After more than half a century as an independent nation, Barbados is moving to establish permanent diplomatic missions for the first time on the continent from which most of its citizens descended, the Government revealed Tuesday.
Yet, as Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn made the announcement in Parliament, he portrayed the move as an effort to build the economy and seek new opportunities for trade and commerce.
“We will be very shortly opening our mission in Ghana, which in a sense forms part of our very tangible outreach in leveraging opportunities for Barbados. Next year, we will set up a mission in Kenya as well,” he told lawmakers.
The vast majority of Barbados’ 95 per cent black population originated in West Africa, many from the area of the Gold Coast, which became Ghana, the first African nation to gain political independence from Britain in 1957. Kenya ended a long, violent anti-colonial struggle against Britain with independence in 1963, three years before Barbados.
Straughn said the work of the diplomatic missions would build on the foundation established by the Commission for Pan-African Affairs – the Government agency which was disbanded earlier this year after 20 years.
He said: “As we were going through the initial Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) adjustments, someone asked why we were disbanding the Pan African Commission, and I had to indicate that in terms of how we engage the world now, we are going to Africa as a Government, and bringing private sector members along to establish real roots by having a physical presence, and to build on the work the commission would have started.”
As was the case with China 20 years ago, said Straughn, African countries were now being seen as the next emerging economic superpower on the global stage; therefore, it was important for Barbados to “get in on the ground floor.”
He said: “As a younger economist I remember when we would talk about China surging.
“China has now emerged and surpassed the world. The continent of Africa is now in a similar position as China was 20 years ago, so our choice to engage them now is critical to Barbados, bringing a regional perspective and opportunities for investment by our citizens in Africa, and help the development thrust there.
“We have expertise in education and health, and when one looks at the potential as to how we engage, we believe that with the establishment of these missions, we can provide other opportunities for Barbadians outside of the island, and they will have the added confidence that their interests will be represented on the ground. (DH)