The following is taken from the blog of the Race and Resistance Network, posted by a Will Ghosh on 28 January 2016: “On the evening of Tuesday 26 January Professor Hilary Beckles—the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission—gave a lecture at the Martin School in Oxford on the subject of Slavery and Reparations: Britain’s Black Debt. That morning he spoke to a small group of Oxford students at New College on his ambitions for the reparations movement and the historical work that underpinned his activism. Director of the C.L.R. James Center of Cricket Research, and a member of the West Indian Cricket Board, Professor Beckles began the conversation on the front foot: the Slavery Abolition Act (1833), one of the most racist pieces of legislation ever formulated in the British parliament—which required the payment of 20 million pounds to the slave owners in compensation for loss of property, and that the slaves themselves serve out an unpaid six-year apprenticeship as further defrayment of their owners’ losses. Not only were the slaves left homeless and uncompensated for their suffering but they were also forced in effect to purchase their own freedom from a group (and within a wider society) they had helped make rich. The central analogy that Beckles posited was this: imagine a woman who has for many years been abused by her husband, who has been subjected to physical violence not least when she has tried to assert her own independence and liberty. She finally leaves him. But when her free-at-last euphoria subsides, she finds she has consigned herself and her children to poverty, separating them from the family wealth and infrastructure that she helped to create. For Beckles, this metaphor serves to describe both the post-emancipation and post-independence periods in West Indian societies. As he later explained: ‘I wanted to link the reparation debate to the current economic underdevelopment in the Caribbean, where the sheer weight of the colonial mess has threatened to overwhelm even the best efforts of the regional authorities.’ ”
Shortly before this country’s 2005 general elections, that is to say, some eleven years earlier, Hilary Beckles had addressed the incumbent Saint Lucia Labour Party’s conference of delegates in Vieux Fort, if memory serves. He confessed he was especially worried about where our region was headed. “We have to ask ourselves whether our institutions as we have them are capable of taking us into the future,” he said, “and whether as citizens we are satisfied that we are viable as individuals in the future world.” He expressed grave concern about “the process of government and the institutions in society.” Also about “the responsibility and the identity of the Caribbean citizen in refashioning our civilization for the future.” The world we lived in was “ruthless and merciless with respect to societies that are inflexible and unresponsive,” he said. “We need to understand this, to feel it, and come up with some idea of how we are going to proceed.”
Before an audience that included Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, his Cabinet and invited foreign officials, Beckles sounded an ominous note: “We need to know that the price for non-adjustment, for non-compliance, for knowledge deficiency in the world ahead will be great. We cannot assume all societies will survive; we cannot assume all societies will be coherent and not disintegrate. We are speaking about immediate action within our space.”
He warned that globalization had created “a political culture that we need to understand. Gone are the days when government was seen as the most important force in development. Government is now seen as the facilitator; the enabler. The engine of growth and development in any society is the citizen. The role of government is to empower the citizen to lead development.”
Additionally: “There is now an international business, intellectual and commercial class. All of the professions of knowledge are being internationalized and you can move from one society to the other across that space. Any society or citizen who is not part of that space falls off the edge and is sent into social and economic backwardness.” He noted that at least a quarter of the Caribbean’s work force was victimized by hard-core unemployment, while the region’s economies remained dependent to varying degrees on financial stabilization from the IMF, the World Bank or other monetary institutions. The question to be answered, he averred, was: “Given our background can we as a people go into the future with our ineffective systems?”
As for politics as we’ve known it, this was the lesson Professor Hilary Beckles handed the incumbent Labour Party’s conference of delegates in 2005: “We have to look at the process of organized politics that already has divided our societies far too deeply. We now find our communities have been torn and tortured by party politics. Families are divided. Villages and streets are divided, leaving societies unable to construct strong civic organizations through which we can promote independent development . . . What has emerged as politics in the Caribbean is really the rampant, unrestricted, undeveloped masculinity that has contaminated government to exclude women because they are the more sophisticated sex . . . I believe the people in the Caribbean are turning their backs against division, turmoil, irrelevant conflict, nonsensical opposition and they are looking for cohesion. I believe they know the winner-takes-all approach to party politics cannot be scientific; cannot be rational and makes no sense. We must forget and suppress the issues that divide us and find the issues that bind us. Let us find common ground and build on it.”
