When he visited this country for the Emancipation celebrations under the aegis of the Emancipation Support Committee sometime in 2005, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo made a commitment to go back home and implement a plan to do two things.
He was blown away by the fact that this was a national holiday, originating here in Trinidad and Tobago, and there was no such recognition anywhere on the continent. He would make it happen in his country, and then he would enrol in the efforts to internationalise it.
On that visit also, the then Nigerian president signed a bi-lateral agreement air-services agreement with the government of Trinidad and Tobago. A senior officer at the then Ministry of Foreign Affairs had told an inquiring reporter then, that it was the second such agreement being signed between both our countries. Nothing had come of the first one. Well, more than a decade later, nothing has come of the second one.
Earlier this week, the Barbados Ambassador to Caricom, the tireless regionalist and anti-imperialist, attorney David Commissiong, posted a list on his WhatsApp account announcing what he described as “the good news.” It came after a three-day visit to Barbados by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. It listed all the agreements and undertakings initialled during the discussions which took place. The sweep of their promise is breathtakingly comprehensive:
1. Efforts will be made to stage a Caricom/Africa Union (AU) Heads of Government summit over the next 12 months.
2. Caricom and the AU will shortly sign a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a framework for engagement and co-operation.
3. Barbados and Suriname will partner in establishing an Embassy in Ghana.
4. Barbados and St Lucia will partner in establishing an embassy in Kenya-and an invitation has been sent out to all other Caricom countries to join in the venture.
5. The University of the West Indies will be undertaking student and faculty exchanges and joint education initiatives with the University of the Nairobi and Kenyatta universities.
6. A high level Kenyan delegation will be returning to Barbados in September to conclude a number of agreements, inclusive of a Multilateral Air Services Agreement, a Double Taxation Agreement, and Revenue and Digital Currency agreements.
7. The Barbados and Kenya Chambers of Commerce and Industry will commence engagement and collaboration with each other.
8.There is a commitment to resist any dividing of the African-Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of Nations, as well as a commitment to use the grouping to undertake much closer South/South relations.
9. Caricom and Kenya have started work on a MoU for engagement and co-operation.
10. The African and Caribbean governments have committed to establishing direct air travel links between Africa and the Caribbean.
11. The time has come for Africa and the Caribbean to reconnect and unite and engage with each other as members of a family in every positive and constructive way.
Present at the table over those busy three days were the host Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, along with St Lucia prime minister Allen Chastanet. Ministers representing Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname, and Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque.
Tremendous preparatory work would have taken place for the conduct of this meeting, such that there were statements in principle on the points agreed above.
Much more must be done in the first instance, for the completion of the arrangements for a summit between leaders of the African Union and Caricom. The venue for that summit was not among the agreements reached in Bridgetown last week.
With the two still-born attempts at bi-lateral air services agreements between T&T and Nigeria, there ought to be discussions surrounding why they remained on the ground, so to speak, and what must be voice in the circumstances, if there is to be lift-off in any reasonably respectable time frame. But it is known that a group of T&T private citizens have been working to establish a direct air service between us and Ghana. Whether or not this will be taken into account, when the details of this proposed new set of ambitions get to be discussed across the region, is a matter for consideration. There may exist good reason why T&T was not at the table at these potentially far-reaching discussions. They represent a new thrust in the struggling efforts at building on the aspirations among countries of “the global south” as projected in the scholarship of Trinidadian professor Jacqueline Braveboy-Wagner.
In a 2009 publication entitled “Institutions of the Global South”, she examining the efforts at multilateral co-operation among former colonies in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions: “The very impetus to co-operate in the south has in large measure from outside.” Former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, who had paid a visit to this country in the late 1980s, gave up his presidency to head what was then known as the South Corporation.
Success and achievement have been spotty at best. The Barbados declaration of August 2019 appears to be a fresh start.