Ethiopian Airlines made a historic landing on Barbadian soil on Wednesday for the first time in more than fifty years. With 103 passengers who had traveled to the island nation to attend the first-ever Africaribbean Trade and Investment Forum, the chartered flight, which took off from Addis Abeba and made a stop in Lagos, Nigeria, on the way, landed at the Grantley Adams International Airport at around 10:30 am.
On the tarmac, authorities included Sandra Husbands, the minister of state for foreign trade and business development, Jens Thraenhart, Kaye Brathwaite, the CEO of Invest Barbados, and others welcomed the passengers. In a statement to the media, Minister Husbands stated that this flight was important to Barbados and the Caribbean because it enables new market niche, export and import goods and services to the continent of Africa.
“This inaugural flight that has brought in all of these delegates from Nigeria and a couple of other African countries is significant for the Caribbean and in particular Barbados,” stated the minister.
Jens Thraenhart, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) also highlighted the importance of the inaugural flight, noting that it signified the building of a closer relationship with Africa.
“I think this is a historical moment as we said, after 1966 which was the first time that a plane from Ethiopian Airlines has touched in Barbados so we’re very thrilled about that and I think that’s just a start of building a closer relationship with Africa and the various nations of Africa.”
Africa and the Caribbean have longstanding relations. They are rooted on a similar history, culture, and sense of identity that were established by the slave trade, which forced more than 10 million Africans to immigrate to the New World, resulting in the growth of significant African Diaspora hubs in the Caribbean and elsewhere. The Pan-African Movement, which was headed by the African Diaspora outside of Africa in the first half of the 20th century, was inspired by the shared historical experiences of slavery and colonialism.
This early period characterized the most prosperous, vigorous, and dynamic time in African-Caribbean relations, with both communities unified around a similar agenda of decolonization and racial equality. It spanned several decades. Nonetheless, even while Africa and the Caribbean interact today through many various points of contact and fora, the relationship appears to have lost its spark and motivation. It appears officials from the two regions want to buck the trend now.
On September 01, 2022, the first-ever Africarribean Trade & Investment Forum (ACTIF2022) was opened in the capital of Barbados, Bridgetown. ACTIF2022 is being held under the theme ‘One People, One Destiny: Uniting and Reimagining Our Future’. The Forum is convened by the Government of Barbados and Afreximbank, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the AfCFTA Secretariat, the Africa Business Council, the CARICOM Secretariat and the Caribbean Export Development Agency. It is being co-managed by Invest Barbados and Export Barbados, while over 1,500 delegates from 93 countries, including 48 from Africa, 12 from the Caribbean and 33 are participating in the forum.
Africa and the Caribbean have it within their capacity “forever to remove the scars of the middle passage” by cooperating on the great issues confronting the two regions, said Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barabados, as he opens up the first-ever ACTIF2022 in Bridgetown, Barbados.
“We, children of independence, have determined that we shall not allow another generation to pass without bringing together that which should have never been torn asunder. We face common battles from the climate crisis to the COVID pandemic, now to the third aspect of it, with respect to inflation and debt that threaten to tear too many of our countries apart and threaten to put back into poverty too many of our people,” said the Prime Minister.
It is a sentiment shared by managers of the Afreexim Bank, who has organized the event in partnership with the government of Barbados.
Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank, reminded the participants of the Forum of the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade which saw many Africans enslaved and forcibly transported to the Americas and the Caribbean and highlighted the close links and shared history and identity of the African and Caribbean people.
“We will want to leave here with actionable proposals on how to open air and sea links between the Caribbean and Africa. We would like to leave here with concrete plans to open banking and payment rails, to see joint ventures for industrial projects, to deepen our commercial collaboration in the creative and commercial space, to collectively protect our intellectual properties to share knowledge and invest in climate adaption projects. We must be proud that this is a reunion arising out of a felt need, underpinned by a solid economic, cultural, historical rationale,” added Professor Oramah.
It’s estimated that many Africans travel to the Caribbean on a yearly basis. However, informal bookings for lodging, transportation, and tourism services are made through businesses that are neither established in Africa nor the Caribbean, which only contributes a little amount of money to the economies of those regions. The Caribbean has an abundance of fish, but it only accounts for less than one percent of the USD 4.5 billion worth of fish and crustaceans that Africa purchases on the global market.
“These data provide glimpses of what is possible if we dare,” said Oramah.
Pamela Coke-Hamilton, executive director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), suggests four ways to transform Africa-Caribbean trade.
The first is to develop an ecosystem to help African and Caribbean importers, exporters and investors overcome perception gaps and spot market opportunities. The second is to organize regular trade fairs and business to business meetings, while the third one is tackling the big challenging and barriers facing the two, including tariff and non-tariff measures, which are obstacles to trade. Fourthly, Hamilton suggests the two to focus on what she calls the future of trade, including creative industries and digital finance sector.
“These actions can take our regions closer to Marcus Garvey’s pioneering vision, a vision which inspired another Jamaican to sing ‘emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds’,” she concludes.