Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, November 30, 2009

Independent? Free To Show How To Excel?

Barbados today celebrates 43 years of Independence from British rule. But, national independence is merely relative: if it engages widely with the rest of the world, a small country is always dependent on the rest of the world for its survival. That's no tragedy, but needs to be constantly understood. Barbados does not have the luxury to mistreat the rest of the world and has to suffer often being mistreated by the same. The world and life is not symmetrical or fair. But, that does not stop a country doing a lot to help itself.

Barbados has much of which it can be proud: with a small well-educated population and few natural resources other than sun, sea and sand, it has managed to rise as a country with much hope. On that hope it can build; but the hope needs to move from just a set of promises. Barbados undervalues and underuses one of its major resources--it people's talents. It has not blazed a trail that highlights what its people value, and made that stand up to the world as representative, no matter how limited the current appeal may be. It does not matter that no one else knows or plays road tennis, it should be pushed for its uniqueness. Games like boules (petanque) or curling are obscure and maybe limited to certain weather conditions or come closely associated with certain cultures, but their proponents find pleasure in pushing them in front of others' eyes, and even managing to get Olympic recognition, and let the joy spread where it will. They can all be learnt and improved upon by others: that's clearly the case with football, and of course cricket, whose appeal though slower to spread is wider nevertheless. What better than promoting a sport that needs barely any equipment or space?

If you have a 'world champion' in a sport, as Barbados does with draughts and 'Suki' King, then that can be part of the national image, no matter how lowly the sport may seem or how eccentric that world class player may be. Let his playing skills symbolise some positives about the country and its people--as Russia does with chess or China does with table tennis. I remember the days when darts and snooker were played in pubs and bars with beer-swilling and cigarette-smoking raucous yobbos as the main spectators. Now, both are major televised events and have gained style in the way they are played and presented, even if at their base they are little changed and skills must be honed in dark snooker halls or loud pubs and bars. The main thing is that the world has learned to understand that throwing a dart accurately into a board or hitting a ball with a stick so that it hits another ball and falls into a pocket require great skills, dedication, nerves, and more good attributes. They offer positive objectives that can be presented for young people as worthwhile. They do not run counter to learning. Pride comes from mastery. Similarly, if the country is about 'excellence' then tolerance of the mediocre needs to end.

Waiting for other people to 'big you up' is always fraught with disappointment, as it may never happen. Barbados has been lucky in having Rihanna, who now represents the country no matter what she does: her confused life need not reflect badly on the country in equal or greater measure to the way that her singing reflects positively. She can become a positive 'symbol' in many ways, not least saying that it does not matter where you come from if you can raise your talent.

A country really needs to know how to put itself on the map. Barbados knows how to do this because it has maximised the positives out of its various economic and social achievements. But, it seems too content to raise one aspect of those as THE message and image: stability. Barbados need not be known as 'risky'. If the country is 'steady as she goes' then that image can be exploited to show that whatever 'rocks' and 'high waves' it encounters, it can stick to a course. But you have to have a clear course to chart. Barbados is struggling to maintain a clear course, but enough elements are there for that to not be hard to re-establish. The current economic problems it faces are yet another opportunity to show that its 'steadiness' is more likely to prevails with good results--but it needs to be shown not presumed. That way, those who want to go 'off course' are prepared to stay with the ship and its captain.

These are messages, which if believed need constant reinforcement--not mere repetition, but real action and decisions that are consistent with the messages.


cox-angela said...

as a barbadian I am proud of my country and the progress it has made in forty three years. However there is always room for improvement but with good leadership and a society that has good moral values it can't go wrong.So far barbados has been blessed in avoiding to have any political unrest of any endand that is in part because of the society wanting to do what is right and what would be of benefit to the country and its people.Yes they might have been bickering and back biting but we so far have notlet those kind of social issues get in the way of us moving forward
Some ot the great names of the past like Sir Garfield Sobers, Frank Worrell. Everton Weekes have among the best of the best to put Barbados on the Worlds stage and have done Barbados good and for that I say thanks.

Dennis Jones said...

@Cox-angela, no disagreement with the sentiments. I like to dig below the surface and see if things like 'good leadership and a society that has good moral values' are all they seem to be.

Taggy said...

Interesting comments, Dennis. I think the biggest risk to Barbados is complacency. In these troubled times it's easy to spin 'complacency' into 'steering a steady course'. Many argue that troubled times are when you take risks, and prove your mettle. It will be interesting to see if Barbados still has the mettle.

I see a lot of emphasis on 'pride' but not much on 'industry' in Barbados right now. And pride without something beneficial to be proud of is, as those of a religious persuasion would know, a deadly sin. I think more emphasis needs to be put on what we should be proud of, and it's not beaches and sunshine - those are gifts. We need to revitalize the industry and ingenuity that put Barbados on the map in the first place. Now more than ever. Where are the new heroes?