By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(Plain Talk, Aug. 23, 2019)
Among the many scars we inflict on ourselves, are the feelings that we are not equal to others, that we are poor because we don’t have the discipline and work ethic like others, or that where we live predetermines whether we are successful, unequal or poor.
As we shall see, our belief in wrong or bad ideas affects our ability to see through the fog deliberately created to prevent us from thinking clearly and going forward confidently into the future.
Sojourner Truth, the African American freedom fighter, tells us that she could have freed many more enslaved Africans had there been more who believed in their own self-worth and a burning desire to reclaim their freedom. In 1979, many of our people harboured grave doubts about our ability to survive as an independent nation. Even today, many will prefer to be wrapped in a colonial cocoon of the union jack or the stars and stripes. The recent fiasco and subsequent debate surrounding the government’s decision to install the representative of colonial, imperial and genocidal England on the very day we celebrate Emancipation Day is clear evidence that post colonial SVG is not post-colonial, 40 years on from the declaration of independence in 1979.
Take for example the fact that North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are the wealthiest and most developed portions of the world. Take as well that these areas are populated predominantly by persons of European extractions. Does it, therefore, mean, as so many thinkers assume, that Europeans are smarter or work harder than any other persons or race on planet earth?
The answer is a resounding no. But to see the truth in patterns of world development and what might be responsible for development and underdevelopment, poverty and prosperity, we will have to take a longer panoramic view of the world.
European domination of the world is a relatively recent (as in the last 500 years) development. Five hundred years is a long time in human terms, but it is relatively short if we are thinking in terms of human history. For example, the emergence of Europe as a world power around 1470 is about the same time that Spain, Portugal and Italy were coming out from under a 700-year Africans enlightening rulership.
If development and prosperity were unique to persons of European stock, we will be unable to explain the rapid rise, in the last 50 years, of Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, China and India.
Clearly, there is something other than race that explains development and prosperity. Some thinkers, among them Max Weber, argued that the Christian ethic found among Protestants explains the rise to dominance of Europe. On its face, this idea has to be rejected. Europeans, for centuries, have been the dominant powers in the world. They colonised the entire planet, brainwashed much of the world into Eurocentric Christian thought, yet poverty and underdevelopment are still the order of the day in large swaths of the earth. Or is it that the Europeans are not that good at their colonising craft?
Further, Asian countries have made great leaps forward from serf-like backwardness to modern societies representing cultures where Christianity is not the dominant religion. In fact, in Japan, India, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, the religions of choice are Shintoism, Hinduism and Confucianism. In China, many of those who led the rapid rise to development were self-confessed atheists. Therefore, the religious belief of a people is not a good explanatory tool for their economic fortunes.
What about geography? Could it be that where you live on planet earth may explain growth and development? Again, this theory falls short. Some say that the more temperate regions of the earth are more favourable for development. History belies such thinking. Tropical kingdoms in Kemet (Egypt), Ethiopia, Sudan, Mali, Dahomey, Ashanti, Zimbabwe; the civilisations of the Mayan, Incas and Aztec of the Americas, the Indus valley civilisation Mohenjo Dara and Harappa in Pakistan, all punch holes into the theory that an advanced civilization could not develop in non-temperate regions. Some may say that those are in the past. But a scientific mind will counter if it happened before, it could happen again. And it is happening in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Rwanda.
A variant of the geography theory is that people who live in the tropical climate are lazy by nature. It is claimed that the sun saps the energy of inhabitants thus making them docile and lazy. This notion is contrasted with the view that persons living in a temperate climate must be constantly on the go, if only to keep them from freezing to death. This constant movement, it is alleged, allows for greater mental agility and creativity. And it is this mental nimbleness that presages the development and prosperity we see in countries dominated by Europeans.
There are a number of criticisms that can be levelled at this view of development, but we address only two. One is that mental agility is a universal trait possessed by all peoples in all cultures. We see this particularly since 1960, following the rapid decolonisation and pro-independence wave that has swept the world. Exposed to education, race and ethnicity are not a hindrance to excellence.
The other view, which those who prefer to look at religion, geography and cultural habits as clues for development rely on, but which is often ignored or vigorously opposed, is that the more developed world built their foundation on the backs of the rest of the world. The “lazy and uncultured” people of Africa, Asia and Latin America were the workhorses, and their lands were the plantations that provided the raw material on which the developed world prospered and developed.
Further, the international architecture of economic, financial and trading relationships are so heavily biased in favour of the powerful, that few countries escape and move out of the cul-de-sac in which they are positioned.
Understanding these basic realities is a pre-condition for the development of strategy and tactics that can lead SVG and the Caribbean onto a path of more sustainable development. We refuse to learn, to our peril.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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