50/50 Independence Project Comes Alive

Speaking on the final panel of a conference in Jamaica last week, Haitian professional Marie-Jose N’Zengou Tayo admitted that her first reaction in seeing the conference title “Challenges of the Independence Experience …” was to wonder “What Independence?”
For a Haitian still aflame with the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 which continues to fight for its life to this day, the Independence experience of the English-speaking Caribbean is a tame story marked by handshakes, the handover of parchment and the raising of a flag.
Amid the world’s stories of hard-won political independence, the West Indian story hardly merits mention. But for those of us who live here, it is a defining threshold in the journey towards the possibility of bringing a new civilization into being, Caribbean Civilisation. If our existence was a movie, the period since Independence would be the sequel to that other story that had left people wondering “Whatever happened to those characters that Lord so-and-so brought out from Africa and India?”
Almost 50 years later, the supporting cast and the extras are on a main stage of their own, thinking that they, too, have a story to tell. In Jamaica last month, one new effort was made to weave together the various outlines of that story at an academic conference titled ‘Challenges of the Independence Experience in Small Developing Countries’.
The Twelfth Conference of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) was hosted by the Mona branch of SALISES at the Pegasus Hotel from March 23-25. An unbelievable 30 panels were assembled over the two days on a range of topics, from Existential Threats to the Caribbean, to Finance, Literature, Climate Change, Caricom Governance, Grenada, Crime and Health among a host of others.
In addition, there were two plenary sessions: “Reflecting on the first Post-Colonial Half Century” with panelists Alister McIntyre, Rupert Lewis, Jessica Byron and Wendy Grenade and “Whither Haiti: The Future of the First Free” with Ms Tayo, Max Alce and Myrtha Desulme.
The Sir Arthur Lewis Distinguished Lecture was delivered by Franklin W. Knight on the topic “The Challenges to Caribbean Political Independence, 1804 to 2010”.
Head of SALISES, Professor Brian Meeks who piloted the initiative, said the conference was essentially “a recruiting event” for SALISES’ Fifty-Fifty project to mark next year’s 50th anniversary of the political Independence of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the first two of the English-speaking Caribbean countries to become independent.
“The purpose of Fifty-Fifty”, he explained, “is to critically review fifty years of the independence experience in the Anglophone Caribbean and to elaborate proposals for the region’s possible development in the next fifty years.
“We use the important fiftieth anniversary of Anglo-Caribbean independence as a useful hook, but the purpose is always to move beyond narrow linguistic barriers to look at the region as a whole. Thus, in our recently concluded conference, we had a special plenary on Haiti and there were participants from all the linguistic areas of our Caribbean. We are also intimately concerned with the historical experience and prospects for the non-independent territories that together constitute a significant part of the population and land area of the region.”
The conference is tentatively scheduled to take place in Kingston from August 20-25 next year. A number of research clusters covering a broad range of regional life has been established with the aim of delivering output at the conference.

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