By Themba Mkhize
Popular at home in Barbados, Prime Minister Mia Mottley seems to be winning over the hearts of many in the wider Caribbean. Her persona is relatable, seemingly trustworthy, and – as those who have heard her speak would agree – of strong conviction. And so it was a pleasure to observe the balance of charisma and sobriety in her keynote address at the 2020 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Pivot Event. She challenged Caribbean people to acknowledge our individual and collective potential, and to be fearless in pursuit of rapid change.
PM Mottley’s address was an interrogation of Caribbean identity, delivered frankly, boldly and moist with hope.
She mooted that many of the challenges undermining Caribbean potential are born from a “lack of cultural confidence.” Low national and regional self-esteem have led many among us to decry what is possible for the region and the nations within it. We too often undervalue our ideas. We too often display hubris in our relations with each other. We too often exaggerate the glory of foreign nations whose ascent was dependent on moral bankruptcy. The result: a displacing cynicism.
Fortunately for us, identity challenges are not insurmountable.
We have among us the best creatives and sportsmen on earth. We are among the world’s foremost thinkers, leaders and institution builders. We have survived the scourges of colonialism, neocolonialism and underdevelopment. We have established modern societies. We have preserved culturally significant histories and spaces. We have lived exciting and fulfilling lives. Education is widely accessible. Our individual freedoms are largely protected. Our governments operate in stable democracies. We are not plagued by the imminent threat of military conflict.
Many of our challenges are born externally too, but will require intra-regional solutions. For example, developed countries have made the largest contributions to climate change through fossil fuel use, and have also reaped the vast majority of the financial rewards. These developed countries will prioritize their own interests in responding to the challenges of climatic disasters and spinoff effects on food security. In all likelihood, the region will have to fend for itself as disaster frequency and severity increase.
As Mottley points out, our people, our ideas, our cultures, our location and the Caribbean Sea present opportunities for disruptive industries to form and expand. It is in our best interest to develop world leading environmental research and development facilities, to deploy useful technology, to expand the blue economy and to target high quality manufacturing niches since it is difficult to compete with developed countries who more easily achieve economies of scale.
True, there is much more to be desired, and to be done, but we have the capacity to do it. Agility, adaptability and product/service quality will be our guiding stars.
The Caribbean is afflicted by identity crises, and so misdirection. Misdirection manifests in our societies as skin bleaching, crime and a lack of community. Playing the dual role of Barbadian Prime Minister and Chair of the Caribbean Community, Mottley is well positioned to stimulate the region with constructive messages which help to give us direction. Her brand of progressiveness implies a keen understanding of Caribbean life, and her oratory skills help her to convey this understanding.
For that, I say kudos to Prime Minister Mottley. It remains to be seen whether she will be a catalyst for the disruptive innovation which she promotes, but I think it is a good time for Caribbean people to feel inspired!
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