Tuesday, 08 January 2013 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
I’d like to begin a public conversation about the future of Antigua and Barbuda’s politics and by implication, the Caribbean’s development.
Grenada, Barbados, most likely St. Kitts and Nevis, and shortly thereafter, Antigua and Barbuda will consider the road to a better way via general elections. Before we throw the measuring line away, we need to know: How do we create an open society that addresses emptiness of spirit? Where are the courageous voices against economic inequality, rape and homelessness?
A cocktail of confusion is in Antigua and Barbuda. Good governance collides with desperate tactics to stay in power. Moneyed interest disregards social ideals. Gerrymandering looms. And a jobless crisis has produced a flood of crimes.
With supreme challenges facing the nation, PM Baldwin Spencer has vowed to realize hope and stay on task. For anyone to believe Spencer is to exchange ambivalence for another nightmare. Spencer allowed his quest for honorary accolades to alter his people-first mantra. He has some vision and leadership. But his vision is static and his leadership has led to national bankruptcy.
On the contrary, Opposition Leader, Honorable Gaston Browne envisions a stronger economy and a more inclusive government.
He pledges a safer and more caring leadership by making government beneficial to the people. Browne conveys confidence and openheartedness, with a teachable spirit. As he creates an aligned team, there’s expectancy and promise.
In the background, Minister of Finance, Harold Lovell gripped by high visibility but low viability, harps on small fiscal gain, but openly delivers misguided economic pain. His suicidal tax policy is blowing a huge hole in the business sector and draining ordinary people pockets. Appearing smooth in tone, but unutterably mean and sordid in practice, the minister promises prosperity even though village life has become a scramble for basic food. Ultimately, nation-building can’t be reduced to a Mickey Mouse cartoon. It is a noble calling, not a showcase career.
The choice is stark. It is between a government with a long track record of poor performance, and a new Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party with an elevated sense of ambition.
Perhaps we are possessed with pure patience or we know how to fake our anger. Couched in a dark gorge against a hushing river, recent polls show that the younger generation has dismissed the government. But youngsters haven’t yet felt the need, to think more concretely and creatively, about breaking cycles of brutal disappointment.
Yet, toxic party politics keeps adults furious. We defend unethical ordeals simply because our party is in power. We justify evil to weld influence. We cuss at each other grim and gruesome, to avoid real issues. We pelt fire, fuss, and frustration at the opposition, while glossing over the many ways we accept hunger and poor wages. The lack of ownership of land, home, business and patrimony is seen as normal.
Take for example, gender discrimination, poor healthcare, ruthless robberies, English and Mathematics failures at the primary and secondary schools level and barefaced incompetence. These problems persist regardless of which political party holds the mantle of power.
Yes! Propaganda is blended with fruit cake promises and the politics of tomorrow. These elements do not provide equal opportunity for self empowerment and cultural refinement. We end up with image making, but with little drinking water.
The root of this problem goes back to the central presence of self-rejection. Now, we are stuck with the selves that we can’t accept. That’s why some of us feel that an eloquent tongue and sharp attire are solid qualifications for high office. Therefore, we engage in outright distortions of brutal facts about the operation of statecraft. Shouldn’t we be busy finding real solutions and solving rampant problems? I can’t wait for us to stop importing unhelpful trinkets. I crave the day when we totally drop fancy acronyms (YES, PEP, NEST, YETI, EACH, GATE etc) to prop up our ineffectiveness!
We need more change agents. Some should be protecting the mentally ill, others rehabilitating those found on the wrong side of the law, and the rest working to build coalitions and form solidarity around common ideals, aspirations and hopes. Useful change can happen, despite limited resources, institutional constraints, and faith-based interventions.
Our greatest difficulty isn’t that we can’t agree on what constitutes a good society. I believe we know how to define a healthy nation, a strong sub-region, and a prosperous Caribbean. We’ve chosen spinelessness and self-centeredness instead of integrity and truth. Give us some cash and we’ll crash our souls!
If ‘we- the- people’ are going to make a difference in the body politics, we will have to take off our narrow party blinders. There are common interests and cross-cutting alliances where sustainable reform could take root. Some examples: a vibrant agriculture system that feeds our people, ample green energy that stimulates our economy, reliable air and sea transportation, more inter-regional trading, collective strategy for economic stability, expanded opportunities for our educated professionals and skilled workers to contribute constructively to nation building, and local innovations to global problem solving.
The best hope for a positive social movement is one that puts the advancement of the ordinary man and woman on the street, front and center.
To engage in critical political activism, our participation cannot be based solely on elections and re-elections. It must be rooted in justice, the higher purposes of a better life, and inclusive policies and programs that improve livable conditions for Caribbean peoples. I sense we will have to think about several creative methods to organize resistance around deeper transformational forces. We can’t continue keeping or getting rid of the party in power only to end up with worse conditions. Greed can’t inspire a vision of the bigger picture.
The call is to build constituencies of shared goals and motives. This could create better countries across party lines. We have some growing up to do to sustain a consciousness that advances our sub-region. In fact, we should insist on a genuine kind of collective accountability that demands excellence and ethics from our leadership core!
We-the-people can’t continue soaking ourselves in rum and party. We must commit to what’s right, what’s good, and what’s best for all of us. This commitment has bite. It will undermine complacency and focus our passion on how we ought to live.
Harnessing national needs around geo-political opportunities could inspire thoughtful dialogue and powerful alliances. If we tame our fire, a winner-takes-all politics will hurt us--some more than others!
Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.