Now that the African-Caribbean Summit has begun…Thursday, September 09, 2021
After centuries of shared history and heritage, and decades after pan-Africanists like Messrs Marcus Garvey, George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah, the first-ever African-Caribbean Community (Caricom) summit took place virtually on Tuesday.
With presentations by several presidents and prime ministers of African countries, all heads of Government of the 15-member Caricom integration group, and heads of regional institutions, the summit's very apt theme was 'Unity across continents and oceans: Opportunities for deepening integration'.
Not unexpectedly, all the speakers emphasised the commonalities of the development challenges and the urgency with which these must be addressed, especially the novel coronavirus pandemic and the rich palette of opportunities, in particular economic ones such as trade and investment.
We are accustomed to having summits that turn out to be nothing more than talk shops, so the real question is what exactly will be accomplished by this long-awaited and historic coming together?
Several proposals have been suggested by which one can tailor expectations:
* establishment of a permanent African-Caribbean Forum which will meet annually on September 7, the day of the first summit, which is to be designated Africa/Caribbean Day;
* crafting of an Africa-Caricom Charter and memorandum of understanding to set out goals and procedures to guide the work of the forum — this task will be the responsibility of the secretariats of Caricom and the African Union and is to be completed within six months;
* establishment of an airline link between the African continent and the Caribbean and encouragement of travel by eliminating the need for visas by citizens of the regional countries;
* establishment of better channels of information linking the people of Africa, the Caribbean and the African Diaspora by creating an electronic mass media platform — it was recognised that this, along with increasing two-way trade and investment, may be best left to the private sector but operationalised through a public-private partnership.
There was agreement to beef up already ongoing strengthening of diplomatic representation and relations to enhance long-standing cooperation in international fora.
One important issue which, in our view, has not been settled is the identification and mobilisation of financial resources to fund this promising agenda. Also not made explicit is how to involve civil society and non-government organisations such as the Patterson Centre for Africa Caribbean Advocacy.
Little attention was given to culture, entertainment, sport, and education, which could provide the oxygen for involving the broad masses of the countries in the process and ensure that it is not a mere top-down effort.
We did not expect the summit to cover all the various issues that will, no doubt, arise in the coming years. Indeed, this is a beginning that should be hailed for its objectives and potential for great things to come.
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