“Caribbean youth dream of being the best that they can be, but their dreams and aspirations…are oriented outside the Region. Some, in particular older youth, are afraid to dream because of the pain and frustration that comes from their social and economic reality and the acceptance of the fact that their dreams cannot be realised.”
—Report of the Caricom Commission on Youth Development, 2012
The heart drops like lead into water at the image of defeat summoned by these words. At a time when 60 percent of the Caribbean population is under the age of 30, is it any wonder that disillusionment is a theme of the time?
In Trinidad and Tobago and across the Caribbean, the promise of the brave New World conjured up by the Independence generation is in full retreat. Fifty years ago, that generation had discovered its identity, sense of purpose and basis for solidarity in the single idea of self-determination, powered by the dream of crafting a new and unique civilization out of the fragments of empire.
Forged from the love of liberty,
in the fires of hope…
Today, amid the detritus of collapsed hope and noble ambition, alienation stands raw before us as the enemy of nationhood, Mockingly, it reminds us that it will take much more than a flag and an anthem to transform a society designed for external control, containment and commerce, into a society with an internal propulsion for self-development and realisation.
This is the stuff of which revolutions are born. As the Arab Spring has shown, when progress demands that the old order be turned on its head, and the institutional means for doing so are dysfunctional and oppressive, people will invent their own solutions.
Likewise, the West Indian dry season of 1937. It was hot. Restlessness and rage swept the region as, one hundred years after emancipation and twenty years after indentureship, the dispossessed masses took matters into their own hands in the cause of bread and justice. Weakened at home by World War II, and threatened by a rising tide of disorder in the colonies, the British prepared their exit strategy performed with full Independence rites.
For the leaders of Independence, transition, not transformation, was the mandate and barometer of success. To master the colonial instruments of power as well as the British had, was proof positive of our fitness to rule.
Within less than a decade, transition had lost it allure. By 1970, the demand for transformation was once again surging through the streets, this time to be pacified by the peace offering of a Nationalisation programme under which the commanding heights of the economy- banks, insurance and oil companies- would pass from foreign to local hands. Today, with that policy having reversed itself, we know that nationalization, too, offer a promise that is more skin-deep that real.
As the demographics tilt in favour of the younger, post-Independence generations, Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean stand in need of a new idea around which issues of identity, purpose and solidarity can be organized into the shape of a nation.
In the current climate of deficits of all kind, however, in which the very viability of Caribbean society and economy is under threat, where is a new idea to come from?
It goes without saying that it will have to come from the leadership—not be confused with government—which exists in places big and small all around us.
The striking ,though not surprising thing about this country—as with the rest of the Caribbean- is the capacity of communities for self-government- not to be confused with local government. Everywhere, in every walk of life, there are people, born leaders, keeping faith with the future and looking over the land. They guide the children, organize the energies of the youth; heal the battered; share with the poor; protect the environment; defend the weak and walk with the fearful. Unless they get sucked into the political drainpipe running from the Treasury, these groups survive through the credibility of their work, their personal powers of persuasion and the goodwill of others.
Alienated, from the start, from the corridors of power, community organisations have been carrying this country on their back right from the beginning of colonial society- and doing so mostly from a position underground. From time to time, as governments collapse in office, life proceeds unimpeded because these organisations keep functioning. For their own safety, survival and sanity, they avoid official power, confining themselves to a parallel network built largely on private, often personal, resources.
Here is where the capacity for government exists, untrumpeted and unnoticed. The irony is that, out of fear of the corrosive threat of electoral politics, it functions off the radar, content to leave politics to the politicians while retaining its power for itself. The result is a national political system of government without power, and power without government. The task of political reform, therefore, lies in nothing as wooden as mere constitutional reform, but in the dynamism to be unleashed by aligning real power and government.
This is no overnight agenda but the heart of the task of cultural transformation, which is the point from which all transformation must start.
Inevitably, constitution reform will have a role in the process, but only a role. The key requirement is the method and mechanism for getting communities of interests to enter a national but decentralized conversation about the future and their place in it. It won’t be easy. The trust issues involved encourage defensiveness, extreme self-interest, commitment phobia and a general tendency to fractiousness. We might therefore wish to start by defining, not our differences, but our common interests. Is there one thing on which we can agree? Maybe two…? Three…?
For political parties, both in and out of office, with firsthand experience of the paralysis of government without power, the challenge is to re-engineer the relationship with the people so that power flows from the ground up and not top-down. It is the only antidote to the resistant culture of the dinosaur politics of Maximum leadership and centralized power – and a critical requirement for securing the political space to govern effectively.
For the leader-centred party inherited by Mr Rowley, this might be harder but, precisely because of this, even more critical. For the People’s Partnership, it should’ve been easy, except for the unimaginative leadership that has failed to grasp the critical importance of establishing what Lloyd Best termed a “Court of Policy” as a nexus between the party and the cabinet, a place where all Partnership leaders are on equal footing, representing their interests in negotiating differences and setting policy so as to permit consensus and smooth transactions at the level of the cabinet. Instead, the melee politics of arbitrary decision-making continues.
Faced with the dead-end at the political summit, it falls now to the people to step out of the shadows and take their future in hand. We need not be afraid. We have the capacity for original thought, critical thinking, negotiation, diplomacy and consensus-building. In doing so, we must each be prepared to speak our truth: clearly, responsibly and civilly.
In March 2012, the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies, publishers of the T&T Review, will do its part with the convening of the Common Sense Convois, a Caribbean Caucus on 50 Years of Independence. We invite you to let your voice be heard and to let history declare you present.
In the course of a single generation, the can-do Independence generation that was born into the promise of possibility managed to populate the region with all the leaders and professionals needed to service Caribbean society. Today, it has given way to the can’t-do generation paralysed by a crisis of self-confidence and trapped in a reality of impossibility. Condemned to the ranks of the Third World by the power brokers of the self-anointed First; reduced to sun, sand and sea by an escapist Hollywood, and dismissed as mere trans-shipment points for drugs, today’s generation comes to age
Without this, the sense of drift, already so palpable, will convert these islands into a string of porous rocks, eroded to nothingness by the global influences washing through the region on their way to somewhere else.
The results are uneven among the sub-regions, given that the South American countries grew by 4.6 per cent, the economies of Central America by 4.1 per cent and the Caribbean nations by only 0.7 per cent.