I have been a member of the CKLN Board for more years than I care to remember. However, with today’s Launch and having seen the demonstration I can say with Simeon of Scripture, Let us now thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen. About 1000 years after writing was invented and the kings of ancient Sumerian cities decided to set up Edubbas for training in the scribal art some scribes sought knowledge in how to prolong the life of kings and some kings wanted scribes to foretell the future. Seeking to put predictions about the future above question some scribes claimed special expertise based on their ability to examine and interpret the entrails of animals sacrificed to the gods. The source of empirical data used to attempt to forecast the future has changed but I am not sure that the connection to tripe has disappeared. So I can understand if some think that I am will say about the Caribbean in the future is tripe.
My daughter and I watched a fair amount of television together when she was an infant. I watched cartoons with her, and she watched sports particularly cricket with me. I quickly realized that cartoons are very violent. Characters die every two minutes. However, cartoons clearly believe in resurrection as characters killed resume their roles very quickly. When my daughter was about 3 to 4 years old we stopped one day and watched a cricket match in progress. She could identify the wicket keeper, the bowlers, the fielders and the batters. Then she asked me, Daddy where are the talkers? Then I realized that cricket in the real is mostly placed in silence. Commentary is reserved for big matchs. The virtual is different from the real. However, the virtual can facilitate the real. Had she not seen cricket on TV she could not have so readily recognize the players. The virtual and the real can be in dynamic interaction.
The world, including the Caribbean, is at an epoch defining juncture of history as a result of technological, demographic and ecological imperatives. The small, mini and micro states of the Caribbean, which are mostly middle income but heavily indebted, have to determine how they will survive, and possibly prosper, in a globalizing world with new regional and global powers rising and old powers under stress. The information utility called C@ribnet, the NRENS of which we launch today, for the second time, has huge transformational potential.
But this potential will not be realized automatically. Rather, the potential will be realized from the choices that are made, the intentions that prevail and the unintended consequences not anticipated by foresight but will be abundantly clear in hindsight.
As a steward who has labored in the public sphere, I am very conscious of the fact that I have been given the enormous privilege of addressing the principal stewards of C@ribnet and its REN, and NRENS. Stewards operate in the intersection between owners and clients or customers or beneficiaries. Stewards are brokers. Not being a politician my first duty is to address you as stewards in a blunt and frank manner.
One major obligation of stewards is to be faithful. This is because the great temptation and affliction of stewards is to use the resources entrusted to them for other purposes: mostly to their own benefit or those of the cliques or circles to which they belong. It is unfaithfulness of stewards that brought about the crash on Wall Street followed by the bailout by governments and the pain and suffering being endured by many including people of the Caribbean. It is unfaithfulness of stewards that results in many governments not fulfilling the mandates from the electorate given in free and fair elections. It is unfaithful stewards that have brought many charitable trusts into disrepute as intended beneficiaries never benefit from donations made. It is unfaithfulness of some pastors and deacons of some churches that has smeared Christianity and questioned the sincerity of the Church in general. Visions are meaningless if stewards are not faithful.
Another major obligation of stewards is to be shrewd. The intersection in which stewards operate is the point at which competing intentions contend. Often the intersection is jammed as cross purposes seek to prevail. Dysfunction is one consequence of cross-purpose. However, some dysfunctionality is constructive, especially where it serves the interests and aspirations of the intended beneficiaries better that the stated goals of the providers of the resources. It is the responsibility of stewards to clear the jam and getting things moving in directions of progress. This requires sober judgment, careful calculation and wise actions that are never truly neutral. The history of stewardship reveals two types of stewards: stewards of the palace, the providers, and stewards of the people, the intended beneficiaries. The most effective stewards are those who the palace needs and the people trust, for the same reasons: their competency and integrity.
My prayer for you is that you are faithful, shrewd and effective stewards. Without such stewards visions are no more than wishes.
I am patently aware that it is practically impossible to predict the future with any precision. Further, the stated goals and objectives of C@ribnet implicitly constitute the elements of a vision. The best that I think that I can do is to:
1. Define the Caribbean as a place. Geography is critical to any vision of the Caribbean.
2. Sketch some distinctive features of Caribbean people. We are unique is some ways.
3. State those purposes that, in my view, C@ribnet and its NRENS ought to consistently, persistently and explicitly seek to accomplish for by so doing the great transformational potential of this information utility will give the Caribbean and its people the greatest chance to survive and prosper in the decades ahead in a world that we can only see opaquely at this time.
