Placing Caribbean-Africa relations on proper footing
The inaugural Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-Africa Summit was held virtually on 7th September 2021. The Summit was hosted by Kenya under the theme ‘Unity Across Continents and Oceans: Opportunities for Deepening Integration’. The President of Kenya, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, chaired the Summit. The historical nature of the CARICOM-Kenya Summit cannot be lost for many reasons. Indeed, many Caribbean people are of African descent and share spiritual, cultural and ancestral links to the “mother continent.” In this regard, the recent Declaration by the African Union (AU) of the African Diaspora as the sixth region of Africa is quite appropriate. The Summit was also inaugurated within the International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015–2024, which was proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in a Resolution adopted on 23rd December 2013.
For Caribbean people, it is important to understand that Africa is not the sum total of the images of poverty, war and underdevelopment often portrayed by the Western media.
Rather, Africa has emerged as the fastest growing continent in the world. Africa’s growing economic dynamism is leading to increased investments, many of which are taking place outside of the traditional extractive industries. Major cities such as Nairobi (Kenya) and Cape Town (South Africa) have also established themselves as major innovation hubs and according to Forbe’s, Africa’s start-up capital grew from $400 million in 2015 to $2 billion in 2019. Furthermore, over 400 African companies earn annual revenues of $1 billion or more.
Against a backdrop of slowing global economic growth, Africa stands out as an area of the world where trade and investment opportunities abound in several areas. For example, agriculture accounts for roughly 15% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and amounts to over $100 billion annually. In banking, there has also been rapid growth over the past decade, especially in areas such as financial technology. Furthermore, across the board, Africa is also industrialising.
Additionally, many parts of the world are facing a demographic crisis with falling or stagnant birth rates. However, Africa is seen as the last region of the world offering a demographic dividend with sub-Saharan Africa in particular being the only part of the world where birth rates will be at replacement level or higher. The factors highlighted immediately above provide a compelling case for greater engagement with Africa both politically and economically. Politically, CARICOM countries and Africa can share lessons in regionalism and strengthen
co-operation in international fora. In particular, the Caribbean can look to Africa as a reliable ally in the fight against climate change and in addressing issues on the multilateral agenda of mutual concern at the level of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the international financial institutions (IFIs) and the United Nations (UN). Economically, there is tremendous scope for enhanced trade and economic relations.
Given Africa’s vast agricultural sector for example, the Caribbean can look to the continent as part of its strategy of diversifying its global supply chains. Africa’s large and growing population also provides opportunities for Caribbean exporters of goods and services. In areas such as technology, innovation and investment, there is also latitude for co-operation.
However, to realise the economic benefits of greater engagement with Africa, a framework has to be created.
This would include the establishment and maintenance of appropriate transportation links, both air and sea. It may also require trade and investment agreements, either between CARICOM and the entire continent of Africa, or with sub-regions. These kinds of agreements can incentivise the private sector on both sides as well as provide legal certainty when doing business.
In 2020, CARICOM’s exports to Nigeria, Africa’s largest population and economy accounted for 0.005% of the region’s total exports.
Meanwhile, exports to South Africa, Africa’s most dynamic economy, constituted 0.14% of CARICOM’s total exports. The message here is that to take advantage of opportunities in Africa, the CARICOM region would also have to engage in trade promotion as well as invest more in the productive sectors to ensure that trade is not one-way as often happens with many of the region’s trading partners.
Finally, the hosting of the CARICOM-Africa Summit was certainly a momentous occasion. While this is an achievement in itself, the ‘proof of the pudding’ will be in whether concrete political and economic developments follow in the years ahead.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
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