by Wendy C Grenade, PhD
It is indeed my pleasure to be presenting this 6th Distinguished Memorial Lecture to honour the memory of Mr Carol Bristol, QC, who gave outstanding service to the legal fraternity in Grenada and the Caribbean.
A Saint Lucian by birth, Mr Bristol was educated in Grenada and served Grenada and the OECS subregion with distinction. He was well respected for his integrity in public office and the professionalism that so well defined him. Mr Carol Bristol was widely recognised throughout the Eastern Caribbean as one of the foremost authorities on Property and Conveyance Law. He served as Chief Justice of Grenada, President of the Rotary Club of Grenada, President of Grenada Jaycees, President of the West Indies Jaycees and President of the Grenada Bar Association and of Grenada Sports Council. He also gave sterling service to The University of the West Indies. I wish to thank Dr Nicole Phillip-Dowe, Head of Site, The UWI, Open Campus, Grenada, for inviting me to deliver this 6th Distinguished Carol Bristol Lecture Series. May we be forever inspired by his legal mind and his commitment to service.
This evening I pay tribute to the 5 eminent women and men who preceded me. Dr Hollis Liverpool, Professor Brian Meeks, Professor Verene Shepherd, Ambassador Shabass and Dr Didacus Jules. As a Grenadian, I feel very much at home; though painfully physically distanced. As Grenada approaches 50 years as an independent State, I salute the memory of all those who have gone before us. May their spirits continue to inspire us, as we reaffirm our motto: “Ever conscious of God, we aspire, build and advance as one people.”
When I was invited to deliver this lecture, I was given the option to select a topic of my choosing. I have chosen to speak on: “The Covid-19 Crisis: Re-imagining New Pathways for the Caribbean.” Before we delve into the topic, I invite you to join me, for one minute’s silence, as we pause to reflect on the millions of people all over the world, those in the Caribbean Diaspora, here at home and in the rest of the Caribbean region, who have been affected, in one way or another, by this pandemic.
I must say up front, I am not a health professional. So, for those of you who have joined us to hear about viral load, vaccine efficacy, mutations, new strains and other technicalities surrounding the virus itself, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am not equipped to tackle the topic from a health perspective. My specialisation is in Political Science and in particular the sub-fields of: International Relations, International Political Economy, Comparative Politics, Regionalism and Security Studies. Therefore, I will draw on those sub-fields of Political Science to address the topic.
You know, history has a way of repeating itself. In 2018 I was invited by The UWI, Open Campus, Dominica Site, to present the 10th Dame Eugenia Charles Memorial lecture. Hurricane Maria had recently devastated Dominica. In the most brutal way, Dominica was attacked and the way of life of its people disrupted. I titled that lecture, “Unleashing the Spirit of Overcoming.” I referred, then, to the late Robert Nester Marley’s famous quote: “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.
Three years later, I am here again, at The UWI Open Campus, at another moment of disruption. This time; widespread global disruption. And I say another, because for us, Caribbean people, crises are not new. In our quest for freedom, we have been disrupted with crises from inception. Sir Shridath Ramphal puts it well:
…our goal of freedom kept changing its form as the world changed: internal self-government in the pre-war years; formal independence in the post-war years; the reality of freedom in the era of globalisation; overcoming smallness in a world of giants.
We have at times doubted ourselves when our confidence was shaken. Many times, we questioned our place in the world, as we were buffeted at every turn. Since independence we have witnessed moments of triumph, reversal and pause in our goal to achieve development through regionalism. Yet despite the pre-existing conditions that have compromised the immune systems of Caribbean countries, we have come from a tradition of overcoming. At several defining crossroads, we are forced to ask: Who are we? What is the nature of our condition? What can we do to change that condition? What can we change it to? Those were some of the questions that progressive forces contended with in the 1970s. Almost 50 years after, are those questions since relevant? Perhaps more than ever before. The current moment is by far the most defining in modern history and it provides an opportunity for us to critically reflect on our Caribbean condition, almost 60 years after we first embarked on the journey of political independence in 1962.
I will argue that the severity of the moment demands a disruption of disruption. What do I mean by this? I am not applying this concept in the way that it is often used in the technological industry. They often speak about “creative disruption” and “disruptive innovation” etc. My contention is this: our path to freedom has been constantly disrupted, literally and figuratively, by forces outside of our control. That is, for us, disruption has been the historical norm. What then should be OUR ‘new normal’ as the world seeks to transition to some semblance of normalcy? In other words, what can we do WITHIN our region to enable us to better withstand the inevitable forces over which we have little or no control? When the certainty of uncertainty is constant, is there manoeuvring room for us to fulfill our aspirations as Caribbean people to maximise our fullest humanity?
