ALL AH WE IS ONE: Norman Girvan
The death of Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan has left an unfillable void in the soul of the Latin American and Caribbean academic community. In a literal sense, Girvan died living the regionalism to which he was committed.
Born in Jamaica, resident in Trinidad, and injured in Dominica, he was transported by a Venezuelan aircraft to Cuba, where he died. Significantly, his injury occurred in fulfilling his resolve to cover all his regional bases since Dominica had been the only Caribbean country that he had never visited.
There is no doubt that Girvan has left an indelible mark on the intellectual history of the Caribbean. A University of the West Indies (UWI) student contemporary of Walter Rodney and Orlando Patterson, Girvan was among the cohorts of intellectuals who were associated with the New World Group, and were fortunate to have been taught directly by the founding fathers like W.A. Lewis, M.G. Smith, Kari Levitt and Lloyd Best.
Indeed, that moment continues to stand as the singular richest attempt by Caribbean economists to construct original theory on the Caribbean economy and to develop independent thought, a feature which is sorely lacking among the current generation.
It is no accident therefore that the individuals associated with the ferment around the New World debates continue to be the template of the ideal-type UWI intellectual, operating within an anti-dependency framework, and organically engaged in public service to the community.
As an embodiment of the original template, Girvan was perhaps the last of the Mohicans.
Given his direct association with and tutelage by the founders, and his nearly unbroken role at UWI, Girvan served as a bridge spanning several generations of Caribbean intellectuals, scholars and public servants.
He will be specifically remembered for his leadership role in the now legendary Consortium Graduate School of the Social Sciences, whose graduates now read like a who’s who of Caribbean intellectual and public life.
Girvan above all was commitment to praxis. A devout regionalist, he will be remembered as the inaugural secretary-general of the Association of Caribbean States, and more recently, for his contribution to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, through his work on the single development vision for the Caribbean, in which he sought to provide a framework for planning a Caribbean economy around agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, finance and other pillars, as a single space.
When taken in conjunction with related attempts on regional governance, Girvan’s work marked a practical qualitative leap into regionalism.
Finally, in an age of intellectual capitulation to neo-liberal dominance, Girvan’s work has served as a source of inspiration for a younger generation of Caribbean scholars committed to resistance.
Indeed, Girvan himself was astonished “that the imperialism that was thought to have been banished by the middle of the 20th century, has returned with renewed force in the 21st”. He insists that informed people should “never fail to address these issues”.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.