnight appearance of the African Export-Import Bank’s (Afreximbank) brand-new office in Barbados in the past year.
And this week, hundreds of delegates from Africa flew by chartered Ethiopian Airlines jumbo jet to Caricom headquarters in Guyana for the second Afri-Caribbean Trade and Investment forum that began on Monday. Delegates from both regions appeared upbeat and were encouraged by the pace of developments since the leaders met in 2021.
Perhaps the most important institution at the conference center would, of course, be the Afri Exim Bank, which has already made $1.5 billion available to governments and the private sector in a dozen Caricom states for concession borrowing, a point that was not lost on Guyanese Foreign Minister Hugh Todd as he urged the region to take advantage of this opportunity to deal with a range of services, including oil and gas, food security and productivity, agricultural development as well as air and sea travel.
Todd said the African bank is also helping the region “develop its own Exim bank” that would work along similar lines to its African counterpart.
Several regional prime ministers, including Mia Mottley of Barbados and Phillip Pierre of St. Lucia, are in Guyana for the conference, as well as key African oil and gas support and consultancy companies, anxious to link up with Guyana as it speeds toward becoming one of the world’s largest daily oil producers in about five years. Commercial quantities were discovered back in 2020 and already the daily tally from two oilfields has reached about 400,000 barrels.
Several of the African states are major oil producers, including Nigeria and Mozambique.
Another key agenda item and opportunity would be efforts by Antigua to persuade Nigeria-based airline Air Peace to conclude a partnership with Antigua-based LIAT commuter and island-hopping service, which collapsed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Several attempts to kick-start commercial service between Africa and the Caribbean have been abandoned in recent decades, but with several governments in both regions abolishing visa requirements, prospects in this brand-new area are rising, officials say.
Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne said negotiations are far advanced to the extent that he is “pleased to recall that the delegation of Antigua and Barbuda led this charge to establish the link between the African continent and the countries of the Caricom. Today, two years following the historic  summit, while the momentum of the summit propels our binding ties, we are furthering and deepening our relations with our brothers and sisters of Africa through frequent dialogue on a bilateral basis, and collaboration within public-private partnerships.”
Three months ago, Air Peace ran a commercial test flight to Antigua from Nigeria, while planning for another in late October or early November. This is even while it eyes investing in LIAT, officials said.