"A must read book on the Caribbean in 21st Century"

Guyana Chronicle
April 9, 2000

IT IS A must read for those with more than a passing interest in where we are at this juncture of Caribbean history and how our scholars, intellectuals and decision-makers think we should approach the region's social, economic, cultural and poetical developments for at least the first two decades of the 21st century.

An epic contribution by the University of the West Indies (UWI), it is a 608-page book on `Contending with Destiny: The Caribbean in the 21st Century'. Undoubtedly a prized publication of Ian Randle Publishers (IRP) in Kingston, the book is the product of a three-day Conference on the Caribbean in the 21st Century, held at the UWI's Mona Campus in September last year.

The conference was organised by the UWI in cooperation with the Caribbean Community Secretariat and the Caribbean Development Bank, and brought together scholars from the region, policy makers in government, the private sector and the NGO community as well as representatives of regional institutions to reflect upon the challenges facing the Caribbean and to identify strategic responses which could inform policy.

Edited by Kenneth Hall, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the UWI, Mona Campus, who has provided a valuable introduction, and Denis Benn, Michael Manley Professor of Public Affairs/Public Policy at the UWI Mona Campus, the publication reflects the body of presentations, some with practical proposals, made at the 1999 conference.

In 1998, when the UWI was observing its 50th anniversary, the event marking that historic occasion was designated "a celebration of the past and a commitment to chart the future".

As the UWI's Vice-Chancellor, Rex Nettleford, has noted, having celebrated "the past", the 1999 conference underscored a commitment to begin the process of "charting the future" and to face up with a sense of urgency in so doing.

Copies of the book are expected to be sent to Havana by the UWI for this week's historic five-day South Summit in Cuba which begins with a meeting of technocrats today in Havana followed by ministerial and heads of government sessions.

In his `Afterword' to `Contending with Destiny', Nettleford writes: "The Caribbean, which is currently poised between a historical definition of its reality and the possibility of a redefinition of its geographical, linguistic and cultural boundaries, represents a unique coming together of people from different regions of our globe ...."

I, therefore, consider as rather unfortunate that, in the challenge to urgently contend with our destiny, there was a failure, to benefit also from the rich ideas and creative imagination of scholars and intellectuals from that wider Caribbean family located in the three other major language areas, instead of settling for contributors of just the anglophone - knowledgeable and experienced as they may be.

A glance at the list of contributors reveals some very well-known and respected names in the fields of Caribbean geography, culture and identity, economics, politics, science and technology, literature and the arts.

But most disappointingly, for such an event as the September '99 Conference and the resulting volume of major presentations, there is no representation from either Cuba or Haiti, Dominican Republic or Suriname.

Nornan Girvan, the new Secretary General of the Port-of-Spain-based Association of Caribbean States (ACS), went on record to express his disappointment when he addressed the September conference at Mona on "Creating and Recreating the Caribbean".

"Anglophones like ourselves", declared Girvan - a former founder-chairman of the Association of Caribbean Economists (ACE) - "are in the habit of talking as if we ARE the Caribbean. We go about the place calling our regional organisation the `Caribbean Community' and christening a host of other primarily anglophone organisations with the name `Caribbean', displaying a degree of cultural arrogance that is exceeded only by our geographic ignorance and strategic myopia".

Harsh, as this may appear, the reader will nevertheless find how Girvan goes on to share his own four broad notions of what constitutes the `Caribbean'. And his criticisms in no way affect the importance of the range of inspiring contributions located between the covers of `Contending with Destiny'.

For example, the ideas of thinkers like Clive Thomas and Havelock Brewster - co-authors of `The Dynamics of West Indian Integration' that preceded the formation of CARICOM, now advance critical analyses of what must be done in responding to today's challenges. Or Richard Bernal's "outlook" for the first 20 years this century, in an absorbing examination of the Caribbean in the international system.

Lost WI Literature

In his presentation on `The Lost Literature of the West Indies', located in the section on `The Caribbean and the Creative Imagination', Kenneth Ramchand makes the surprising disclosure that over 80 per cent of the Humanities graduates he has taught in the last 15 years were unfamiliar with the works of even two of the outstanding intellectuals of the Caribbean region.

In offering projects for retrieving what is lost and preventing loss of current material, Ramchand disappointingly notes: "Most of the literature of the West Indies is lost because hardly anyone ever reads it. There are few occasions or opportunities for the mass to experience it. It has had no practical effect on socioeconomic policy or political behaviour ...."

In what editors Hall and Benn, as well as Vice-Chancellor Nettleford hope will make a significant contribution in stimulating ideas and action in charting the `way ahead', readers will find eight sections covering some 36 presentations.

The section that follows Hall's lengthy 17-page introduction, focus, for example, on: Strategic Perspectives for the Future. It includes contributions by three CARICOM Prime Ministers Percival Patterson, Basdeo Panday and Owen Arthur, and the Community's Secretary General, Edwin Carrington.

The Caribbean - Geography, Culture, History and Identity; Economic Policy Options in the 21st Century; Science, Technology and Sustainable Development; Caribbean Thought and the Political Process; The Caribbean in the International System and The Caribbean and the Creative Imagination, comprise the other sections that cover a "rich array of ideas and practical proposals" in contending with the Caribbean's destiny.

The book, recently released by Ian Randle Publishers, is now available at the UWI's and other leading bookstores.