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Remarks by Dr Carla Barnett, Secretary-General, CARICOM, at the Annual Global Africa People-To-People Forum 2023

Session Three

Theme “Building on Visionary Initiatives: Reflections on the Inaugural CARICOM Africa Summit”

Videoconference, 21 July 2023

  • Your Excellencies;
  • Distinguished Guests;
  • Ladies and gentlemen.

I am pleased to join you today as part of the African Union’s sixth region for the Annual Global Africa People-to-People Forum 2023 and to reflect on the Inaugural CARICOM-Africa Summit, which was hosted by His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, then President of Kenya, on 7 September 2021. That Summit was a landmark occasion. Heads of Government of Africa and the Caribbean Community came together, for the first time, in a specially designed CARICOM – African Union Summit to allow both Regions to engage on matters of mutual interest and determine the direction for deeper cooperation.

I had the honour of addressing that historic gathering as one of my first official engagements after taking up my appointment as Secretary General in mid-August 2021.

That Summit was convened virtually against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which vaccine hoarding by high-income countries threatened our ability to effectively curtail the effects of the virus on our public health systems.  The issue of public health and vaccine equity was, therefore, high on the agenda. Today, we are particularly proud of the collaboration between Rwanda and two CARICOM Member States – Barbados and Guyana – on a pharmaceutical production program to help ensure adequate supplies of critical pharmaceuticals for both our Regions.

At the First Summit, we also examined matters such as trade and investment promotion, development finance, climate change, mass media and forging increased people-to-people contact. Our CARICOM and African Heads of Government reaffirmed their commitment to uphold and strengthen multilateralism.

CARICOM and Africa have made progress in trade and investment relations with strong support from Afreximbank. A formal partnership has been established, and the Caribbean headquarters is scheduled to be opened in Barbados in a few weeks’ time. This will allow the Community to access financing for trade promotion in a range of sectors. The possibility of utilizing the Pan-African payment and settlement system as a method of intra-regional payments within the Caribbean is also being explored.

As a follow-up to the Summit’s discussions on strengthening trade and investment, we welcomed last year’s First Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum, convened in Barbados under the theme “One People. One Destiny. Uniting and Reimagining Our Future”. Participants included political, business and finance leaders from over 100 countries, with 50 African and 13 Caribbean countries represented. We look forward to the second Forum to be held in Guyana in October 2023, under the theme “Creating A Shared Prosperous Future”.

The 2021 Summit mandated a Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariats of CARICOM and the African Union to allow for ongoing technical dialogue.  We expect that signing ceremony to take place in short order, setting the foundation for other commitments to be pursued.

Earlier this month, CARICOM Heads of Government had the distinct pleasure to welcome the President of Rwanda, His Excellency, Paul Kagame, as a Special Guest, during the 45th Regular Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Trinidad and Tobago. In their engagement, President Kagame and CARICOM Heads of Government re-emphasized the importance of forging stronger CARICOM-Africa ties and solidifying them with initiatives that promote inter-regional growth and prosperity, and of enhancing CARICOM-Africa cooperation at both the bilateral and multilateral levels.

Ladies and gentlemen, cooperation between our Regions in the international sphere also remains robust. CARICOM continues to collaborate with African states in the context of the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. In the past, we strongly supported and were present in the anti-apartheid struggle with African states to establish a Permanent Memorial at the UN for Victims of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  

CARICOM continues to observe the International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015-2024, which recognizes the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation, and ensure full and equal participation by people of African descent in all aspects of society, as agreed under United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/237.

I am pleased to note that of the ten members of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, established in August 2021, two are from CARICOM Member States – namely The Bahamas and Saint Lucia. The reality, however, is that the decade is fast closing. We must take stock of what progress has been made, and crucially, work together to establish what more must be done and how they will be executed.

With respect to the issue of Reparations, the groundwork was laid long ago, including the staging of the First International Conference on Reparations in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1990.  This effort was pioneered by the late Chief Moshood Abiola of Nigeria and the late Ambassador Dudley Thompson of Jamaica.

At the historic first CARICOM-Africa Summit, our Heads of State and Government agreed to advance the claim for reparations within the processes of the United Nations at that time. We must continue our efforts in this manner, and we must also increase the awareness and significance of the reparatory justice agenda to our respective people. In this regard, closer and more formal collaboration between the CARICOM Reparations Commission and relevant AU structures, such as, for example, the vibrant AU Pan-African Parliament and this convening body – the AU’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council – could provide impactful results to deepen people-to-people contact and awareness between our Regions. These are worthy undertakings to pursue.

Diplomatic representation to cement relations between states has increased, as several CARICOM Member States have established diplomatic representation in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, and South Africa. Similarly, some African Diplomatic Missions have been established within CARICOM Member States. I encourage the continued appointment of such Ambassadors or Special Envoys, to deepen outreach, and to identify and act on specific opportunities.

It is evident that this partnership between CARICOM and Africa is making progress on some matters to which Heads committed at the 1st CARICOM-Africa Summit, but much more work needs to be done to establish concrete and consistent connections between the Community and Africa on several agreed areas, including:

  • cooperation in mass media and information sharing between both Regions;
  • establishing a CARICOM-Africa Commission;
  • increasing contact between the people of our Regions, as direct engagement will enhance our appreciation for our history, our cultures and how we collaboratively chart our partnerships on matters that will redound to our benefit.  

All of this would be helped by convenient transportation links, which itself requires significant planning and investment.

As we anticipate convening the 2nd CARICOM-Africa Summit, I welcome the organization of initiatives, such as this Forum. Let us not lose momentum in our strategic alliance, but forge ahead to further promote CARICOM-Africa unity and prosperity.  

I thank you.

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