LAST week, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, in addressing the first Africa-Caricom Summit of Leaders thanked Africa for sending Covid-19 vaccines to Caricom.
After the developed countries grabbed the lion’s share of the vaccines made available in 2021, countries that signed up for the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) facility, Covax, were subject to delays in receiving their vaccine orders.
Dr Rowley, as the then chairman of Caricom had expressed concerns about what he described as vaccine apartheid for smaller countries.
As he pursued a plan to ensure T&T had adequate vaccines for its citizens, Dr Rowley had expressed optimism that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, being produced in South Africa, would help vaccinate more people in a shorter space of time.
The supply from the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) helped bolster the vaccines on offer in many islands, supplementing donations from India, the UK, Canada and the US as well as the Covax allotment.
“The prevailing vaccine inequity, commonly called vaccine apartheid, stymied that plan. I therefore wish to register my sincere gratitude to His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, Co-Chair of our Summit, President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo of Ghana, for the meaningful discussions and interventions during my tenure and the pragmatic solutions arrived at,” he had said.
“Last month, Caricom began receiving a substantial allocation of vaccines under the African Medical Supplies Platform. Thank you, Africa,” he had said at the first African Union and Caricom summit held on September 7.
With the Covid-19 pandemic reshaping geopolitics, Caricom has found an ally in Africa. But 15 years ago, T&T had set its eyes on the African continent as a new place to do business.
The African Initiative, as it was called, was another vision of former prime minister Patrick Manning.
“Given this country’s technological achievements in the energy sector, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has taken a decision to make our expertise in the sector available free of charge to a number of West African countries,” Manning had said at the eighth annual meeting of the African Union held in Addis Ababa, Republic of Ethiopia.
Manning had identified Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo and Angola as places where T&T could leverage its energy expertise.
In 2007, T&T signed a memorandum of understanding with Equatorial Guinea for natural gas business development cooperation following bilateral meetings between both nations over three years.
That MoU marked the first step in TT’s initiative to provide local energy expertise to some countries in West Africa.
In a statement at the time, former energy minister Dr Lenny Saith said under the agreement, both nations would work together in the provision of technical assistance for the growth and development of a natural gas sector and related industries such as the petrochemical products and fuels industry, the marketing and related activities of petrochemical-based products, business development and industrial growth initiatives, and the development of human resources and infrastructure.
Following that signing, there were several study tours conducted by various high-level delegations from African countries – Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Cameroon, Uganda, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa.
The initiative floundered after Mr Manning was voted out of office in 2010.
However, T&T energy consultants Anthony Paul, Prof Kenneth Julien and former energy minister Eric Williams found work consulting with governments throughout the continent.
Republic Bank set up a subsidiary in Ghana which was once headed by former public utilities minister Robert Le Hunte.
Under his watch, Dr Rowley took up the baton and continued to pursue business opportunities in the African continent.
In 2020, he was declared an honorary member of the King’s Court in Ghana.
“There are opportunities for us to concretise the efforts we have been making since 2010 to have Ghana benefit from, and have Trinidad and Tobago benefit from collaboration between our two countries.
“We are… looking forward to taking part in gas processing business. We are proud of what our largest bank, Republic Bank has been able to accomplish by reaching out into Africa, here in Ghana.
“We see Ghana as a gateway into…Africa, not just entry to Ghana but its surrounding neighbours. The Caribbean, being one of the most desirable leisure areas in the world, utilised by people from the North and the East, we hope that Africans coming through Ghana, once we establish a mutual agreement and a direct service between the Caribbean and Africa, we believe that there’s tremendous potential for economic growth there,” Rowley said.
Recently, the National Gas Company group injected new life into the Africa Initiative with the signing of a marquee TSA between NGC and Empresa National de HidroCarbonetos, EP (ENH), the national petroleum company of Mozambique.
The summit was geared toward formalising the relationship between the African Union and Caricom through a negotiated memorandum of understanding and exploring opportunities to strengthen linkages between both groups.
Current Caricom chairman, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne proposed the abolition of visas between African and Caricom territories.
Dr Rowley observed that T&T’s linkages to Africa run deep, as marked by bilateral relationships, observer status at the African Union and High Commissions in Nigeria and South Africa and honorary consuls in Ghana and Kenya.
“Soon, we too will avail ourselves of the magnanimous gesture of the government of Kenya to provide office space for Caricom’s diplomatic presence in Africa,” he had said.
He noted that closer Africa-Caribbean collaboration will be to mutual benefit, whether it’s in pursuing development finance, resource utilisation and debt sustainability; maximising the green and blue economies, climate change and other areas.
He said T&T welcomed the inclusion on the meeting’s agenda of trade and investment. In-person exchanges will also boost trade, investment and tourism activities. He also cited the scope for immediate closer cooperation in finance and agriculture.
Dr Rowley said Caricom is also actively engaged in discussions to establish an investment fund to unlock and sustain regional development programmes and “we trust Africa will invest with us”.
A statement issued by Caricom on the summit said Caricom and Africa have committed to strengthening collaboration and unity and fostering increased trade, investment and people-to-people engagement between the two regions.
Some of the key points:
1. In the discussions, the leaders stressed the importance of exploiting the Blue Economy to boost growth and development.
2. They also committed to foster increased trade and investment through specific agreements and the enhancement of transportation links between the two regions. This could include the removal of the requirement for visas by nationals of Caricom and African nations.
3. The Leaders indicated support for the establishment of a Caricom/Africa public-private partnership dedicated to mobilising resources and deploying them in critical cutting-edge projects including renewable energy, the creative industries and digital technology. They called for the establishment of a joint Caricom/AU electronic mass media platform or mechanism to facilitate the flow of news, information and artistic programming between Caricom and Africa.
4. On the institutional front, they proposed the establishment of an African-Caribbean Forum and the drafting of an Africa-Caribbean Charter and memorandum of understanding to underpin the relationship.
5. The Heads of State and Government expressed concern about the mutation and spread of the Covid-19 virus and its effects on the health of the people as well as on the health infrastructure. In that regard, they called for increased access to vaccines and for the building of manufacturing capacity to produce vaccines in Africa and Caricom enabled by a waiver of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. The contribution of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) in making vaccines available to Caricom was lauded.
6. The existential threat posed by climate change was acknowledged and there was agreement on the need for the global community to act towards curtailing greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. They supported a joint approach to the negotiations at COP26 to be held in the UK in November. There was strong support for multilateralism and the strengthening and reform of multilateral institutions to become more inclusive to reflect the post-colonial world.
7. The leaders reiterated their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. While welcoming the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, they emphasised the need for debt relief.
8. They also called for an end to the illegal and unjust economic embargo against Cuba and to the sanctions against Zimbabwe.
9. The Heads of State and Government agreed to participate fully in the High Level meeting of the UN General Assembly later this month to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, and to jointly use that event to advance the claim for reparations within the processes of the United Nations.