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Bolt and Rihanna

Tennyson Joseph

Bolt and Rihanna

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The Caribbean would be missing a prime opportunity for national development if we were to merely celebrate the region’s performance at the 2012 Olympics and nothing more.
At a time when our region is grappling with the collapse of its post-colonial development model, it was as if providence was forcefully pointing to our intellectually bankrupt policymakers and tradition bound private sector, that its future lies in the creative potential, athletic prowess and intellectual and artistic ability of its people.
History though, must be a very frustrated teacher, because despite the clarity of her instructions, the lessons are often ignored.  
Thus, in the middle of a financial crisis that marks the death of bananas, sugar and tourism, we continue to expend our energies in combating an Air Passenger Duty (APD), subsidizing foreign airlines, growing sugar cane and bananas, while we reduce spending on education, and deny the existence of a sports and culture industry. In some countries, remittances constitute the largest source of foreign exchange.
This is why the watery soup of the Caribbean private sector as the “engine of growth” always causes indigestion. A wide cultural and historical distance has always separated the private sector from the one true area in which we have a “comparative advantage” – the creativity of the people.  
This did not begin with Usain Bolt and Rihanna. That the Caribbean private sector has never been able to see what lies beneath its very nose, is the strongest argument against our chosen development model. Despite his sins, it took the American investor, Allan Stanford, to release the Caribbean’s commercial potential of the very un-American sport, cricket.
Sadly, where the Caribbean business class remained blind to his example, the rising Indian Premier League (IPL) entrepreneurs were not so myopic.  
What stopped the Caribbean private sector from seeing the potential of the Barbadian schoolgirl, Rihanna? What about Bob Marley? Did its history not condition it to ask: “Can anything good come out of Trenchtown?” What about the many other Caribbean youth with equal potential just wasting away, while we suck on sugar and slide on banana peel? Did anyone hear the pain in Kirani James’ voice when he mourned the misfortune of more talented Grenadian youth?
Perhaps the adversity of the Great Recession will provide a moment for intellectual and cultural cleansing. Significant changes in economic leadership, however, do not take place without moments of rupture in which old economic groups are brushed aside and new ones emerge.  
Let us hope that out of the ashes of the failed development model will arise a new consciousness of a transformed Caribbean economy in which tradition bound productive interests are relegated to the metaphorical trash heap of history and new economic leaders, genuinely confident in the creative potential of the Caribbean people, will emerge to boldly chart a new path.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]