Ladies and Gentlemen:
First of all, my heartfelt thanks to the Government and People of Ghana, and the Afreximbank, for the extremely warm welcome and generous hospitality you have bestowed on me and my delegation.
We are grateful for the embrace and look forward to many long years of close collaboration and friendship.
I am pleased to have been invited to participate in this 30th Annual Meeting and 30th Anniversary celebration of the Afrexim Bank.
I am here as Prime Minister of The Bahamas, but I am also the outgoing Chair of CARICOM, the association of the countries of the Caribbean Community.
I bring greetings from the entire region and wish to recognize my fellow Caribbean leaders also attending this meeting; The Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley and the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and The Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves.
I am elated that this meeting is taking place in Ghana, as this is the country with which many Bahamians hold direct ancestral ties.
Those ties are on full display every Christmas and New Year during our annual Junkanoo Parade, where the origins of the music, costumes and dances have been traced back to the area called Princess Town, here in Ghana. So now you appreciate my excitement, as I really greet you as my brothers and sisters.
2. Africa and The Caribbean: Facing Similar Issues
The Afrexim Bank’s growing presence in the Caribbean, underpinned by a physical presence, an ambitious Memorandum of Understanding, which includes a substantial commitment for investment of around 1.5 billion dollars with the possibility of increasing to 3 billion dollars, is a testament to our shared goal of a joint vision of pan-African prosperity.
I wish to thank and congratulate my friend, the President and Chairman of Afrexim Bank Prof. Benedict Oramah for his vision, steady leadership and his persistence on the inclusion of the Caribbean region as part of the banks vision.
Unsurprisingly, given our common and intertwined history and legacy, the countries of Africa and The Caribbean face similar challenges and these challenges present significant opportunities for partnership.
However, in many instances, as we heard yesterday from the speakers and panellists, be it food security, financial security or trade, that we are not maximising the hand we have been dealt by geography, by nature and by history.
We are not maximising our key assets; the ingenuity and creativity of our people, our abundant natural resources, our beautiful environment and our unique cultures.
These opportunities however are stymied by some common headwinds, some of which lie outside of our control.
Since coming to office twenty months ago, I have been on a crusade to highlight the risks of climate change on countries such as mine. For us, these risks are existential.
The Bahamas is one of the top ten countries in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the rising sea levels and steady coastal erosion., The increased risk in frequency and intensity of hurricanes, threatens everyone and everything around our archipelago of small islands.
In 2019, hurricane Dorian cost us 3.4 billion dollars in damage, the equivalent of one third of our GDP. In the last 10 to 12 years, we estimate that more than 30% of our national debt is directly associated to climate change. We in the Caribbean region are on the front line. Likewise, African countries also face the new realities associated with climate change.
Another commonly shared challenge is that of the current global financial model. Quite frankly it’s not working for developing countries, small Island Developing States and those of us on the front line of Climate Change.
This is why the success of the Afrexim Bank is critical to our advancement as a region and as a people.
3. Things Within Our Control
The good news is, like you we are a resilient and creative people.
In The Bahamas, our global brand in the tourism sector has been the engine that drives our economy.
While it’s still ‘Better in The Bahamas’, over time we have become aware of how much of the tourism value chain lies in the hands of foreign investors.
We must involve more local entrepreneurs in the value chain and keep more of every dollar spent in The Bahamas at home. This requires us to properly capitalize our Development Bank to provide deserving loans to our citizens so they can play a more meaningful role in our economy. We are pleased to be working with Afrexim Bank to do just that.
I know that African countries are exploring opportunities in tourism. This continent is truly blessed with an abundance of natural beauty like no other place on earth. The world needs to see it.
The potential for partnership is obvious. We have been in the tourism business for more than 100 years.
We also recognise the successes that some of our African brothers and sisters are already realising in tourism.
For example, we can learn from the ‘Inclusive Tourism Model’ in Tanzania, and from Rwanda’s strategy of targeting high-end tourism, and maximising the in-country spend.
I should also mention Ghana’s innovative approach in launching the ‘Year of Return’ in 2019, which continues to inspire our own efforts.