DEFINING THE CARIBBEAN AS A PLACE
The tourist definition of the Caribbean is ‘the islands of the Caribbean Sea’ and that of Caribbean people as “from the islands’. This is as good a working definition as any, with a few caveats. Belize is in Central America. Guyana and Suriname are in South America. However, these countries are oft-times grouped with the islands and have strong historical ties with them. Their shores are washed by the Caribbean Sea but they are continental countries. At the same time Columbia and Venezuela in South America and five countries of Central America, whose shores are also washed by the Caribbean Sea, could enter an objection to their exclusion. However, their objection is overruled on the basis that their strong connections and historical ties are with Latin America and not the Caribbean islands.
The Caribbean Sea is just over 1,000,000 square miles in area. Its water is always warm. Snow is a stranger that has never visited and would definitely not be welcomed. There are over 7000 land masses consisting of islands, islets, cays and rocks jutting out of the Caribbean Sea. These land masses vary in size from Cuba which is over 42,000 square miles to rocks less than a few square feet. No land mass is more than 150 miles from its nearest neighbor. The islands, islets and cays are close to each other. Yet because of the area of sea over which these islands are spread Abaco in the Bahamas in the North is at least two thousand miles from Curacao in the South.
About 100 islands are permanently inhabited. Populations vary in size from Cuba with a population of over 11 million people to Saba with 1824. As would be expected of island states, with the exception of Haiti and the Dominican Republic which share the island of Hispaniola, geographical, political and to some extent linguistic borders coincide. This facilitates insularity, re-enforced by distinctive accents. Separateness, operations in silos, and insularity are real obstacles to any collective agreement and action among the inhabitants of the region.
There are four main language groups: Spanish, English, French and Dutch, with almost all populations speaking a Creole of its own vintage. This is a legacy of European colonization and not of Caribbean origin. Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and St Barthelme are Departments of France. Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands are Dependencies of Britain. Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St Marteen, Saba and St Eustace are Dependencies of Holland. Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands are territories of the United States. What is not to be missed is that governance qualified by explicit external linkages still persists in the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Hence direct flights from Martinique to Paris, Curacao to Amsterdam and Puerto Rico to New York are domestic flights. In today’s world this has real meaning.
There are sixteen politically independent states: twelve Commonwealth Caribbean countries plus Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname. They are nation-states governed by their own constitution, with supposed internal control of their destiny. They make up CARIFORUM, the entity to which the European Union initially gave its grant to establish C@ribent. Cuba and Dominican Republic have strong ties and are often classified and interact with Latin America. The remaining fourteen politically independent states are commonly classified as the Caribbean in international fora. These fourteen plus the six British Dependencies constitute CARICOM of which CKLN is now an Agency. CARICOM, with its regular Heads of Government meetings, has become the focal point of Caribbean action.
Absent is any agency or organization that brings the entire Caribbean together. That is, all politically independent countries, all Departments of France, all British and Dutch dependencies and the US territories are not under one umbrella. Any gathering so comprised is usually an event with no ongoing organic operations.
Given the warm waters, great beaches, sands of various colours but mainly white, the number of sunny almost cloudless days each year, the cooling land and see breezes, and alluring biodiversity the Caribbean as a place is often described as paradise. Hence, the Caribbean as the place called paradise needs no vision, except by those who seek a path to hell. However, idyllic climate, great location on planet Earth and beautiful flora and fauna are only the physical attributes of paradise.
DISTINCTIVES OF THE CARIBBEAN AS A PEOPLE
There is no Homo Sapiens Caribbeanensis. All the peoples of the region came from elsewhere, only at different times and by varied means. The first arrivants, called indigenous people, came by means of which we can only speculate. They seemed to have migrated into the Caribbean from established societies and civilizations in South and Central America. All other ethnic groups arrived since Columbus happened upon the islands in 1492. Spanish, English, French, Dutch and Danish came in different capacities determined by the imperial prerogatives of their nations. They formed a common identify as white and European in the Caribbean. Captives of tribal wars in West Africa were bought by European traders and brought to the Caribbean and sold as slaves. These captives turned slaves formed a common identify as black and African in the Caribbean. Liaisons between white men and black women, some coerced and others consensual, produced a mulatto segment of intermediate status. Jews came in small numbers from Spain, Portugal and Britain and were fitted in with the mulattos. These five groups formed the foundation of Caribbean slave societies.