The room was especially quiet when Beckles intoned: “No political party in the Caribbean can afford to alienate sections of the community. No political party can see itself as responsible for all the solutions and all the answers to a country’s problems. Any political party that promotes internal conflict, that generates unnecessary division among the citizens is a party that turns its energies against the society. And it should be banished from the society. We are looking for leaders who are not vindictive, not partisan, and who will mobilize every good for social development.” Not long after the professor’s visit the Saint Lucia electorate voted the SLP out of office in favor of the United Workers Party under Sir John Compton.
It remains conjectural whether Beckles had any hint that his warning to Kenny Anthony had earlier been given the prime minister by his own late foreign affairs minister George Odlum: “You have managed to do in just three years what it took the previous administration 40 years to accomplish: you’ve alienated the church, the private sector, the people!”
Shortly after taking office on June 6, 2016 the new prime minister Allen Chastanet announced, as he had during his six-week snap-election campaign, that while he planned to run the country’s affairs “like a business” it would not be business as usual. He took the opportunity not long afterward to say the work force he inherited was not nearly ready for the modern work place, that while under construction one local hotel was left little choice but to import over 50 percent of its personnel. And although he did not actually say so, his reference was to lower echelon construction site laborers.
The more things change: Back in the late 80s John Compton had cautioned the nation against its dependence on low-paying, footloose, fly-by-night jobs. The nation was desperately in need of appropriately skilled and educated workers, the prime minister said. His successor Vaughan Lewis echoed Compton’s message in 1995. While delivering his only budget presentation the one-year prime minister revealed that the local work force was incapable of carrying out what at the time was universally considered menial jobs, a situation he said was reflective of the nation’s woefully inadequate education system, never mind the millions annually invested in it. As for the three-term Prime Minister Kenny Anthony—who was first elected to office without opposition in 1997—in what would be his final budget presentation he acknowledged “73 percent of our work force cannot access available jobs.” Count on it, he too was referring to bottom-rung construction jobs.
By now, dear reader, you must be thinking: Surely our successive leaders and their closest advisors realized our main problem has always been education, education, education. Why, then, has the situation remained unchanged? This week, a sarcastic senator assured me it had changed—“for the far worse!” Actually, Beckles had advised his guests in Vieux Fort that the key to a fruitful future was education. Recently returned from a visit to Singapore, he recalled the government’s expressed determination to be “the most intelligent island on the planet by 2010 because education will be the key to maintaining political power. Even carpenters would be required to attend university to do programs in carpentry and architecture.”
I imagine you are wondering yet again, dear concerned reader, when will something salutary be done about the quality of citizen we’ve been producing for at least fifty years—the best of whom evidently have had no useful impact on our economy, on our education, agriculture, environment, health services and so on? Almost everything that was wrong with our nation before Independence, that is to say, before there was access to higher learning, is today worse than it was possible to imagine in relatively primitive times.
Our self-declared “best brains” are demonstrably interested only in becoming HOGs and political whalesuckers. Few have betrayed any appetite for the “empower the people” philosophy that Hilary Beckles passionately recommended eleven years ago. The better educated among us continue to be addicted to public service employment at the expense of the fast withering private sector. Save for John Compton (let us leave Allan Louisy out of this; in his time as prime minister he was little more than a puppet in the inept academic hands of amateur puppeteers) our mainly UWI trained leaders have appeared to share a peculiar mindset hazardous to life in simply beautiful Saint Lucia.
Allen Chastanet? Notwithstanding the knee-jerk reviews of his more obvious adversaries, he continues to present himself as something of a renegade, an outside the box thinker, ostensibly in the nation’s best interests. But even as he seeks to clear away the accumulated debris between him and his campaign promises, his supporters grow increasingly restive. Already he has exhausted the first twelve months of his five-year term. Doubtless even today’s uninspired 14-year-olds are wondering what next? Over and over the academics have proved to be little more than dispensers of hot air. Will the businessman-prime minister discover the courage to remove by whatever means necessary the earlier cited roadblocks? And if he should—in defiance of the advice offered an unimpressed Kenny Anthony by Hilary Beckles back in 2005—follow in the muddy footsteps of his self-centered predecessors, what then? Dr. James Fletcher has put together some ideas he believes can provide the solution many have long prayed for. We’ll discuss some of them next time around. Stay tuned.