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Tweeting an anti-climax

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The prime minister’s rambling, but in its own way instructive, address to the nation last Sunday was followed on Monday by the release of a far more coherent verdict on the development metrics of Caribbean societies, including our own.

To those who keep an eye on these things, the contrast was more than a little striking when the UN’s Human Development Report (HDR) for the Caribbean was launched in Barbados even as the aftertaste of the prime minister’s address lingered.

To be fair, it might well have been that Sunday’s delivery of Dr Rowley’s inelegantly-crafted rebuke to those who dared suggest his administration “has no plan” was actually an alternative intervention to supplant a far-more spectacular proclamation to address the weaknesses of his Cabinet team. It appears that “Plan B” prevailed.

It showed. The set was chaotic—a single well-positioned flag or two usually does the trick. The videography was more readily associated with a low-cost mobile phone than with high-end state-operated studio equipment and the script-writer ought to have opted for shorter sentences and a more cohesive narrative.

Yet, everywhere, on Sunday, the scramble for comfortable television seats betrayed popular expectations of a snap shuffling of the pack. Against such a backdrop, the temptation to Tweet “anti-climax” had arguably been as journalistically irresponsible as it was absolutely irresistible.

None of this is to cast doubt on either Dr Rowley’s stated commitment to address what is an undeniably-challenging state of affairs or his belief that the prescribed patchwork is an urgent requirement of the moment. The ship is sinking and the leaks need to be plugged as a matter of urgency.
Message received. But the story cannot end there.

It has not helped that the apparatus of political party organisation, on both sides of the divide, has not been trusted with the institutional means to take to the table not only the hammers and sickles of the work to be done but the energy and heart, the software, of the assignment before them. The whole truth and nothing but the truth.

From here we can take the cue from the 2016 HDR which looks at the task of reconstruction from the perspective of “multidimensional progress” measured as “human resilience beyond income.” It would take more than the statistics, damned or not, to engage reality in excess of the mathematics, the argument appears to be suggesting.

In my view, such an approach segues easily into any critical analysis of the prime minister’s claim to possess the ability to mobilise the means to get the country “back (!) on the road to growth, development, social peace, economic stability and transformation where all citizens will get their fair share of national resources and receive good, honest, equitable and transparent government.”

For, what would it take to address the disaffection of growing swathes of citizens drifting beyond the boundary of political and historical cleavages and allegiance, in the midst of what the HDR has assessed to be the “consequences (of economic decline) to individuals, households and terms of self-esteem, feelings of exclusion, powerlessness (and) alienation”?

If a crisis subsists, it owes much of its fertility to the decline in institutions meant to convert popular need into official action. From moribund CBOs to NGOs to agencies of political action—all deeply mired in a disappearing sense of independence and selfhood.

We witness it every day—state patronage as a point of first resort. In very few places the will to make one’s own way in the world. Which self-respecting writer or artist joins a queue for official “recognition”? Which real musician yearns for coerced, legislated love?

Extend this absence of self-esteem to the confidence required to create new poles of economic growth through an understanding of the world beyond the immediate neighbourhood. Communities of interest that span the borderless globe.

The HDR also points to two other areas that turn out to be significantly absent from Dr Rowley’s Sunday sermon. “Nothing that diminishes the rights of people and communities or jeopardises the environmental sustainability of the planet can be regarded as progress,” the report says.

Two concepts—human rights and environmental sustainability. The links with human development are recurring themes of successive HDRs. In 2012 we were reminded, as if we knew before, that the concept of citizen security is not estranged from the notion of sustainable societies and stringent application not only of civil and political rights but social, economic and cultural rights as well.

It cannot be that we expect miracles of one kind or the other. Neither do we expect a single prime minister at the pulpit on a Sunday evening to resolve all the problems of the world. But we can be fed important cues and messages that instill far greater levels of hope, supported by information and knowledge, than we have grown to expect.

In this respect, as we now know from experience, everybody else appears to reside at the same level of incapacity. When the relevant ministers, politicians and senior public servants get their hands on Caribbean HDR 2016, let’s hope they at least have a quick read and take it from there.


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