Africa-Caribbean relations are seeing some exciting times. Doubt me? Think about the fact that Nigerian Afrobeats superstar Burna Boy was the headline act at Tipsy, a major fete on the calendar of Crop Over, Barbados’ biggest festival which had been suspended for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Grammy Award winner’s performance in Barbados on July 17 was the first leg of his 2022 Love, Damini Summer Tour. From all reports the much-anticipated event attracted patrons not just from Barbados but across the Caribbean and beyond. But this is just the ‘tip’ of the iceberg in what has been a deepening of Africa-Caribbean engagement and not just at the political level.
As I explained in several previous articles on this subject, total volumes of Africa-Caribbean trade and foreign direct investment are quite small for now. While a few African and Caribbean countries have tax and investment treaties with each other and bilateral cooperation agreements in various areas, there are no free trade agreements (FTAs) between Caribbean countries and African countries. However, the low trade volumes could likely change. Though efforts to expand Africa-Caribbean economic relations predate the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fall-out has accelerated our countries’ need to diversify our trading partners and tourism source markets as part of their post-COVID economic recovery. Amplifying trade and investment ties with African countries is at the forefront of many Caribbean countries’ diversification efforts.
Collaboration in the creative industries
Burna Boy’s headlining of Tipsy introduced the Barbadian audience to Afrobeats, a genre with which many Barbadians might not have been previously familiar. Of course, his headlining of Tipsy’s 2022 All White Party is not the first African-Caribbean ‘collaboration’ in the creative industries. For example, a couple years ago two of my favourite artistes, Trinidadian soca star Machel and Nigerian star Timaya collaborated on several soca songs and remixes, like “Shake ya bum bum” and “Better than them”.
Many musical genres in the Caribbean and the African continent share similar DNA. Given the current explosion of interest in each other’s cultures, one can only ponder the many future collaborations between Caribbean and African creatives. I am sure many of us would enjoy attending an Africa-Caribbean Music Festival of some sorts featuring popular and emerging acts from both regions. Indeed, as many Barbadians are Nollywood movie aficionados, an Africa-Caribbean Film Festival would also be an exciting prospect, featuring films from our countries and even the opportunity for African and Caribbean film makers to meet and discuss possible co-productions.
Other areas of collaboration
African Fintech companies are also taking an increased interest in the Caribbean. A Nigerian company has also expressed interest in purchasing the struggling Caribbean regional airline, LIAT. This proposal has elicited a mixed reaction but it is indicative of what anecdotally appears to be a burgeoning interest of African investors in the Caribbean market. The business interest has not been one-way either. For instance, Barbadian fintech company Bitt Inc was contracted by the Central Bank of Nigeria to develop the digital version of the Nigerian Naira, called the eNaira, which is Africa’s first Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).
There are also promising prospects for Africa-Caribbean trade in educational services, such as through increased student and faculty exchanges and joint course offerings. Scope also exists for continued and greater joint research between African and Caribbean academics and academic institutions on areas of mutual interests. Indeed, last year I had the pleasure and honour of co-convening with Dr. Ohio Omiunu, a well-respected legal scholar, a symposium on the AfronomicsLaw Blog on the topic “Prospects for Deepening Africa-Caribbean Economic Relations”. Recognising that Africa-Caribbean economic relations was an understudied area in the academic literature, the Blog Symposium featured essays authored by established African and Caribbean scholars and practitioners on deepening the African-Caribbean relationship from a variety of perspectives.
There is growing interest among Caribbean people of African ancestry in tracing their genealogy which means genealogy tourism could be a significant, though not the only driver, of Africa-Caribbean tourism in the future. I like many Barbadians was intrigued to learn that Barbados possesses the largest archive of slave records outside of the United Kingdom. The Government of Barbados announced it will be establishing a geneaology research centre at the historic Newton Slave Burial Ground where those records will be held. This could make Barbados a hub for researchers from the Caribbean, Africa and further afield.
Creating the enabling environment
Naturally, there are trade, cultural, linguistic and other barriers which need to be addressed. With some exceptions, most Caribbean countries lack direct air and sea links to the African continent despite the two continents being a hive of connectivity during the 300 years of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. If those links could have existed during that barbaric period, surely we must make all efforts to build sea and air bridges for a more noble purpose, that of expanding understanding, connectivity and trade between our peoples. Thankfully, serious efforts are being made by Caribbean governments to establish scheduled direct air links with the continent, particularly with airlines from Ghana and Kenya and which would facilitate Africa-Caribbean travel for recreation and business.
Barbados has also been expanding its network of tax and investment treaties with African countries which would make the island an attractive hub for African investors to expand into other markets by leveraging Barbados’ treaty network. It was recently announced that an investment agreement was signed between Barbados and Rwanda and it is hoped that the text of this agreement will soon be made available.
Moreover, exporting is an expensive venture and access to finance is one of the major barriers firms face when seeking to export. Therefore, the agreement in principle by the African Export Import Bank to establish an Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Financing Facility with an initial injection of US $250 million is a commendable step in helping to create the enabling environment for enhanced Africa-Caribbean trade and investment by providing access to trade finance.
Future looks bright
To be sure, the prospects for deepening Africa-Caribbean trade are promising. I eagerly look forward to the upcoming inaugural AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum which will be held in September in Barbados. For African and Caribbean firms and professionals, this forum should be the perfect opportunity for deepening and expanding relations and knowledge about the opportunities in each other’s markets. Without doubt, these are indeed exciting times for Africa-Caribbean trade relations. One cannot be anything but enthused for what the future holds!
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc, LL.B. is an international trade specialist and founder of the Caribbean Trade Law and Development blog http://www.caribbeantradelaw.com.