Annual Africa Caribbean Business Council awards dinner (ACBC)‏ Speech given by Ambassador to the United States of America Her Excellency Dr Thelma Phillip-Browne on November 12, 2016

I wish to register my sincere thanks to the organizers of this ACBC 7th Annual Awards Dinner for the privilege of speaking to you tonight.

Some of you may never have heard of my country of all of fifty five thousand inhabitants but considering we were the first British and French colony in the region, bearing in mind that Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis, that the ancestors of Thomas Jefferson had a plantation in St Kitts and that allegedly our “one woman revolutionary” slave, Betto Douglas is the ancestor of Frederick Douglas, you may all have some connection to a country you may never have heard of!

Permit me to bring you the perspective of St Kitts and Nevis on your conference theme, “Addressing the Challenges and opportunities for US-Africa trade relationships.”

Despite the fact that only 40% of its inhabitants have a reliable source of energy and 20% have internet access, six of the world’s fastest growing economies are located on the African continent namely, Rwanda, DR Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique Tanzania and Ethiopia.  To be sure, assistance has come from external sources such as President Obama’s Power Africa initiative, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (OGOA), but the roots of success has come largely by overcoming challenges such as genocide and famine while seizing opportunities such as increasing transparency in government, harnessing its un-paralleled natural resources, improving agricultural outputs, facilitating trade, investing in technology and yes educating its girls!

Girls who become women like Hadia Gondji of Ethiopia, Managing Director of Hadia Seed Production, Hadia Flowers and Hadia Supermarket; Elizabeth Swai of Tanzania, Managing Director of AKM Glitters Ltd; Elizabeth Magaya of Zimbabwe, Managing Director of Blissford Investments indeed Funmi Iyanda, the African Union’s Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, and the founder of her own NGO who declares “I would like to invite young girls and women in Africa to embrace the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to help solve the problems facing our communities”

Although we have established diplomatic relationships with ten (10) African countries, St Kitts and Nevis has no direct trading arrangements with Africa.   In fact regional trading arrangements have been established through our 2nd largest trading partner the European Union, with which CARIFORUM has an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).  This agreement was enabled under the wider umbrella of the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP-EC) Partnership Agreement of 1975 whereby 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 CARICOM and 15 Pacific countries established a relationship with the EU.

Distance and cost efficiency is a significant barrier to Caribbean/ African trade (tell that to our women who love the African textiles as you can see from my attire. We will go to great lengths to obtain the clothes even if we are unable to tie those fascinating hairpieces!).  There is however great potential for cross border supply of services such as financial, professional accounting and legal and ICT.  Services account for almost 80% of our GDP in St Kitts and Nevis, and there certainly is room for development of services with consumption abroad such as off-shore medical schools, tourism and the creative industry although we already have many African students attending off-shore medical schools in the Federation.

While it may appear a digression, it behooves me as I touch on trade to remind us that once upon a time, distance was no deterrant to those who were determined to create one of the world’s most lucrative and yet most horrific and destructive trading arrangements.  I refer of course to the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade!

Slavery was not an unknown phenomenon when first entered into by Europeans in the 16th century, but what was new was the commoditization, level of dehumanization and decimation of a people.  If you doubt that slaves were but commodities let me read an advertisement which says, “Great sale of slaves.. January 10, 1885…3 Bucks…, 1 wench,…1 wench.., One Buck,… 17 Bucks…” all of different descriptions.

Conservative figures estimate that besides the 12 -15 million who boarded the ships and 1.5 to 2 million who perished in the 2 to 3 month crossing, 4 million died in ‘procurement and storage of the cargo’

It is estimated that 50% of infants born in the Caribbean died in their 1st year, while 50% of importees died in the first few years.

No one knows the true figures, what we do know is that while the population of Europe and Asia doubled between 1600 and 1800, that of Africa remained stagnant or even declined.  This was not super effective birth control and although there was trading of slaves to other regions, by far the most aggressive was the transatlantic trade!

It was Marcus Garvey, Jamaica’s national hero who said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Indeed, just as a mother won’t ‘forget the child of her womb’ every adopted child is never whole until its origin and very personhood is perceived, enabling its destination and purpose to be received.  It is time for the African Diaspora to increasingly explore what technology offers in terms of internet communications, ancestral DNA searches and find our roots.  In the words of an old African Proverb, “Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  For how long and with what distortions will we allow others to be glorified in the telling of our tale?

As I close let me state that while on the face of it one might deduce from BREXIT and the outcome of the US elections that nationalism and protectionism must hold sway, the truth is that globalization is here to stay.  I believe the times provide a golden opportunity for Africa, the richest continent on earth in terms of natural resources and its Diaspora to find a way to improve trade and strengthen our relationships and that this type of restoration of ties is, in the words of Booker T Washington, “in all things, essential to mutual progress.”

Thelma Phillip-Browne

The following list presents the countries in the African continent with which the Federation has established diplomatic relations.

Country Date Established
Federal Republic of Nigeria no date available
Republic of Seychelles December  12th 1991
Republic of Ghana June 1993.
Republic of South Africa February 1998
Republic of Algeria October 1st 2007
Kingdom of Morocco October 2nd 2007
Republic of Botswana June 25th 2009
Republic of The Gambia June 6th 2016
Republic of Senegal 27th April 2016
Republic of Kenya September 2016


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