The urgency of now
There is noshortage of astute advice, or practical thinking about the region’s future.
In the lasttwo weeks alone, speeches from significant regional figures have again madeclear what practically is required if the Anglophone part of the region is tobecome better integrated, prosper and offer its citizens a brighter future.
On May 17 inJamaica, in remarks to the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Annual Board ofGovernors Meeting, the General Manager of Jamaica National Building Society(JNBS), Earl Jarrett, spoke about the immediacy of the challenges facing theregion. In doing so he set out the core issues that he believes need addressingas a matter of urgency if CARICOM is ever to fulfil its regional mandate to catalyseregional integration.
Althoughspeaking in the context of the existential threat that the region’s financialsystem is now facing in relation to its indigenous banking system, he raisedfundamental questions about the meaning of independence and regionalism.
His remarkshad at their heart a passage that implied that the Anglophone Caribbean has notyet fully embraced what it means to be independent and to uncomplainingly andresponsibly deliver its own destiny, through what he described as mutuality.
Speakingabout the need to understand this in the context of the region’s history, JNBS’General Manager observed that in CARICOM, independence truly took holdfollowing the removal of trade preferences in European markets, the impositionof rigid visa requirements, and the demand for greater investment in securityin the Caribbean.
“Today, weare experiencing the de-risking of financial institutions. And, I suggest toyou that this is the final step to complete the independence of the Caribbeanfrom Europe and the rest of the world. It is now up to us to begin to craft anew response to this ‘independence’,” Mr Jarrett said.
He then allbut issued a challenge, calling on all present “to reflect on and to accept thewe need to recognise that …. we must now look to each other (…).” “Our futurewill require us to embrace fully this spirit of mutuality,” he said.
In hisremarks Mr Jarrett – who quoted Martin Luther King’s observations on mutualityin his 1963 letter from jail – went on to urge that a now ell funded CDB toplay a greater role in delivering change; taking the steps necessary toencourage new thinking, connectivity and integration.
He proposedthe creation of a space where the region’s businesspeople can meet and exchangeideas to drive progress in ways that involve the University of the West Indies;a commitment to improving inter-regional transport and high speedtelecommunications; a medium by whichgoods can be traded in the region through a regional payments system;acceptance of the truth that the Caribbean will never again be a majoragricultural player; the creation of a common secure regional immigrationsystem; and the development of aCaribbean financial institution located in the major trading markets of theworld.
Coincidentally,two days later in St Lucia, Sir Ronald Sanders, the diplomat and commentator,addressed the St Lucia Tourist Board; in itself a creative departure for anindustry that has tended to avoid the politically challenging.
His remarksconsidered in a different way the same issue of mutuality.
He notedthat although the region had rightly shed colonial rule more than half acentury ago, and assumed control of its own affairs, the outlook was notbright. Although CARICOM, Sir Ronaldargued, was “created as the framework for pooling individual sovereignties ….(and) …. the foundation upon which structures of co-operation would be built todeliver their individual and collective betterment ….” “Sadly,” he said,CARICOM has “wandered from its purpose.”
He made thepoint that the reinvigoration of CARICOM has all the urgency of now, observingthat the scepticism and disillusionment resulting from the ‘implementationdeficit’ of the last decade has already undermined the previous three decadesof work. “Continuing to neglect it, and only to pay lip service to it inritualistic meetings and wordy press conferences, will hasten the process ofdecline and adversely impact every sector of the economy, including tourism,”he said.
Both EarlJarrett and Sir Ronald, who I count as friends, reflect an uncomfortable truthabout today’s Caribbean. It is that if the political leadership of the regioncannot find a way to encourage and deliver the mutuality on which CARICOM isbased, its members will surely drift towards new platforms and relationships,resulting in the emergence of alternative groupings and identities.
Unfortunately,what is lacking is anyone in a present or past position of regional politicalseniority, who is willing to speak as frankly about the region’s failings;someone who can demonstrate practical thinking, inspire those beyond the narrowconfines of their supporters and country, and encourage the young to develop aregional platform for change and its delivery.
Instead mostAnglophone Caribbean politicians – there are some exceptions – at a regionlevel continue to speak in platitudes, reported by a media that has becomedisinterested, and now rarely asks difficult and informed questions about theregion’s future, or issues such as non-delivery or inaction.
In manyother parts of the world that have open liberal democracies, similar to thosein the region, electorates are abandoning traditional politics, moving towardspopulists, and are organising through social media as their anger andresentment against austerity, privilege, and the remoteness of elites takeshold.
This has nothappened in the Caribbean – why, being a subject of a future column – but thatis not to say it will not.
In almostevery CARICOM nation independence took place before the majority of thepopulation was born. Speak to young people coming out of the region’s schoolsand universities and it is clear they want more than is on offer. Beyondemployment and a good standard of living, they wish to be provided withoutcomes that will enable them in the wider world to be proud andself-confident about their region, their West Indian identity, and be inspiredto know where independence can take them, both figuratively and literally.
In a fewweeks’ time, CARICOM Heads of Government will meet again. As usual they willhave a packed agenda, making it unlikely they will address issues of the kindthat Sir Ronald and Earl Jarrett raised.
Importantlyhowever, both suggested alternative ways to drive change. They proposed thatthe regional agenda should be seized by others; driven forwards by intermediaryinstitutions such as the CDB, the network of industries that occupy today andtomorrow’s economic high ground such as tourism, and by other representativesof civil society. What they implied is that there are other ways to move amountain.
David Jessopis a consultant to the Caribbean Council
He can becontacted at [email protected]
Previouscolumns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org