As a postscript to this early period it is necessary to note that the heroic resistance of the Kalinago of St Vincent and Dominica, called Caribs by the Spanish, is the source of the current name of the place as the Caribbean. In a nutshell, the name Caribbean is the legacy of the conflict between a set of the first arrivants in this hemisphere who were seeking to conquer the place from the south and the Spanish who arrived in the North and sought to establish their hegemony from that direction. The name Caribbean, rooted in resistance, is increasingly prevailing over West Indies, the name first given as a result of mistaken geography.
Following the emancipation of slaves, which began in Haiti in 1804, other ethnic groups entered the Caribbean. These include Indians, Chinese, Javanese, Syrians, and Lebanese.
They varied in numbers in the different Caribbean societies which they entered. In Belize, it is the first arrivants that are the majority. In Trinidad and Guyana, it is people of African and Indian ethnicities that are the major groups. In all other territories, the composition is African majorities with all other ethnicities being minorities. However, the point that must not be missed across all societies is that with respect to resources, the majority groups are marginal and the minority groups are powerful, economically. The power of numbers of the marginal majority often expresses itself in violence that prompts the powerful visible minorities to take action to ameliorate conditions. As a general rule, the unholy trinity of ethnicity, class, and gender are the axes of inequality in the region.
Alcohol, sex, and religion have been among the main integrating factors in Caribbean societies. Bars, beds, bacchanal festivals, churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples are on the whole the common grounds of social intercourse. Over the course of the twentieth century secondary schools have joined this group. Together, they are solutions in which many solutes of Caribbean societies dissolve and even new compounds have been formed. Now C@ribnet in the twenty-first century seeks to join this suite of integrating factors the Caribbean.
Migration has always been a feature of modern Caribbean societies. One urge to migrate is the desire to return to the place of origin of ancestors, be in Europe, Africa or India. It is through such adventures that many have discovered that sojourn in the Caribbean has changed them in such ways that they no longer fit into the societies their ancestors left. They have discovered that as Caribbean people we are Africans without tribes, Indians without castes, Chinese without dynasties, Lebanese and Syrians without militias and Europeans without class. In other words, we have lost the internal distinctive of the civilizations from which our forebears came and we have begun to gain a practical understanding of the common humanity of all humankind.
Another impetus to migrate is to find opportunity for the prospect of a better life elsewhere, whether in building railroads in Central America, or in building the Panama Canal, or in Britain, or the United States, or Canada or wherever. People from the region have found the Caribbean identity as the inclusive umbrella by which to collectively address the challenges they face in these places. In that regard, the Caribbean Diaspora have a greater sense of being Caribbean than their brethren residing in the region. Indeed, Caribbean people living in the Caribbean may be only slightly more than Caribbean people living outside the region.
Whether by backward reach to return to their origins or the forward leap to better opportunities available elsewhere Caribbean people have been developing a greater sense of the place called the Caribbean being home. A finding of one of the polls conducted by legendary Jamaican pollster Prof Carl Stone was that 63 per cent of Jamaican would migrate if given the opportunity. However, that poll also showed that 35 per cent would not, because they had. The public policy implication is clear. Promote migration for a better appreciation of the Caribbean. A growing sense of domicile is reflected in the houses being built all over the region by those who have gone elsewhere and returned or plan to return.
One need for a vision arises from some people living in ‘paradise’ who perceive their state as that of ‘catching hell’. This is exactly what participants classified as living below the poverty line by the 2007 Survey of Living Conditions of St Kitts and Nevis told Interviewers. By economic criteria they were classified as poor but objected to bearing labeled poor. When asked, how would you describe your condition? The reply was ‘catching hell.’ Similar sentiments were expressed in Antigua and Barbuda.
This declaration has to be understood against the background that St Kitts and Nevis is ranked 49 of 178 countries on the UNDP Development Index of 2012. On that Index St Kitts and Nevis is ranked second in the Caribbean to Barbados, which is ranked 30. In Latin America and the Caribbean, St Kitts and Nevis is ranked 6th, that is, behind Argentina 34, Chile 37, Uruguay 46 and Costa Rica 47. In other words, St Kitts and Nevis is performing well above its class as a middle income country. Its per capita GDP is among the highest in the region, however, poverty is spreading.