I am using the notion of disruption of disruption to mean a break from entrenched historical arrangements that: perpetuate the wicked problems in our economies, polities and societies. What am I suggesting we disrupt? The ways in which ‘normal’ has failed us. In other words, what about ‘normal’ we should NOT want to go back to. The Barbadian intellectual, Dr George Lamming asked a fundamental question: to what extent have we been able to organise in the interest of our own welfare? To what extent can we/have we been able to organise in the interest of our lives? Perhaps this moment of disruption presents an opportunity for us as Caribbean people, to more intentionally organise in the interest of our own lives.
In terms of the structure, I will first provide a broad global context. The presentation will then focus on the Caribbean’s condition and specifically on two interrelated themes: political economy; and political governance. For each theme, I will examine a few lessons and offer some ideas as we think about pathways to recovery. I will emphasise the importance of regionalism throughout the presentation. Mind you, these are just some initial thoughts. The situation is very fluid and as this pandemic is played out, I may be forced to rethink those preliminary ideas in a year or two.
What is the broad global context? On 17 November 2019, as reported by the South China Morning Post, a 55-year-old individual from Wuhan, a province in China, may have been the first person to have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. China was far away. Or so we thought. Little did we know then, that 2020 would usher in such a catastrophe of enormous proportions, even as the world was already grappling with the climate crisis and the fallout from the 2008/09 global financial and economic crisis. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic. We were glued to news channels as Spain, Italy, the United States, the UK and several other developed and developing countries alike, became entangled in a literal battle with an invisible enemy. I am sure everyone of us on this call, can relate to someone, somewhere, who has suffered or is still suffering from the effects of this pandemic. Dying alone without the comfort of family members perhaps. Or wondering if to pay rent or buy food. Someone, somewhere, struggling under the emotional and mental strain of lockdowns. There is some little child, somewhere, who is longing to play in the schoolyard again, just for one more time. Our very way of life has been disrupted.
Powerful countries, which possess military and economic capabilities, were confounded. Industries have been severely impacted and societies immensely setback. Interestingly, the countries that best succeeded in reducing the spread of the virus, were not necessarily those with more resources, but rather those who did not hesitate to implement aggressive measures to contain the virus: travel restrictions, testing, contact tracing, lockdowns, etc. For example, New Zealand’s government adopted early and forceful measures and was one of the success stories during the first wave. The situation is very fluid, but based on preliminary observation, it is safe to argue that: astute leadership, which balances science, common sense and compassion, can be an antidote to the successful management of the pandemic.
For the Caricom region, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in Jamaica on 10 March 2020. To date, there has been community spread in some Caribbean countries and sporadic cases in others. However, at the moment, within the Caribbean, the health crisis itself is not as drastic as what we are witnessing relative to more developed countries. At as today, 30 March reported incidences range from 44 cases in St Kitts and Nevis to 38,415 in Jamaica.
Total number of Covid-19 related deaths recorded in the Caricom region, range from zero in St Kitts and Nevis to 586 in Jamaica. To date, Grenada has recorded 151 incidences and one death. The Government and people of Grenada must be commended. Although I caution against the virus of complacency.
It is still too early to provide a clinical analysis of the Caribbean’s response to the health crisis. From cursory examination, it is safe to argue that, despite limited resources, Caribbean countries are managing the spread of the virus relatively well, by a combination of instruments: travel restrictions; strict protocols to include lockdowns, and quarantine. Regional institutions, such as the Caribbean Health Policy Agency, The UWI, and in particular the UWI Covid-19 Task Force; the Regional Security System and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency have all been at the vanguard of the battle. I wish to commend our regional institutions for their collaborative efforts at this most difficult time. I also wish to pay respect to all the frontline workers in the Caribbean and the Diaspora, who are making tremendous sacrifices in the interest of public health and safety.
Beyond the direct implications for the health sector, the Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in the sharpest and deepest economic contraction in the history of capitalism. The World Bank reported that the crisis has worsened inequality and disproportionately impacted the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly women and children. Over the longer horizon, the deep recessions triggered by the pandemic are expected to leave lasting scars through lower investment, an erosion of human capital, through lost work and schooling, and fragmentation of global trade and supply linkages. A survey which was conducted in 2020 indicated that three in four households suffered a decline in income, with 82% of poorer households affected. Every type of inequality – racial inequality; income inequality; gender inequality – is being exposed and amplified during the pandemic. To cite some examples: In the US and the UK, Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are two to four times more likely to die from Covid-19. People who live in deprived areas have higher diagnosis rates and death rates than those living in less deprived areas.
Wendy Grenade is Senior Lecturer in Political Science, Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work & Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.