Metaphors of Devel­op­ment

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Dr. Gale Rigob­ert

Thirty-six years on, a young fledg­ling state strug­gles to de­fine and dis­tin­guish it­self in a world of na­tion states that are much far­ther along the jour­ney. Of the many states still break­ing through the cocoon of in­fancy, Saint Lu­cia can boast of hav­ing a sta­ble democ­racy with free­doms that are the envy of many. We jeal­ously guard our sovereignty and au­ton­omy with a pride that far sur­passes any no­tion of small size that might char­ac­ter­ize an is­land of 238 square miles.

Break­ing free from the shack­les of colo­nial­ism must have meant more than the rais­ing of a na­tional flag, recit­ing a pledge and singing of a na­tional an­them. With po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence came the added re­spon­si­bil­ity of chart­ing a course for so­cio-eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment. A small is­land state such as ours is of­ten caught in the quag­mire of self-def­i­ni­tion and self-as­ser­tion in an in­ter­na­tional space where our voice sel­dom rises be­yond an au­di­ble whis­per. Ex­cept of course should we band to­gether with other states of sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance who might share a com­mon philo­soph­i­cal po­si­tion. And herein lie the age old jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and com­pul­sion to strengthen the bond among is­land states of the Caribbean that for geo­graphic, cul­tural, his­tor­i­cal or eco­nomic rea­sons may very well ben­e­fit from the “strength of num­bers”. But our jour­ney of sev­eral decades as mapped out in the de­tail of the ex­pe­ri­ence of the ill-fated West In­dian Fed­er­a­tion, or of CARICOM and the OECS that fol­lowed, sug­gest that the am­biva­lence of the wa­ters that sep­a­rate us or connect us, is at the crux of the devel­op­ment co­nun­drum of the Caribbean. This is fur­ther com­pounded by an in­su­lar­ity, born in part out of an im­pulse to pro­tect self (self­in­ter­est).

But the ques­tion arises, can the lan­guage that of­ten de­scribes the ex­pe­ri­ence of the now de­vel­oped coun­tries ad­e­quately ex­press the chal­lenges and ex­pe­ri­ences of small de­vel­op­ing states? And do con­cepts such as in­de­pen­dence, au­ton­omy and sovereignty mean the same thing when ap­plied to de­vel­op­ing states? And by the same to­ken, the devel­op­ment that we crave, is it to be per­ceived in like man­ner to that which those ad­vanced na­tions ex­hibit?

Of­ten when I get stuck in the North­ern bound traf­fic on the John Comp­ton high­way, I won­der qui­etly whether the traf­fic jam in ef­fect de­notes that we are do­ing well as a na­tion, to the ex­tent that there are so many ve­hi­cles on is­land (and that speaks of some kind of ad­vance­ment!), or con­versely that the halted traf­fic in ef­fect sug­gests the in­ad­e­quacy of our phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture (road net­work) that we have some dis­tance to go still along that long path to devel­op­ment! The trap­pings of moder­nity and devel­op­ment are ev­i­dent in garb, ar­chi­tec­ture, culi­nary taste, recre­ational op­tions/ choices - that to the naked eye may very well sug­gest that we have come some dis­tance. But are we miss­ing one of the most fun­da­men­tal pre­cur­sors to devel­op­ment … and that is, in­de­pen­dence of thought and cre­ativ­ity not mired in com­pul­sions to mimic those who ap­pear to be far­ther along. Or is it that glob­al­iza­tion has stripped coun­tries like ours of op­tions sep­a­rate and apart from the gen­eral cur­rents of the days. The mo­ment for self-def­i­ni­tion and as­ser­tion may have passed and we are now left to trail along well-trod­den paths that at times look more like an ob­struc­tion course!

That re­al­ity is some­how masked by the level of ac­cess, par­tic­i­pa­tion and en­gage­ment that is af­forded us, thanks to the new forms of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and the ever crowded high­way of so­cial me­dia. And so, very high il­lit­er­acy rates, low lev­els of ac­cess to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, poor health sys­tems, ris­ing cost of living, an un­com­fort­ably high food im­port bill, a dis­turbingly high debt to GDP ra­tio all of which char­ac­ter­ize the pit­falls of un­der­de­vel­op­ment es­cape the at­ten­tion that they so des­per­ately de­serve.

Hence the ques­tion, does the devel­op­ment that we so ur­gently de­sire amount to lit­tle more than a metaphor?

Dr. Gale Rigob­ert is MP for Mi­coud North and Leader

of the Op­po­si­tion

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