In this 40th year of the recovery of our independence we will be marking 181 years since our foreparents were freed from chattel slavery. Those 40 years represent merely another phase in a journey started in 1838. The journey was to take control of our own affairs and to build a society that would satisfy the hopes of those who were freed of their shackles. 1838 really paved the way for another kind of struggle. The freedom granted was limited in scope with enormous obstacles placed in the path of those who had welcomed what August 1 offered. The Times newspaper 100 years later recognised that what happened on that glorious day was only a step toward economic, intellectual, and spiritual emancipation. Those words were printed in 1938, eighty-one years ago. How do we stand today?
As we are wont to do, the emphasis is going to be on celebrating another emancipation anniversary, and 40 years after we embarked on flag independence discarding the British flag and anthem.
Of course, there is need for celebration, but not for glamorisation for the challenges are increasing in magnitude as we face a globalised world that might even be enslaving us in different ways.
The challenges are increasing in intensity as we try to interface in a world that is technologically, and service-driven and knowledge based. As a society we have to develop an understanding of that world that is regularly transforming itself. Let us at the same time remember that we are small fish in a huge ocean. We can easily lose our way and sense of being, glorying in the fact that we secured a seat on the UN Security Council. This might give us some bragging rights but brings little else, for the reality is that decisions are made by those who are powerful. Let us never forget that the population of our country can easily fit into any small town in even medium sized countries. Our economy is really chicken feed as we depend so much on grants. Members in our consulates earn their kudos by their ability to beg.
Now this does not mean that we must lie down and play dead, but a reminder that we have to make realistic assessments as we go about our business and interface with others. There is so much nonsense spoken today that distorts our reality. Very often we brag about the number of cars on the road and the number of mobile phones, and of such things. Let us be real, the world goes on and there isn’t a single Caribbean country that has not seen rapid increases in these areas, even more than us. We can perhaps best be described as having champagne tastes on a mauby economy although we are driven by what are considered necessities of life.
As we assess our journey and look at the way ahead, we cannot neglect certain areas that are essential to our very existence. There is the matter of production. We have downsized our agriculture and are emphasizing tourism but fail to recognise that tourism is a service-based industry that caters for unique experiences. We also have to secure our agricultural base. The world economy has become knowledge based. How do we fit in? It is more than the production of an ever-increasing number of graduates. We have to take a hard look at our education, formal and non-formal and create something that can propel us forward. This involves emphasizing creativity and critical thinking.
While we can brag about what we have achieved since 1838 and 1979 we have to begin to identify weaknesses and challenges that we often hope will go under the proverbial carpet. These are what will matter since our inability to identify and put things in place might very well be our undoing.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian