Africa-CARICOM SUMMIT A Landmark Bridge of Hope
CARICOM Secretary General Dr. Carla Barnett provided the context for evaluating the virtual historic Africa-CARICOM Summit held on Tuesday September 7, 2021. She said: “We have had our moments of acting together to protect and advance our mutual interests, but today we are committing to forge a new more permanent alliance that has the potential to open new vistas of collaboration and cooperation". This aspirational goal was endorsed from the opening statement by the current Chair of the Caribbean Community, Hon Gaston Browne, Prime Minster of Antigua and Barbuda to the closing statement by Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, President-in-Office of the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). A preview is presented in this link: President Kenyatta Roots For Closer Cooperation Between Africa And The Caribbean In Confronting Common Challenges.
As we await the official release of the Summit's Communique, GOFAD highlights some of the main issues advocated by the speakers from both Africa and the Caribbean and offers some speculations about the prospects of future African Union-CARICOM relations. Underlying these speculations is the hopefulness that the takeaways from the Summit would stimulate a bridge of hope to a more viable Caribbean Community.
Exploiting the Geopolitical Environment “United, we have Known Success”.
The two regions account for approximately 1.4 billion people with great natural and wealth creating resources, supplying vital commodities to the global community, and offering a strong market for the goods and services from Europe and North America. This is enriched by the bonds of cultural, historical and political relations and bolstered by the prospects of combined voting power of 69 nations in the United Nations and all its subsidiaries including the World Trade Organization. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, St Vincent and the Grenadines aptly summarized the potential: “We have global bargaining power but only if we use it effectively.” The general agreement was that new relationship emanating from the Summit must also extend to increasing trade and investment between Africa and CARICOM. Preliminary figures for 2020 indicate that total trade between Africa and the Caribbean, estimated at approximately US $29 Million is a drop of $10 Million from 2018. While the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can explain this decline, rebuilding the economies in both regions require that the private sector on both sides with the requisite support from the public sector must become alive to the opportunities to expand investment and trade in both regions. Mutual membership in organizations such as the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States, can be leveraged to the mutual benefit of both regions. From the perspective of the Caribbean, Africa has been CARICOM’s invaluable partner in several platforms such as at the UN, within the Group of 77 and, in our dealings with Europe under the umbrella of what is now the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).
Post-COVID-19 Recovery and Debt Sustainability
Debt sustainability has been a big concern for the African Union and CARICOM, whose member states are among the world’s most highly indebted nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted structural weaknesses of countries in both regions and amplified the debt problem. In 2020, public debt reached 70% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa and 83% of GDP in CARICOM. Both Regions face the unusual conundrum of striving for debt sustainability while seeking to generate adequate fiscal resources to build resilience. The common view is the need for a forceful message on issues relating to rescheduling of loans, debt financing, access to capital in rebuilding efforts. An evaluation of the global vaccination system along with its failure to respond to the most vulnerable in the world is an illustration of the inequities that the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals seek to resolve. But this dilemma is largely a spinoff from the historical legacy whereby interests of both Africa and the Caribbean have not been protected in the Bretton Wood institutions established prior to acquisition of independent status by countries of both regions.
In addition, the two regions suffered immensely from the fallout in the rising cost of commodities and transportation services during the pandemic. It has reawakened the vulnerability of both regions to food supply, fragility of markets, and sensitivity to price changes. But most of all, the African Medical Supplies Platform emerged as a quintessential example of cooperation coordinated by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is a response to the vaccine apartheid that provided for significant amounts of vaccines for CARICOM Member States out of the quota allocated to Africa. An evaluation of the global vaccination system along with its failure to respond to the most vulnerable in the world is required. It should not happen again.
Climate Change and Climate Resilience
But even as the recovery from COVID 19 is an uncertain contemplation, the development prospects both in Africa and the Caribbean as it is, across the globe, are further buffeted by climate change. The countries of the two regions are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Presentations from both African and CARICOM Leaders, reiterated how countries in both regions, are less able to resist, adapt to, and recover from the effects of sea-level rise, prolonged droughts, and extreme weather conditions. Natural hazard events have repeatedly resulted in adverse environmental, social, and economic consequences. Projections also suggest that the two regions will face more exaggerated climate risks for the remainder of the century. This poses a serious threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Hence there was unanimity of the need to speak with one voice at the UN General Assembly later this month and at COP 26 in Glasgow in November-December on mainstreaming the International Climate Development Strategy (ICDS) including the Blue Economy, Climate Resilience, Forests and Low Carbon Development priorities.
Just as there is merit in developing joint approaches to debt, so too is it necessary for the climate change challenges. The presentations from the Presidents of both the African Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, indicate that both regions are well placed to engineer innovative financing approaches. This requires advocating for access to lower cost of finance based on an imperative for development that distinguishes pre-event vulnerability, magnitude of impact, and post-event persistence and duration of impact. These effects, evidenced by our repeated natural hazard events and the Covid-19 pandemic, present strong arguments against the inadequacy of per capita income as a measure of classification and access to concessional finance. In this respect, Africa is described as "a fountain of knowledge" on innovative financing for the private sector, especially youth entrepreneurship. Consequently, the Caribbean can adopt the "Boost Africa" model, the joint initiative between the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, that offers an innovative way to de-risk private investment.
Pillars for a Sustainable Future
The issues that emerged from this historic Summit help to establish to what extent Africa- CARICOM can adopt strategies to achieve the expected outcomes associated with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In many instances, global solidarity resonates in the takeaways from the Summit:
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.