Category Archives: Globalisation

Trying to embrace Africa

 bp43919.jpgBeginning August 23, Barbados will be the venue of a 10 day Bicentennial Global Dialogue, an African Diaspora conference that will include discussions on economic, political, historical, social, and cultural issues that link the Caribbean with Africa (see report). The conference is supposed to help preparation for interministerial meetings of the Caribbean and African Union in South Africa, November 16-18.

Many ideas are circulating about how stronger connections can be built between Africa and the Caribbean, and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade provides a good symbolic anchor for these ideas. However, the discussions and debates sometimes occur in various states of confusion.

I lived and worked for three years recently in Guinea, west Africa; I have also worked in several other African countries. I know that Africa is not one place, with agreed views and attitudes. Continue reading

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International Health Travel: Possibilities for the Caribbean?

A fascinating book was published recently, entitled Patients Beyond Borders (see also http://www.patientsbeyondborders.com/), written by Josef Woodman. Mr. Woodman gives us the benefit of three years’ research into medical facilities available to foreign travelers in a range of countries. He has produced what is described as “Everybody’s Guide to Affordable World-Class Medical Tourism”.  Mr. Woodman has spent more than three years researching contemporary medical tourism, interviewing patients, practitioners, administrators, government officials and specialists in the field, while conducting an extensive analysis of safety records, accreditations, success rates and consumer trends. giving potential health travelers the most up-to-date information, pros, cons, considerations, and step-by-step instructions for a successful and cost-effective journey. More than 150,000 Americans travel abroad for healthcare each year to a growing number of highly accredited institutions catering to the American public. Navigating the various countries, hospitals, medical centers, travel agencies and brokers can be a daunting task when facing an important health decision.

Patients Beyond Borders was written to narrow the field to the best possible choices, providing the American consumer with an unbiased and informative guide to a fast growing healthcare phenomenon. It has hundreds of well-researched, safe treatment options for affordable healthcare in 22 destinations worldwide. Though aimed at Americans, the book should be a valuable resource to many other nationalities who wish to search for alternative health care options outside their national borders. This subject featured in a recent article in The Economist (March 10, 2007): “Medical tourism: Sun, sand and scalpels”. Continue reading

Conference on the Caribbean: A Participant’s Perspective

caricomheadssmall.gifDuring June 19-21, Caricom heads of state and its secretary-general attended a conference in Washington DC, hosted by the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organisation of American states (see conference web site). The heads of state had an historic summit with the US government (see White House statement); long overdue many agreed, but it had been a long time in the planning and fell well in Caribbean American heritage month. The White House statement makes most of the right political noises on issues such as protecting democracy and enhancing security, expanding trade and building the services sector. Whether Caribbean citizens will feel that any of this really has them in mind will be for time to tell.

The conference and summit have left those present in Washington with some sense of optimism because Caribbean issues were put in front of American government officials as well as offiicals from important multilateral agencies. That optimism, however, needs to be set in a realistic context: the Caribbean is small and is not amongst the US administration’s highest priorities (one can judge this by the ease with which US officials absent themselves from proceedings). With President Bush coming to the end of his 2nd term, he may be seen as a lame duck, so whatever “commitments” his administration made could be added to the litany of promises yet to be fulfilled.

The conference also showed that there are plenty of leaders in the extended Caribbean community, not just amongst those who have assumed political leadership positions. Successful and striving would fit many of the women and men present at the conference who are in business, non-profit organizations, studying, or whatever field they are in. That should be a good signal because we have seen in recent months some startling lack of leadership, decision-making and vision within the region and things associated with it. Continue reading

Conference on the Caribbean: Into the Briar Patch

During June 19-21, in Washington, DC, Caribbean leaders, academics, activists, entrepreneurs, and others will mingle with members of the US government, representatives of international and regional financial institutions, and others with an interest in the region (see link). There will be two side forums on private sector development and the Diaspora.

The Caribbean region has many issues to face. Whether politicians see the issues in the same way as their populations is not clear, but the democratic process will be a guide as elections come along later this year. To me there are several thorny problems that could derail the region’s vision for itself.

