AT LAST the two integration blocs of developing countries on either side of the Atlantic are to hold their inaugural Summit. A release from the CARICOM Secretariat announces that leaders of the 55-member African Union will meet their CARICOM colleagues at a Summit to be held virtually next Tuesday, September7, beginning at 8 a.m The much-anticipated Summit will mark the crystallization of relations between these two trans-Atlantic groups of nations with very strong historical bonds. The roots of African-Caribbean relations are grounded in the odious and inhuman slave trade which not only brought countless Africans to a life of misery in the Caribbean, but also severely disrupted and damaged the development of both regions, ruthlessly extracting economic value while oppressing the indigenous people and subjecting them to racism and discrimination. The history of these relations are well-documented by scholars from both regions, among them by the late Guyanese historian Dr. Walter Rodney in his seminal work, “How Europe underdeveloped Africa”.
Both regions had to struggle to re-establish their independence from 500 plus years of colonialism, and solidarity in a common cause facilitated the development of relations especially by nationalist and pro-independence leaders, often under the banner of Pan-Africanism. A long list of outstanding Caribbean leaders ranging from Marcus Garvey and George Padmore down to the late Michael Manley of Jamaica, Maurice Bishop of Grenada continued to build on these links, succeeded at present by our own Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
The historic Summit will be addressed by a number of leaders from both sides with current CARICOM Chairman Hon. Gaston Browne of Antigua-Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago’s leader Dr. Keith Rowley, P.M. Mia Mottley of Barbados, her Belizean counterpart Hon. John Briceno and Dr. Gonsalves speaking for the Caribbean, along with the newly-appointed Secretary General of Caricom Dr. Carla Barnett.
The African response will be led by Chairman of the African Union President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his colleagues Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Paul Kagame of Rwanda also slated to address the gathering.
The Summit should have taken place last year after two years of preparatory work but the Covid pandemic put a spoke in those plans. Out of the deliberations of the Summit, it is expected that programmes for closer collaboration and integration between Africa and the Caricom region will be put in place. Emphasis will be placed on greatly improving trade between the two regions. In this, particular stress will be place on the need for proper transportation access by sea and air between both regions. Developing common institutions for unity and collaboration, institution-building, the development of cultural and people-to-people exchanges are expected to be given priority.
The entire Caribbean should welcome this historic step and urge our leaders to take this initiative with all the seriousness it deserves.