Barbados has enjoyed a celebrated history of achievements, not often aligned with the traditional expectations of a nation so tiny. As a result, the island may shock those who do not fully understand the spirit and tenacity of its people.

Just 56-years-old as an independent sovereign nation, Barbados boasts a parliamentary system that is the third oldest in the hemisphere, established on June 26, 1639.

The ambitions of Barbadians have never been constrained by geographical and population size. The evidence of this is well chronicled. It ranges from the undisputed world’s greatest all-round cricketer and living National Hero Sir Garfield Sobers, to National Hero and self-made female billionaire, entertainer and business mogul Robyn Rihanna Fenty, to inventor of the world’s first Internet search engine, computer scientist Alan Emtage, and David Dowrich, a global financial services expert and actuary. These are but a few of the academics, creatives, scientists, and innovators who have joined ordinary Barbadians in contributing to our many national and global advances.

The island has continuously been among the top tier of the United Nations Human Development Index, which rates the quality of life of a country’s citizens. Barbados has deliberately emphasised the provision of high quality, free education to citizens from pre-school through to university. This has been the bedrock of its development strategy for many decades.

Given its progressive national stance, it should come as no surprise that Barbados would take the lead role in the Caribbean of significantly expanding trade and cultural ties with countries in the continent of Africa.

With the deep historical relationship between Africa and the Caribbean, rooted in the cross section between slavery and economics, the decision by Barbados’ Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley to strategically align the development trajectory of the island with that of African states, was a decision that continues to pay dividends on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

As the island was emerging from the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, Prime Minister Mottley put forward several proposals to achieve strengthened relations between African nations and Caribbean countries. At the inaugural CARICOM-Africa Summit, hosted virtually in 2021, the establishment of a regular weekly direct flight was identified by Prime Minister Mottley as a critical point for catapulting this renewed relationship, which holds such enormous potential.

However, even before the inaugural CARICOM-Africa Summit in September, the Government of Barbados initiated some strategic diplomatic appointments, which signalled the administration’s strong commitment to this exciting frontier.

Mr. Alexander McDonald was appointed High Commissioner to the Republic of Kenya and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Nairobi, while Mr. Phil Phillips was made Commercial and Cultural Attaché, stationed in the Barbados High Commission in Accra, Ghana.

To prepare the new diplomats for their postings, they participated in orientation sessions conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. In addition, the diplomats engaged in strategic meetings with officials of Invest Barbados, the agency tasked with promoting, attracting and sustaining foreign direct investment in the island. Invest Barbados is headed by Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Kaye-Anne Greenidge and includes an experienced team of experts in a cross-section of economic, business development and marketing fields. Discussions were also held with other leading public and private sector stakeholders.

The past two years have also been marked by progress between the development of ideas and actioning of those plans. During this period, Invest Barbados signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwanda Development Board, as well as with the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre in efforts to strengthen economic ties, exchange best practices and foster investment.

One of the catalysts that propelled movement in Barbados’ relations with Africa was the hugely successful AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF2022), staged at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre from September 1-3.

Attended by hundreds of representatives from African, Caribbean, Barbadian and diasporic businesses, as well as government, development, and cultural industries representatives, ACTIF2022 was a collaboration between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Invest Barbados and Export Barbados.

The historic forum attracted delegates from 45 African countries and participants from the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, as well as North, Central and South America states. It focused on, among other things, business to business engagement, accelerating industrialisation and manufacturing, the development of economic zones, regional integration and creating the conditions for greater private sector investment. Since then, interest in strengthening ties has increased, in Barbados and across several Caribbean Community states.

As Prime Minister Mottley noted during her address to ACTIF2022, “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… It is not anticipated that we can reverse centuries in a few years, but it is anticipated that there are some who must claim the courage to jump off the ship and make it happen.”

In November during an Invest Barbados-led business mission to Rwanda and Kenya, the Foreign Ministers of Kenya and Barbados signed a Bilateral Air Services Agreement and a Sports Cooperation Agreement.

Another significant development that arose from the accelerated Barbados- African relations was the agreement between Rwanda, Barbados and Guyana, which initiated a transatlantic pharmaceutical opportunity to create and manufacture pharmaceuticals for global public health. This pharmaceutical initiative is expected to generate approximately 4,000 jobs for Barbadians.

The Prime Minister disclosed that this first-of-its-kind pharmaceutical initiative could be a “game-changer”, as emphasis will be placed on creating vaccines, cancer treatment medication and drugs for women’s reproductive health.

This initiative also followed the official visit by Prime Minister Mottley to Rwanda in November, which was part of the first official exploratory business mission from Barbados to that country, coordinated by Invest Barbados.

In furtherance of the agreement, officials of the Rwandan Food and Drug Administration were in Barbados for several weeks, while preliminary work with officials from the Barbados Drug Service and Ministry of Health and Wellness was undertaken.

It is important to note that it was a multi-billion dollar arrangement by Afreximbank that allowed several African nations, Barbados and members of CARICOM to access significant COVID-19 vaccines during a period when developed nations were stockpiling the drugs for their own citizens.

Since the staging of ACTIF2022, Afreximbank announced it has approved some $1.5 billion USD in funding for Caribbean countries. This consolidates the Bank’s efforts to join Prime Minister Mottley in the promotion and development of South-South trade and specifically trade between Africa and the Caribbean, in line with the Diaspora Strategy. Financing focus will be given to identified economic sectors including tourism, healthcare, renewable energy, shipping, mining, agriculture and agribusiness, air links and aquaculture – as well as finance for SMEs.

The dynamics of economic, historical and cultural linkages make it incumbent that relations between Africa and the Caribbean be expanded for mutual benefits.

Africa remains the most resource-rich geographic space on earth and building new partnerships is in everyone’s interest. Barbados, as it has done throughout history, has taken bold and innovative steps, akin to a nation that is far larger and endowed with much greater financial wealth.

Several African leaders have taken notice and over the past four years have made the trip to the Caribbean to experience firsthand what this 166 square mile nation has to offer. These included Rwanda President Paul Kagame, the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, Fante King Obrempon Antwi Buabeng XI from Ghana, as well as Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who visited Barbados in June 2019, among others.

With Barbados leading the way, South-South relations are also expected to strengthen and grow to the benefit of economies on both sides of the Atlantic.

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