It is a great honour to be with you today, as the Caribbean Community marks its 50th anniversary. I thank Prime Minister Skerrit for inviting me to address you on this historic occasion. I am delighted to pay my first visit to Trinidad and Tobago, and I thank Prime Minister Rowley for his country’s hospitality.
Over the past half-century, CARICOM has distinguished itself as one of the most vibrant regional integration organizations in the developing world. I wish to pay tribute to CARICOM’s many accomplishments.
The Organization of African Unity, as the African Union was originally known, was founded just ten years earlier, in 1963.
These anniversaries are an opportunity to respond to the desire for closer collaboration between our two regions.
We are closely linked.
The horrors of the Middle Passage, and the indignities of colonialism, join our peoples in a shared story of struggle, survival, resilience and, ultimately, renewal.
Many intellectuals and professionals from the Caribbean served in Africa in the years after independence, helping to build our new institutions.
The African diaspora, which is known as the Sixth Region of the African Union, has particularly called for deeper cooperation with the Caribbean, and this call has been reciprocated.
But I want to suggest that it is past time to go beyond declarations of intent. We need to come together in real terms and focus on concrete initiatives which address the challenges that nations like ours face today. It is possible to do so.
Since Prime Minister Mia Mottley launched the Bridgetown Initiative last year, we are already seeing changes in the global conversation on climate, vulnerability, and debt.
Countries like ours can’t print money when we face a crisis. We have to borrow. Yet some of us are no longer eligible for concessional interest rates.
Tools like the United Nations Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, and the Commonwealth’s Universal Vulnerability Index, reveal the special needs of Small Island Developing States.
In Africa, we have countries such as Seychelles, which I have just had the opportunity to visit, with similar climate financing difficulties as you face in the Caribbean.
We can work together to advocate for a more responsive and inclusive international financial architecture.
In June 2024, Rwanda will host the Third United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries. In fact, in terms of climate vulnerability and financing needs, there are similarities between landlocked countries and small island states. We could think of it as a coalition of the landlocked and the sea-locked, if you will, working together to make sure our voices are heard.
But money isn’t everything, and we should concentrate on what we can do on our own, without waiting for anyone else’s approval or funding.
The geopolitical interests that underpin the international system are not going to change easily or quickly. Change won’t happen, just because it’s the right thing to do, or because we point out the unfairness.
In any case, we should not be comfortable blaming others for our problems, including the harm we inflict on ourselves. The starting point here is how we govern our own individual countries, striving to be the best we can be, with a culture of accountability.
As smaller countries, we gather strength by working together in our regional organizations, integrating our economies, and sharing infrastructure costs.
Building on the cooperation within our respective regions, however imperfect it might be, we are in a good position to collaborate across regions. That really involves enabling the free movement of people by removing obstacles to travel and exchange.
I can give a few examples, and I know there are many others for us to discuss later on.
As a start, Guyana, Barbados, and Rwanda have embarked on a program of mutual support for the local manufacturing of vaccines and medicines. The next step is to commit to a pooled procurement mechanism that will make these facilities sustainable over the long run.
Another clear opportunity is to solve the issues of connectivity between Africa and the Caribbean in terms of transport and telecommunications. Digital jobs will be a critical driver for high-quality youth employment for our economies, and also a key lever for offering our brightest young people an alternative to migration.
The Commonwealth has a number of initiatives in this area, which can give us a head-start. I am very happy that the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, is here with us.
I would like to close with a word about the situation in Haiti, from which we cannot look away. Rwanda and Haiti enjoy long-standing ties of friendship.
The history of my country shows that no matter how bad things are, nothing is beyond repair, and there is always a way forward.
The turning point starts with the leaders in the country, and the wider region, at different levels, coming together to forge a new, unified path.
When that process begins to occur, then external support can be part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem.
Let’s come together, as Africa and the Caribbean, and do the best we can for ourselves and our people. If we are determined to join forces, there is no one who can impede that. More importantly, it will benefit all of us.
That is the message I came here to share, and I thank you for your warm welcome, and your kind attention.