To quote St Vincent Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, every idea has its historic moment and place, and on Tuesday, the Africa-Caricom virtual summit was a stunning example of an idea whose time had come, even if it had been long in coming.
The challenge now is to sustain and build on its momentum. In addressing the theme of “Unity Across Continents and Oceans: Opportunities for Deepening Integration”, Caricom leaders offered several ideas for deepening the region’s relationship with Africa, including Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who saw scope for collaboration in the creative sector, among other things.
If this initiative is to realise its potential, it will require structure and resources. In this regard, PM Gonsalves’ idea of a transitional Africa-Caricom Commission towards what he called an “ABCD Commission” of Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean and the Diaspora, makes sense and should be pursued with diligence.
The recent heightening of engagement between Caribbean leaders and their counterparts in Africa has yielded results which seem to be encouraging today’s generation of leaders to make a new attempt at realising the Pan African dream of Caribbean pioneers such as Sylvester Williams and George Padmore of Trinidad and Tobago and many others, including Marcus Garvey of Jamaica, who devoted their lives to undoing the damage caused by over 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade and enslavement of Africans throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
The untapped potential of closer ties with Africa has been a common theme for decades, which no generation of leaders has been able to bring to anything resembling fruition. This is mainly because of the difficulties created by historical structures and policies embedded in the colonial state and private interests. Broadening the arc of the region’s horizon to include Africa will require a shift in the Caribbean axis which, in this fragmented region, has never been as easy as it sounds.
Current events indicate that the global order is experiencing some fundamental change which could open up opportunities for rekindling the hope of a new world order which, four to five decades ago, had fired up the non-aligned movement with dreams of south-south co-operation.
Today, the Covid-19 pandemic is decisive in emphasising the need to diversify our relationships with the rest of the world and find sources of support while exploring new opportunities with non-traditional partners although Africa, being family, does not quite fit the category of “non-traditional”.
In approaching the future, we in the Caribbean have some scores to settle with history and so we fully endorse PM Gonsalves’ call to the summit for Africa, Caricom and the diaspora to “take an emphatic lead in seeking reparations for Native Genocide and the Enslavement of Africans”.
This is an issue to be put squarely on the table and not be skirted.
In building on Tuesday’s historic initiative, Caricom should also admit that it has some homework to do. We cannot seek greater collaboration with interests outside the region from a position of division inside the region. On this score, there remains much work still to be done.