St Kitts and Nevis is the first country in the Caribbean to implement universal secondary education, which it did in 1966. St Kitts and Nevis along with Barbados send the highest proportion of 16 years to 17 years age cohort to sit CSEC. They enter more subjects per candidate and gain a greater proportion of passes per candidate than their peers in the rest of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Comparatively speaking, and by any standard, their students have been performing well consistently, certainly over the last 20 years. The 2007 Survey of Living Conditions, found virtually no difference in literacy rates between the richest and the poorest quintiles, and only small differences with respect to credentials earned at the secondary level. The unemployment rate was 5.1 percent. Squatting is less than 2 percent.
The bottom line is that many of the persons describing their condition as catching hell have gone to school, done well, are employed, pay mortgage or rent or live with family, but find that what they are earning is less than a living wage. Most importantly, their hopes of advancing in life, of becoming somebody, are as far away as ever.
The fact is that the migration escape route that has been used by Caribbean people for the last 120 years to get away from limited opportunities within the region is now restricted by more stringent immigration barriers and the downturn in Western economies. Further, while the Caribbean has had higher levels participation in primary and secondary education compared to other regions of the world it has lagged behind those regions of the world in tertiary education provisions. At the same time that the knowledge economy is emerging globally, the Caribbean is strained and stretched in providing qualified young people with the level of education that they need to compete in today’s world. In a nutshell, many Caribbean youths have a sense of being trapped in hopelessness. Youth without hope is an anomaly of nature, as birds that cannot fly.
A VISION OF THE CARIBBEAN
Given the fact that the Caribbean is not only a place but a people, and not all Caribbean people live in the place called the Caribbean, what purposes should the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, C@ribnet and its REN and NRENS serve? Looking back from 2043 what has C@aribnet facilitated and enabled by its operations for 30 years?
a) Communities of Practice engaged in action learning. I see communities of practice comprised of almost all professionals, officials, practitioners and bureaucrats from French Departments, British and Dutch Dependencies, U S Territories and the 16 independent countries across the Caribbean routinely and systematically engaged in action learning in all fields. I see communities of practice in Health, Education, Local Government, Tourism, Trade, Manufacturing, Public Water Supply, Energy, Climate and indeed the entire range of public affairs. Gone are the days when professionals, officials and bureaucrats practiced their crafts in isolation from their peers in the Caribbean and their points of reference and data were outside the region. These communities of practice constantly share data; compare and contrast variations in circumstances; report different approaches tried; and consider the results obtained with regard to common phenomena impacting the Caribbean. These communities of practice embrace Caribbean diversity, utilize the unique natural laboratory that the Caribbean is and apply the practical knowledge gained to improve efficiency and effectiveness in their respective fields. These communities of practice began on virtually on C@aribnet through a common space that shared text and stored documents, then added video discussions, built databases and held annual conferences, periodic seminars and ad hoc colloquia which combined both face-to-face and virtual participation. The community of practice that has not escaped my attention is the one involving the election management body of every territory of the Caribbean. I note particularly that one of their first projects was to share strategies and approaches used successfully to ensure that no voter waited in line for more than one hour in order to cast their ballot. I see from their archives that this knowledge was immediately shared with colleagues in Ohio and Florida who adopted them with great effect in the US Presidential elections in 2016. b) Comprehensive and complete on-line catalogues, archives and digital databases of all studies done in all fields on any aspect of the Caribbean by scholars inside and outside of the region. I see that CKLN through support for NRENS had assisted documentalists and librarians to complete the digitization of collections of studies done in the Caribbean in all fields and had entered into relationships with documentalists and librarians in all parts of the world to gain access to studies on the Caribbean in their collections and all studies are now accessible through C@ribnet. As a result I see expanded engagement of Caribbean scholars, inside and outside the region, in building conceptual schemes, universally applicable, but born out of grappling with Caribbean data and realities. I see that the cycle of exporting talent and importing knowledge inspired by realities elsewhere has been broken. I see meta-cognitive analyses and state of the art reviews that have been done on studies in many fields. I see students and scholars doing literature reviews in their fields that are not lopsided and limited in the references of studies have been done in the Caribbean simply because they did not know of such studies or could not get access to them. As a result research in the region is conducted with full knowledge of previous work done in the particular field. Further, through seamless connections RedClara, Internet 2, GEANT/DANTE and UbuntuNet Alliance, C@ribnet affords
scholars and researchers in other parts of the world access to Caribbean all research studies done in and on the Caribbean.
