President Forbes Burnham of Guyana, President Fidel Castro of Cuba, and Prime Minister Michael Manly of Jamaica during a visit to Guinea
By Ray Chickrie
Not a single Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member state has a diplomatic presence in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the diplomatic capital of Africa. Instead, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, have missions in Pretoria, South Africa, and diplomats are urging that maybe Guyana and Suriname, CARICOM's two continental giants, move their diplomatic missions from Pretoria to Addis Ababa which hosts the headquarter of the African Union (AU).
Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East
Addis Ababa was first recognized as Africa’s ‘capital’ when Emperor Haile Selassie brought African leaders together for a summit in May 1963. In addition, Guyana's first leader, the late president, Forbes Samson Burnham, recognized the importance of Ethiopia and, in 1970, visited Addis Ababa, and met Emperor Haile Selassie during his visit to Africa to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Lusaka, Zambia.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Arab League, among other multi-lateral organisations, and more than 100 foreign embassies are in Addis Ababa. Thus, “everything is happening in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing economies in Africa currently,” remarked Henry MacDonald Suriname’s ambassador to the United Nations, who visited this East African capital in 2015, for the UN Financing for Development Conference. Guyana’s President David Granger also attended that conference.
MacDonald recalls that on several occasions when he was invited to represent the CARICOM Group of Ambassadors at the UN, his African hosts cordially referred to the Caribbean as the sixth region of Africa, making it more than plausible that CARICOM should reach out more strategically to one of the economically fastest growing regions in the world after South East Asia.
Guyana, soon to be an oil power, is currently looking to expand its presence in Africa and is taking notice of the growing economies of East Africa. There is much talk about Addis Ababa, home to the third largest number of diplomatic missions in the world, only after New York and Geneva. A mission in Addis Ababa would focus on the growing economies of East Africa -- Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Additionally, an embassy in Addis Ababa, with a mandate, human and financial resources, could pursue Guyana and Suriname’s interest at the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Meanwhile, the Guyana embassy in Kuwait should focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economic powers like Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the OIC. This could save Guyana and Suriname a great deal of money because of frequent OIC and IsDB meetings in the region. Suriname has contemplated opening an embassy in the Middle East/Northeast Africa region but is currently facing financial constraints to do now.
Guyana still doesn’t have diplomatic ties with over 20 African countries. Suriname on the other hand, is yet to recognize the potential of Africa, and has diplomatic relationship with just a handful of African nations. Imagine, nationals from every single African country need a visa to visit Suriname, and Guyana isn't far behind. Botswana, South Africa and the Gambia are maybe the only three African countries that Guyanese don’t require to a visa to visit.
Guyana-Africa ties are deeply rooted. Guyana championed the South Africa and Southern Africa liberation movements at CARICOM, the UN and at the Non-Aligned Movement when the People's National Congress (PNC) was in office. Many prominent African leaders visited Guyana. Among them were President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania, Samora Machel, Mozambique, President Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia, President Ahmed Sekou Toure, Guinea Conakry, General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria, and Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana. Theo-Ben Gurirab, former minister of foreign affairs and prime minister of Namibia, and John Makatini, ANC representative at the United Nations, among others, traveled on Guyana diplomatic passports. As well, Forbes Burnham, visited many African countries. However, after more than 20 years out of office, Guyana's ties with Africa were strained. Now the PNC is back in office, and Guyana-African ties are improving.
Since taking office less than two years ago, the government of Guyana is now working to expand its diplomatic outreach in Africa. The Guyana mission to the UN was instrumental in arranging multiple bilateral meetings between President David Granger of Guyana and his African counterparts from Liberia, Ghana, Botswana, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Angola.
A joint CARICOM mission in Ethiopia would be ideal, but the lack of political will and the issue of financing could stymie such initiative. For example, CARICOM countries have been talking for over five years about funding a joint diplomatic presence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), yet is hasn’t happened.