My brothers and sisters, these are the kinds of development priorities and activities which lie within our control, which are ripe for partnership, and where we can make rapid progress built on common needs, challenges, and experience.
We don’t need to wait!
Apart from tourism, the pioneering work we have done and are doing in The Bahamas in respect of the regulation of digital assets, which is recognized as the leading legal and regulatory framework in the world. We were the first country to launch a digital currency, the Sand Dollar, which embraces the unbanked in our rural areas and includes them in our economy.
We have also created a legal and regulatory framework for carbon credit trading which is also now globally recognized. Financial Services is the second pillar of our economy and contributes significantly to our GDP. Again, I say, we don’t need to wait!
4. Things We Need to Address, Constrained by Finance
Apart from the opportunities that derive from things within our control, many of us face challenges in respect of the things we need to do, for which we are constrained by lack of finance or lack of affordable finance.
Again, our friends at Afrexim Bank are clear champions here, as they have not only recognised the many opportunities, but stepped forward to fill the gap. For this, we thank them.
As we move forward with essential programmes dealing with food security, financial security, and trade, I note a growing divergence in access to technologies where we seem to be on the cusp of something even more transformative than what has come before. Many of us are still on the early road to digitisation while the rest of the world is moving at a much quicker pace than we can. We must continue to channel our resources both human and financial in this area if we are to contain the widening digital divide.
5. Things We Don’t Have the Money For – Collective Control
I am pleased however, that we are taking measured and calculated steps to move beyond that stage in history, when those of us in the developing world had no more agency than to put our hand out for help. It retarded our national development.
So now, when confronted with challenges, we have seen and are seeing the benefits of what collective action and control can do.
The world is at an inflection point which provides a window for Africa to regain its position of prominence which has been denied for centuries through colonialism and imperialism. We should not squander this opportunity and I believe now is the time for us to tie our shared challenges to a unifying charge to take advantage of the opportunities created at this inflection point.
Rather than just despairing at the shortcomings in the global financial system, we have The Bridgetown Initiative, led by Barbados, pressing for improvements and an overhaul of the global architecture, so that it delivers better for our people.
We have created and strengthened regional institutions built by us, and for us. We have to ensure that we continue to give our institutions our fullest support, so that they do not languish at the wayside, in a field of forgotten dreams.
CARICOM is a good example of the kind of progress that can be made when we work together.
Just last week in Kingston, Jamaica, CARICOM convened a meeting, the first of its kind, with all the key opposing stakeholders in Haiti, to try to support them in restoring law and order, and to re-establish a framework to hold elections. The suffering currently experienced by the Haitian people is immense, and a multinational effort is badly needed to bring relief, but Haitian people must be the driving force to resolve their challenges and instability they are experiencing. Open internal dialogue with the support of its regional and world partners is the only solution.
The African Continental Free Trade Area is another shining example.
At a time when the WTO is grappling with some serious issues in the Appellate Body, it is heartening to see the continent progressing where the global system has stalled.
The WTO should be looking to learn lessons from the AfCFTA.
While seemingly intractable and insoluble conflicts continue in various parts of the world, many overlook the fact that Africa is home to some of the most peaceful countries on the planet, and in terms of religious tolerance and interfaith harmony, Sierra Leone is an international exemplar.
My brothers and sisters my point is, the rest of the world has much to learn from Africa, and Africa has much to teach the rest of the world.
I will end as I began, there is much more that we can do to maximise the hand which we all have been dealt.
With so much in common by way of challenges and opportunities through real partnership with The Bahamas and the Caribbean as a whole, there is much cause for optimism.
Everything we are discussing over these few days, every effort that we are making to improve the lives of the peoples of Africa and The Caribbean, everything ultimately depends on the people themselves who we represent and our political resolve as leaders to create an environment where they can strive and compete.
They are the ones who are the actual producers and consumers, the creators and participants, the sellers and the buyers.
And it is the success of that human connection and our interconnectivity as a people, determined not to let a line drawn on a piece of paper divide us, or oceans separate us, that will bring our countries and our people the success we all desire.