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Failure of the Eurocentric Development Model

By Ras Tyehimba
December 07, 2008

A statue of Christopher Columbus in Port of Spain 
A statue of Christopher Columbus in Port of Spain
Many people agree that this country is in serious crisis. However, I find that many of these perspectives on the state of Trinidad and Tobago rarely touch on the roots of the issues, especially as they fail to recognize that many of the problems we face are built into the very fabric of Caribbean and Trinbagonian society. Thus, addressing these problems calls for a fundamental questioning of the origins and evolution of our society. Despite this reality, successive governments must take responsibility for the present state of a society where despite the billions in oil/gas revenue flowing through the veins of the country, the people are little better off. The almost 50 billion dollar budget does indeed show that there is a lot of money flowing through the country. But to what extent is this wealth contributing towards shaping a more just and upfull society; to what extent is it contributing towards individuals realizing their potential and being more aware and responsible?

On Following Fools: A Bankrupt Vision

Government officials continually state that Trinidad and Tobago is progressing well as a society and, of course, this view is in the context of their concept of development which they refer to as Vision 2020. Vision 2020, according to the government, is about attaining developed nation status by the year 2020. A basic understanding of history would reveal that Vision 2020 as a model of development is fatally flawed and the masses who are bearing the brunt of this misguided process should be aware of why exactly it is flawed and recognise the need to take a more active role in charting their destiny. Firstly, the model of development as shown in the government's Vision 2020 is about following the so-called 'developed' nations (USA, England, France and others) and it is important as Caribbean people to ask if those societies are really the models of development that we want to follow? Are they developed? Says who? This questioning raises more questions. What is development? Who is developed? Who is not developed? Who defines what is development? Whose interest is it to define development in a certain way?

The pathway of 'development' that is avidly being pushed by the current PNM government is not based on an understanding of the lessons of history, it is not based upon an understanding of the Caribbean or Trinbagonian experiences and cultural legacy. Other political parties (UNC, COP), even when they say they are different have not departed from the essentially Western approach. Our leaders have traditionally privileged and overly-valued what comes from the economically developed countries while at the same time casually dismissing and ignoring the potential of Trinbagonian people. Our leaders and mainstream institutions have been moulding us in the image of a typical Western nation as they see the US and others being the epitome of development. Closer analysis would show that the countries we are aspiring to follow have been founded on the systematic pursuit of profit, material goods and capital accumulation through centuries of genocide, enslavement, exploitation, trickery, deceit, destabilization, and pure military force. As has been shown by Eric Williams, Walter Rodney and more recently by Joseph Inikori, it was the proceeds from Slavery and the Slave Trade that was a major factor in Europe's economic development and the financing of their industrial development.

Even more insights into where we are going as a society come from observing the types of lifestyles of people in the countries that we are aspiring to be like. Though there is easy access to consumer goods and all the other glitz and 'bling bling' of capitalism, the type of social conditioning and the general system produce a zombie, pill-popping population, unhealthy far beyond that which their science could solve, caught up in shallow celebrity worship and consumed by illusions. A society wallowing in consumerism to no end, inequality, racism, depression, disconnection from self, cultureless-ness, rampant mental illnesses and a host of fears and insecurities that allow easy control and manipulation by mass media and politicians. This analysis does not dismiss the counter-currents and aspects of difference and resistance that are present, but those exist more outside of the mainstream than within.

Governance and the People

In Trinidad and Tobago, since Independence, our political parties have subscribed to a very Western capitalist model of (mis) development, and many of the social problems that we are experiencing now are because there has been little attempt by these leaders to question this dominant Eurocentric model of development. It has never been in the interest of those who have held economic and political power to challenge the status quo, even despite the good intentions of some of them.

Within this Western model of development there is the illusion of democracy and people participation. However, our institutions and systems of government have never been rooted in wide participation from the masses of people. Although some say that a democracy is a system created for the people, by the people, and of the people, my understanding of our Western-styled democracy is that that notion is an illusion; a fašade that disguises the reality that there is an absence of wide participation in decision making that results in our society being run by a few, for the benefit of a few. Our social institutions and system of governance are rooted in maintaining the status quo, and that is very much tied to economics. Although various political parties like to portray themselves as being of and for the people, this is more lip service and mamagism than reality.

Part of the arrogance and ignorance of our political leaders is shown by the notions that industrialization, our energy resources, and servile incorporation within the global free market economy are the main things that our country needs to progress and develop. I am not saying economic development is not important but because the overall concept of development by our leaders have been so flawed, the benefits from our substantial resources have not been realized on a fundamental level. Development and progress is not big buildings, mega projects, and spending millions to host international summits that will bring little benefit to the people.

The statue of Christopher Columbus on Independence Square in Port of Spain, is a glaring reminder of how ignorance/dismissal of our history and our consequent foreign worship has condemned us to being slavish followers of a lifestyle which leaves us open to abuse not only from mainstream institutions and inept local leaders but also allows business interests free reign to rape the treasury. It is a disrespect to the indigenous First Peoples and a gross insult to the population to have a statue and a square celebrating Columbus for his so-called discovery of Trinidad and Tobago, while the more sensible among us know that there is nothing about him for us to celebrate. He participated directly in the enslavement, oppression and genocide of the First Peoples and his greed is very much typical of the general European attitudes that have shaped and scarred the Caribbean.

As much as this country has been misdeveloped by the bankrupt visions of political leaders across the political spectrum, the population has to take part of the responsibility for the way things are. If the population were more informed, then the politicians would less be able to get away with much of the poor vision, games, squandermania and other foolishness. The population has been advised to tighten their belt, the price of everything, especially food is continually increasing and it is in this context that people should start to question the road that leaders have been taking us down.

There has to be the construction of an alternative vision of progress and development that is more rooted in an understanding of our historical experiences; a vision harnessing our cultural legacy along with development of indigenous knowledge systems. It is the ideas and experiences from the ordinary peoples of the country that have traditionally been ignored and sidelined that are very needed in this process. The resources of the state, including institutions such as state media, belong to the people, and so there needs to be wider participation and dialogue to allow diverse perspectives to be aired as it relates to 'development' and the state of our society. Without addressing these basic issues and without challenging the dominant and powerful Western and Eurocentric model of existing and doing things (that orders society in a way that materially benefit a few), we will continue to be victims of our own selves, and on a broader level victims of wayward politicians and the local economic elite. When the history of our society is addressed and better understood, then the solutions that need to be undertaken will become clearer.

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