First, is the burr of intraregional trade. It has been clear for some time that each Caribbean nation does not view neutrally the arrival of investors from another country. I will cite just the recent reaction in Barbados to the proposed take over by Trinidad’s Neal and Massy of Barbados Shipping and Trading. Generally, people don’t see these moves as strengthening the region’s ability to compete in a broad international environment, but merely as the loss of an important national player to a foreign entity, and as such a bad thing. The economic and financial explanations of possible merits rarely sink into most people’s minds. It is little different, when we consider the movement of labour between the countries. The movement of skilled or other workers from the larger countries (Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica) is often seen negatively in the smaller countries such as Barbados. And these movements quickly get tinged with emotive and racist language, citing themes such as “invasions” and “aggressiveness”.  So, what future for regional intiatives such as CSME? There does not seem a readiness to share a common economic space, especially if it means an influx from poorer, more violent, and apparently less stable countries in the region.

Related to this is the prickly question of regional air travel. The region may not really be able to support its own stock of air operators. We have seen the demise of Caribbean Airlines. The merger of Liat-Caribbean Star is underway. Air Jamaica’s future has been called into question, not least by the recent selling of its Kingston-London route to Virgin Airways. The other problem is the high cost of travel within the region, with its related negative impact on tourism. Liat-Caribbean Star charges too much for travelling short distances within the region: the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Vincent Vanderpool-Wallance, has recently called these high fares the “silent killer” of regional tourism. The fact that some of the shareholders (Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent) in the regional airline also own their main airports, puts a contradictory twist to how to price for international travel, given that the airport investment needs to be recouped. St. Lucia’s government has recently announced that it will no longer finance Liat, and has contracted with American Airlines to provide services between St. Lucia and Barbados. A little friction between the governments over these moves will be no surprise!

A complex and growing issue is the relationship with China. This has the double dimension of which “China” countries decide to work with. Some Caribbean countries are for a “one China” policy and are building deeper relations with the People’s Republic (see Barbados’ PM’s recent visit to Beijing, for example). Others do not wish to follow that road and are deeping relations with Taiwan (see St. Lucia, for example). Some (like St. Lucia) seem to switch with a change of government (see article in Broad Street Journal). The People’s Republic of China has an interesting position at present. It is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (see link), with its own Director and seat on the Board of Governors. It is becoming a major source of financing in the region, especially of prestige construction projects (such as stadiums and highways). The People’s Republic of China is taking a fast-extending role in the development of poorer countries worldwide (especially in Africa, where this help can also mean access to valuable primary commodities), and has the resources to fulfill this role. It has also become an important source of labour to the Caribbean to help with construction projects. But this latter aspect is coming at a price as local opinion quickly turns hostile when it seems that local labour is being pushed to the side (whether due to proper procedure of suspected underhand dealings). Whether local labour has the skills to compete well against Chinese workers, it is often hard to compete with Chinese companies on price: anecdotal stories of Chinese workers getting US10 a day and having to rumage around to find food and live in what are seen as squalid conditions do nothing to enhance the image of the Chinese worker. The presence of Chinese workers and contractors is not a singular problem in the Caribbean, but part of the emerging impact that the People’s Republic is having on economic developments. It is becoming the dominant international force. Mix this with the pre-existing sense of invasion from foreigners that some are feeling and one does not have to look far to see an unhappy road ahead if somehow the apparent large influx of Chinese workers is not controlled, especially in the smaller islands.

The politicians and others will have more than these issues to think and talk about and I will try to see if some of these reflections can be quickly incorporated into this blog.

Having problems with regionalism and globalisation

A lot of talk has been generated by the Cricket World Cup (CWC) as an example of how the region can come together and make things successful. But around that talk there are other mutterings or loud shouts that suggest that not everyone sees it this way. Take, for example, the opening and closing ceremonies for CWC. I have heard and read comments that complained that the Jamaicans did not pay enough attention to the culture from the other countries. Recently, some Bajans have been complaining that the closing ceremony did not showcase Barbados, not least because the contract for the final music and dance “spectacle” had been given to a Trinidadian, Peter Minshall. That added to discontent that much of the final event had involved contracts going to foreign companies. Continue reading