Who will lead the Caribbean
Across theCaribbean there is a pervasive view that the Anglophone part of the regionneeds to find a new pathway to development, and a fresh narrative about itsfuture. The sense is that the regionalintegration process has failed, and there is an absence of leadership, visionand implementation.
AsProfessor Andy Knight, the Director of the University of the West Indies’ (UWI)Institute of International Relations at its St Augustine campus so succinctlyput it at the recent Forum on the Future of the Caribbean in Trinidad: “Thereis a hunger across the Caribbean region for change in the way we think ofourselves, the way in which we interact with one another and the way in whichwe are governed.”
Theconference, which could be viewed on-line, brought together figures fromacademia, the private sector, civil society, and government to debate thefuture of the region by encouraging participants to think differently, evendisruptively.
Accordingto media reports, its conclusions suggested five general themes: the need for aclearer long-term vision of where the region is headed; coordinated responseswithin a broadened Caribbean space; a focus on education, talent development,youth unemployment, poverty reduction and wealth creation with a strongemphasis on entrepreneurship; the need for a regional disaster prevention,emergency support and reconstruction facility; and the creation of policydriven by knowledge, data generation and research.
Subsequentlyit was said that the intention is that UWI will play a central role in bringingtogether the findings of the Forum and ‘will meet within two weeks’ to define awork programme with detailed plans for action, allocated responsibilities andtimelines for implementation.
While itwill be instructive to read a full summary of the outcome and understand thedetail of what happens next, what is less clear is whether this interestingevent marked a breakthrough, or is destined to run into the sand because thoseinvolved lack the political power, sustained will, or the ability or money todeliver new thinking across the region.
At theheart of the Caribbean’s problem is the issue of leadership, and whether in apan-Caribbean context it any longer exists in a visionary and deliverablesense, and where it might come from in future.
As mattersstand, the elected leaders in the region seem on the whole unwilling toimplement agreed common positions other than in relation to foreign policyinitiatives that involve development assistance, security, the environment orpublic health. Even then the spur to action is all too often a response toexternal diplomatic encouragement or pressure.
There areof course some notable exceptions, but by far the most common response isinaction, even when issues arise that relate to core Caribbean interests suchas the future of its rum industry.
If furtherproof were needed that the regional integration process has lost its way andthere is an absence of leadership and new ideas, one only has to consider thematter of the Caricom strategic five year plan 2014-2019 agreed last year byCaribbean Heads. The plan which can be found on Caricom’s website isextravagant. Although intended to ‘buildeconomic resilience; social resilience; environmental resilience; technologicalresilience; strengthen the CARICOM Identity and spirit of community; strengthencommunity governance’, even the CARICOM Secretariat has noted that the proposedpriorities and arrangements will have to take into account ‘the resourcelimitations, both human and financial, across the implementing agents’.
In the realworld, in business, in better managed academic and NGO circles, any strategicdocument of this kind would include some indication as to how the executiveauthority involved – in this case a multitude of sovereign governments facingin different directions – intend delivering what has been agreed; a clear timeline; details of the deliverables to measure performance against; a basis forregular reporting; and above all someone to take responsibility.
It is sadto observe that the plan emerged at a time when an educated younger generationno longer thinks in the same way about the region, its institutions,geographical boundaries, sovereignty or planning.
This is notto say that the Caribbean and Caricom have ceased to be relevant. However, theinternal, external and generational dynamic has changed so dramatically sincethe body’s inception that trying to embrace a plan seems at the very least anoutmoded approach for open economies that have to deal on a daily basis with a multi-facetedand constantly changing hemispheric and global environment.
Thissuggests the needs for new forms of leadership able to encourage deliverythrough passion, inspiration and concentration on results rather than throughrhetoric.
Some in theCaribbean believe that the age of charismatic leadership is over. It went, theysay, with those that fought for independence or who came immediately afterwardsto harvest the fruits of their labour. They say that what is now required arestrong institutions that provide long term structures and certainty, and thatset aside the tribal nature of Caribbean politics in favour of responsible andconsistent administration.
Othersbelieve it will not be elected representatives or institutions that create thefuture but it is individuals, business leaders from major companies, and openminded academics that are now best placed to engineer a change in thinking,create a new regional consensus, and influence a new generation enteringpolitics.
A similarinformal debate is underway beyond the region among external friends, old andnew, that are looking to a younger generation of educated professionals betterable to see the way that the world has changed and understand why it isessential for the Caribbean to recognise on its own terms that it is not immuneor isolated from economic globalisation and competition.
In thiscontext it is no coincidence that in Jamaica, President Obama chose to meet atUWI with those who may become tomorrow’s leaders, that Britain’s government-relatedconference centre at Wilton Park is to hold with Caribbean partners in earlyJune a conference entitled ‘Caribbean 2030 – new thinking for a newgeneration’, or that China, in common with many other nations, is inviting tovisit or offering scholarships to the some of the brightest individuals in theregion.
TheCaribbean’s shortcomings are well known. They have been exhaustively discussed.The issue now is about new leadership, be it technocratic, political, academicor from the private sector; how it might inspire future generations, and aboveall the delivery of practical results and prosperity that benefits all.
DavidJessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
Previous columnscan be found at www.caribbean-council.org