Uhuru in Barbados: Kenya eyes new Caribbean flight routes, more trade

President Uhuru Kenyatta Barbados

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left), Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley (right) and Governor of Barbados Dame Sandra Mason (centre) at Government House where he was conferred with the 'Order of Freedom of Barbados' award in Bridgetown, Barbados. 

Photo credit: Courtesy | PSCU

What you need to know:

  • The two countries have no direct flight connections.
  • Travellers heading either way must transit mostly through the United States.

Kenya is seeking new aviation partnerships that will see Nairobi reach out to the Caribbean market, as President Uhuru Kenyatta argued for more trade, debt relief and vaccine equity for pandemic recovery.

On Wednesday, Kenya inked bilateral deals on aviation cooperation, environmental conservation and trade and investment, on his second day of his visit to the Caribbean island of Barbados.

The arrangements touched on a bilateral air services agreement, the first step for the two countries to allow airlines to enter cooperation and connections deals, and ease travel between the two regions. 

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo signed the deal on behalf of Kenya while the Barbados minister for tourism and international transport, Lisa Cummins, represented her country at a ceremony witnessed in Bridgetown by President Kenyatta and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.

President Uhuru Kenyatta Barbados

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley (right) and Foreign Affairs minister Amb. Raychelle Omamo at Government House in Bridgetown, Barbados. 

Photo credit: Courtesy | PSCU

No direct flights...yet

The two countries have no direct flight connections. Travellers heading either way must transit mostly through the United States. The signing of the deal may not cut the length of the trip, but it gives airlines like Kenya Airways easier access to the Caribbean through future code sharing.

The two sides also agreed to establish an entity called a Joint Committee on Trade and Investment, a forum in which future trade agreements or negotiations can happen.

Though traditionally not trading partners, Kenya and Barbados say they are working on their historical connections on a common African ancestry to improve business ties. 

President Kenyatta says the African continent and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom), the regional bloc, can improve ties based on trade, tourism, sports and cultural fetes.

“This is one area where we are hoping to find great success that will make it easy for the business men and women, those seeking to re-engage with the African continent, to be able to do so without having to wait for visas from third parties,” President Kenyatta said.

“I think that all of us recognise now that we are in a marathon and not a sprint. And that we have had, in the past, to become resilient and this generation of Kenyans and Barbadians must be resilient to the times whether those times are affected by the pandemic or whether they are affected by the climate,” Ms Mottley said, referring to the effects of Covid-19. 

Debt relief, vaccine equity 

In Barbados for the second time in two years, the President has used the visit to also reiterate his call for supportive debt relief and vaccine access for poor countries, arguing they will be the two most important areas to help the world beat back the pandemic.

He told an audience on Tuesday that the world must learn from the “flawed” multilateral system that has largely failed to bring on board everyone, but argued developing countries will bank on reduced debt burdens, more vaccines and easier channels of trade to recover.

“As tax revenues have dipped due to the contraction of economic activities, and the increase in the debt burden, the fiscal space to provide a safety net to vulnerable groups in many of our countries has equally been significantly constrained,” the President said in a pre-recorded statement. 

He spoke at the official opening of the plenary of the 15th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which opened on Monday in Georgetown, Barbados.

“The inequality in the sharing of vaccines reflects a multilateral system that is deeply flawed. To date, recovery has been unbalanced, reflecting faulty lines that existed before the pandemic. There have been substantial differences in GDP growth between regions and countries, and a sharp divergence in income gains amongst social groups,” the President said.

The President had been calling for vaccine equity and debt relief in most of his recent speeches, a stance now adopted by the African Union. Developing countries argue that debt relief, emergency funding, more trade and access to vaccines will protect them in spite of poor healthcare systems.

The International Monetary Fund, for example, created an emergency fund, known as the Special Drawing Rights, to help countries fight the pandemic. But critics have argued the SDRs worth $650 billion, which are based on quotas of IMF members, have benefited developed countries more. 

Last week, more than 250 civil society activists and organisations wrote an open letter to the IMF, asking that the allocation be increased to $3 trillion and that “economies are in less need of SDRs given their access to a wider array of monetary and financial tools for the response and recovery.” 

They argued that it was “essential that the recent allocation be quickly followed by rechanneling a significant portion of advanced economies’ SDRs to developing countries,” an idea IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has agreed could help.

“Wealthy countries received more than $400 billion of the relief aid while developing countries received around $235 billion,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, one of the NGOs that appended their signature on the open letter. 

“Wealthy countries can't use the special currency and should donate it to poor countries being ravaged by the pandemic.” 

The NGOs argue developing countries can use emergency funds to support weak healthcare systems, social programmes and environmental conservation.

Delayed for a year

The UNCTAD session, a quadrennial event last held in Nairobi in 2016, itself had been delayed for a year as the world battled Covid-19 and travel was restricted.

The conference has seen various leaders arrive in person, an indication of thawing restrictions on travel. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the world may not recover from the pandemic unless there is improved vaccination for all to meet the set target of 70 percent adult population vaccination by June next year.

“An uneven recovery is leaving much of humanity behind,” he said in Georgetown on Monday.

“And until we get serious about vaccine equity, recovery will be stuck at the starting gate. Wealthy countries have far more vaccines than their people.”

Nine in 10 Africans have not received a single dose, while just 4 per cent of the continent’s 1.3 billion have been vaccinated against Covid-19, something the UN chief said was an “outrage”.