(Address by Dr. Godwin Friday, to a Special Sitting of Parliament for the visit of the President of the Republic of Ghana)
Your Excellency, President Akufo-Addo, I am delighted to have the privilege with the rest of our Parliament and the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines of welcoming you to our beautiful country. Welcome to you and your entire delegation. I trust that your visit will be fruitful and enjoyable.
In your lecture at the Community College earlier today, you said that one of the reasons you came here was to further inform us about and invite us to participate in the “Year of Return” activities in which you will commemorate 400 years since the Atlantic Slave trade forcibly took people from your homeland.
Our two countries share that painful history of the Atlantic Slave trade. Over the four hundred years of the Atlantic slave trade, millions of people especially the young and strong were torn from their villages and their families and shipped thousands of miles across a vast and forbidding ocean to the Americas and Caribbean. Estimates of between 10 and 20 million Africans were carried off in the trade. Millions died during capture or awaiting transportation to the Americas; and millions more died on the Middle Passage as a result of the harsh conditions of the long voyage on the slave ships. It was a journey that held unimaginable horrors and hardships, and worse was in store for them when they arrived at their destinations.
The slave trade brought destructive consequences for the African continent, including your homeland, then called Gold Coast. On the other hand, the slave trading nations of Europe, beginning with the Portuguese and reaching the peak in the 18th century the British profited handsomely from the slave trade and from the produce of slave labour. Many scholars and writers have discussed the economics of the Atlantic slave trade and African slavery in the Americas, and those efforts will no doubt continue.
In recent times, acknowledgment of the scale of the crime and injustice which the Atlantic slave trade and African slavery has been slow in coming but growing; and the calls for reparatory justice increases.
Your hosting of the “Year of Return” is a welcome and important effort to confront that history and to build consensus to ensure that such acts of inhumanity find no justification or outright manifestation in our modern world. I hope we will be able to take up your kind invitation to take part in it in Accra. This great effort is consistent with your country’s historical role as leading the way in the decolonization process in Africa.
When in 1957, led by the great Kwame Nkrumah, your peoples threw off the colonial garb and nomenclature, i.e. Gold Coast and became Ghana, other people struggling against the yoke of colonialism looked to you with pride and with the great expectation that, like Ghana, they too could reclaim their national independence and set themselves on a path to economic and political progress.
To be sure, not all of those expectations were met. For all of us, the struggle for the realization of true sovereignty and economic development has not had a smooth, upward trajectory. There have been setbacks and challenges. Some, if we are honest, we will admit have been self-inflicted. But we persevere, because we believe we can do great things for our people and make our countries places of peace, justice and prosperity in a challenging world.
What we are doing here today by strengthening ties that have a deep history is writing a chapter in a more positive and hopeful story. A story that says for us, as an enduring theme, that out of great injustice and unimaginable enforced human suffering, we in the Caribbean have created for ourselves distinctive societies that defy our tragic beginnings of slavery and colonial conflicts, and strive to be good examples of what just and peace-loving nations can be. It is my belief, that our small size as a nation does not in any way limit us in those aspirations and accomplishments. Our seat on the UN Security Council will present many opportunities for us to demonstrate this.
Ghana is today a stable democracy with excellent prospects for economic growth and development. It is a modern example not only for Africa but for the world at large of the benefits of democratic good governance and people-centred economic policies. I am proud to know that Ghana has been forecasted to lead the world in economic growth this year with a growth rate set at between 7.6 and 8.8 percent; depending on who is doing the forecasting. With a large population and strong economy, we can expect great things for your people and, indeed, a fruitful relationship with your friends, especially with us here in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Mr. President you will know that in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines we are a proud and resilient people. Though pushed and pulled by the currents of global geopolitics and squeezed and marginalized by ever-changing economic conditions that we cannot control, or even influence, we persevere in the belief that we can, nevertheless, shape our destiny and provide good and decent lives for our people. It is comforting to know that we have a friend in you and the great people of Ghana. We know that you wish for us to succeed in our reasonable and just goals of providing for our people and being a good example that others might follow.
Without military might or economic levers to pull to achieve our goals, we must rely on our moral example to have influence in the world. We also must rely on friends like you, who share our values and beliefs, which include a commitment to democracy, though challenged at times, an unwavering defence of human rights and our adherence to the principles of peaceful co-existence among nations.
We look forward to your continued friendship and support. And be assured Excellency that you have ours; that is to say, you have the friendship of all the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.