Thursday, 14 March 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
Long ago, before finally escaping into low Earth orbit, Yours Truly came into contact with a book.
Intended for use in some sort of religious education programme for young persons, the book was entitled “Fashion Me a People”. I never actually read the thing, though the volume knocked around the house for a while. The title stuck, though, mainly because of the vaguely biblical sound of it.
Often, over the years of internal exile and occasional ostracism, my thoughts have returned to the implications of that book title. The words had resonance for me, as I surveyed and lived our local and regional leaders’ stumbling attempts to shoulder their mission of developing viable societies in our small island states.
For the modern people of the East Caribbean island shield, our lifetimes have been entirely founded in a sense of mission. Practically every person born and living in our islands today will have been steeped in a lifelong culture of liberation politics. The oldest generations will have seen the era of struggle against Nazism, Imperialism, Communism, and Capitalism. The threat of Neocolonialism and Recolonisation has dogged the steps of the younger generations. The historical struggle against the abomination of industrial African slavery has informed our history and our mores. The culture of the plantation still rules us to this day.
Great liberation figures have featured in our history. Memories of Simon Bolivar abound even in our own fair land. Fidel Castro, the Caribbean man who rocked the world, still lives. Long after his futile, quixotic demise, Che Guevara remains a powerful cult icon. The ill-fated Hugo Chavez has only just left the scene after making his own enduring contribution to the mythology of liberation.
All the territories in our family boast their own homegrown heroes, from Cipriani to Bustamante. Most came out of the labour movement, spawned during the period of unrest that spanned the years between the two World Wars. The Great Depression that really hit in 1929, but actually began before that, created levels of privation in these islands that forced social change; and movements like the Antigua Trades & Labour Union sprang up – to be turned by leaders like Vere Cornwall Bird Sr into powerful political tools.
It was all supposed to have been about fashioning ourselves into a people, no matter how few our numbers or how small our territory. We in the Caribbean have never thirsted to rule the world nor aspired to conquer space. It has been sufficient for us to have hungered for solutions to the spatial separation and economic challenges that have limited our ability to achieve our fullest potential.
Our leaders of the liberation era were charged, whether they knew it or not, with the mission of creating small but viable island societies as building blocks of a strong regional economy. It was all about “empowerment”, and that hackneyed word is much bandied about today. The “catch” was that the people who got “empowered” were mainly the newly anointed liberators and whatever cronies managed to scramble onto their bandwagon.
This is not to say that growth and development did not take place, and that the lives of thousands were not made richer and fuller as the world economy pulled the Caribbean along with it during the post-WWII years of plenty. Better living conditions came with a hidden cost, however, and the price was the stunting of the people’s political evolution. The struggle over the limited supply of spoils available meant that by and large the pursuit and maintenance of political power took precedence over socio-economic development.
The “empowerment” was strictly for the politicians, so that they could be “empowered” to perform heroic feats on behalf of “the poor people”. The “poor people”, far from being empowered, now depend on their liberators in exactly the same way as poor peasants in Colonial Times once depended on Massa.
Empowerment of politicians, when conjoined with the economic imperative to attract Foreign Direct Investment, has inexorably pushed these once liberated islands in the direction of recolonisation. FDI having recolonised the mind and will of desperate small-island politicians like the ones we have here in our unfair land, national leaders now deem themselves empowered to champion the process of recolonisation in the name of national development.
That giant poultry farm boondoggle now being touted the length and breadth of Antigua is a case in point. It is as though the eager, enthusiastic government ministers who push these huge, island-changing, all-consuming projects are dazzled by visions of FDI-supported monster projects generating “hundreds” of jobs and therefore hundreds of votes.
The “Holy Grail” seems to be that one, giant deal – the Dato Tan, Allen Stanford, Gravenor Bay species of mega-mega boondoggle – so huge that the political bread of any politician associated with it will be buttered forever, secured by the unlimited gratitude of “poor people”.
It seems that the politicians we have charged with the mission of “fashioning” our new, young nation have never understood that the way to “develop” a country is to build the nation’s people.
Lost as they are in a cloudy world of FDI and investors and underhand deals and campaign financing, the clueless leaders are eager to lead a new colonization drive, encouraging their trusting followers to abandon any thought of personal independence and self-reliance.
The message sent is a confession of national failure, an admission that “industrial development by invitation” is another word for the abandonment of any real national ethic. The move to close a local productive sector, built up over decades, in favour of complete foreign domination spells the death of a nation …the murder of a people’s dream, killed by their leaders’ lack of vision.
At this moment the small, independent poultry producers of Antigua & Barbuda are inventorying their assets, preparing to “sell up” and move out of a niche they have carved out by their individual, independent efforts. As far as we know at this time the value of their efforts – and their lives – is estimated at a mere US$1,000,000.
That small figure stands for more than the value of our local poultry industry as seen by a group of foreign businessmen. It also represents the value that neo-colonialist politicians are prepared to put on the efforts, lives, hopes and dreams of their own people.
At this moment, poultry producers and politicians alike are busily counting their chickens.