c) Centres of Excellence in various fields generating knowledge born out of the exigencies of the Caribbean and the curiosity and contrarian positions of its scholars. The focal points of these Centres are located in different institutions across the region and involve research teams with members from drawn from different countries and conducting multidisciplinary studies requiring inter-institutional collaboration. Gone are the days when the majority of research done in the Caribbean was by students reading for Masters and Ph D degrees and individual researchers persistently pursuing their passion. Gone too are the days when scholars with research skills, but who choose to work in their countries, are isolated and cut off from their colleagues and the opportunity to participate in research activities being done in their fields. The emergence and development of distributed Centres of Excellence located in different institutions across the Caribbean was fostered and facilitated by fact that the REN and NRENS encouraged these Centres to carefully build a comprehensive inventory of research capacities in all participating institutions and also to construct a comprehensive inventory of all scholars, professionals and bureaucrats with research competences and interests and to shared these along with the policies that promote collaboration between institutions in developing the critical mass needed for high quality research instead of duplicating sub-standard isolated entities. Accordingly, graduate students are integrated into research teams led by outstanding researchers engaged in exploring their common curiosity or contrarian position.
d) Collaboration and connection in e-learning involving students, teachers and principals in urban and rural schools, outer islands and main island schools, colleges and schools across all the countries of the Caribbean, and with schools and colleges serving Caribbean students in the Diaspora. I see C@ribnet as the platform of connection of Caribbean people during their formative years of learning. It is the virtual on-line space that brings the distant Caribbean people separated by sea near to each other. The platform where students and teachers of different territories come to know each other by name. The platform where they form cross-territory study groups, form inter-island friendships, socialize and even play together. I see that connecting and collaborating virtually in their formative years Caribbean people have created and enhanced the social capital needed to solve real problems requiring collective action and partnership arrangements.
e) Conveying and inspiring consciousness of Caribbean civilisation and culture. While being an information utility connecting communities, facilitating collaboration and cooperation I see that C@ribnet over the years inspired and convey consciousness of Caribbean civilisation and culture. This was accomplished mainly by the fact that the NREN provided open Forums that allowed ongoing region-wide reflection and introspection on two main questions. Are there defining and distinctive features that mark the Caribbean and its people? How ought the Caribbean to construct its future within the context of a globaling and regionalizing world? Without seeking to impose any position but periodically encouraging synthesis of the views expressed slowly consensus emerged on several aspects and consciousness of Caribbean civilisation and culture was enhanced
f) The conscience about young people ‘catching hell’ in the Caribbean and their cause. I see that the same thing happened to C@ribnet that happened to charity schools founded in Barbados and Jamaica in the late 17th century and during the 18th century. Charity schools were created to fill the ‘hole’ for schooling that existed at that time in the Caribbean. Their focus was on the young people ‘catching hell’ at that time, who happened to be poor white boys. Their mission was to provide a means of escape from persistent poverty. Over time the focus and mission shifted to include mulattoes, Jews, girls and blacks. In the process charity schools were transformed into institutions their founders never imagined. In a nutshell charity schools were imported from Europe by persons who embraced the cause of education and had a conscience about poor white boys catching hell. Caribbean usage served the cause, satisfied the conscience, transformed the institution and consistently offered hope to those ‘catching hell’. Looking back over the last 30 years I see that people of conscience about young people catching hell have used C@ribnet to serve the cause of these youths by becoming an incubator of entrepreneurship, a placement service with global reach, a platform of work and means of accessing tertiary and higher education. As such many of the young people who were catching hell have been fully integrated into the global knowledge economy. It should be noted that young people catching hell came to embrace C@ribnet not only as an instrument of learning, a toll of work, a means of communication but above all as a symbol of hope.
g) C@ribnet fully financed by Caribbean sources. I see that CLKN has just written a book about the travails of funding C@ribnet in the lean years when donor agency grants ended, institutions struggled with their own survival, Government funding was minimal but through the faithfulness, shrewdness and commitment of the steward who operated its REN and NRENS, the utility was kept alive. Slowly but surely as a priceless value of C@ribnet became self-evident institutions re-structured their expenditure, garnered consistent funding from their governments, and created income generated services which together help the utility to achieve financial viability. The bottom-line was that while appreciating the external funds that founded C@rib-net, the Caribbean moved to bear the on-going cost of its own knowledge and learning network.
Hopefully this is a Vision of the Caribbean and not just the dream of a Caribbean man in his reclining years.
February 26, 2013