Our first 50
Unbeknownst to many, between August 20 and 25, an opportunity was provided by the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) for reflection on the experience of 50 years of independence in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Occurring in a moment when younger Caribbean people, completely cut off from the deeper rationale and purpose for the initial impulse for independence, continue to harbour strong doubts about our statehood, the gathering could not have been timelier.
And, oh, what a gathering it was. Three generations of Caribbean academics, politicians, regional public servants and the wider society gathered to reflect on past experience and to discuss the challenges of the way forward.
From Kari Levitt, Sir Alister McIntyre and Owen Jefferson of New World Group fame at one end, to the likes of Norman Girvan, Chancellor Sir George Alleyne and Trevor Munroe in the middle, to the thirty-something Jamaica Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and his generation of Caribbeanists, including people like myself and other UWI colleagues, to the final group of twenty-something current students of Caribbean society, all were gathered in the name of taking stock of the national and regional independence enterprise.
An important feature of the meeting was the opportunity to listen to the perspectives of regional and international prime ministers, members of parliament and public servants on past and current challenges confronting Caribbean society.
Among the highlights were the addresses by Minister of Finance Peter Phillips of Jamaica, Girvan, governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Sir Dwight Venner, British MP Dianne Abbot and the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves.
Girvan, Venner and Gonsalves in particular provided critical reflections on the past experience and suggested concrete ways in which Caribbean sovereignty could be advanced and deepened in the future.
Of course, no such gathering could take place without being impacted upon by the external ideological and economic shifts taking place in the wider global arena. In this regard, the strong tensions of two unsurprising fault lines could be palpably felt.
One such tension was that between a younger group which, intoxicated by the wine of neo-liberal ideology, repeated western notions that sovereignty was dead and outmoded. In response to this group was the view of Gonsalves that sovereignty was an important asset that Caribbean governments should not be afraid to use in the advancement of the goals determined by themselves and not others.
The other significant tension was between those who, like the young leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, steadfastly held on to the idea of single territory independence and, on the other, those like Venner who, using the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States example, advocated a more mature regionalist option.
Undoubtedly, the future politics of the Caribbean will revolve around the resolution of these tensions. The SALISES reflections provide a useful, though only a small, start.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]