Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

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.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

12 replies on “The battle for ideas”

  1. The said ‘basic realities’ are the ‘pre-conditions’ being used by many political leaders, to control the masses that remain comfortable being seen as an affiliate. Unfortunately; the colonial concept to segregation is still today being nurtured by the symmetric classification of our learning institutions; which strategically embedded the crab in the barrel syndrome to our peril. ‘The peril of A People’

  2. I find it great that Jomo has addressed this topic of development but I do not think skin color plays any part. Culture does play a part and it is very difficult to change that. As far as why some states are more successful than others I believe he should have mentioned a certain governmental attitude that is more important than any factor he has mentioned.
    The problem with Saint Vincent is that government (irregardless of political party) has not figured out how to go forward. First we have to recognize what our strong points are and what are our weak points. In cards you have to play the hand that was dealt to you. If we were dealt Agriculture we should play that hand while trying to strengthen Tourism, not the other way around. Our neighbors have a stronger tourism hand. Why are we playing as if we have thier hand?
    Jomo mentions the work ethic of Vincentians. In Europe some peoples believed that to be Christian means you have to be hard-working. Not true but if they used that to develop, more power to them. Unfortunately in Saint Vincent the attitude is to try to do as little work as possible while getting as much money as possible. Smart? Yes in the short term, however it keeps you down in the long term and does not advance the country either. We get less work done at a higher cost.
    When you build a house you have to start with a foundation. You cannot start with the third row of blocks. Unemployed people can be seen as a resource. These people are free to be trained and employed. It is up to government to initiate positive change in our society. They have to provide the environment and incentive for things to happen. They certainly do not! They do the opposite. With the political animosity, high taxes, questionable police behavior(s), biased court officials, etc…,they foster an environment of poverty, crime and hopelessness.

    I am one of the few that believe we would be stronger if we unite. Why does the government go out of its way to politically divide the nation? The best way to defeat your enemy is by making them your friend. Is it that the leaders in government are there for themselves and not for the country? Jesus said “blessed be the peacemaker”. Maybe we need to rid the Jewish element from our government and adopt a Christian view instead.
    Can we get the government to start acting like leaders instead of spoilt children? If they do not make peace with the opposition we will remain far behind where we should be. We go nowhere because we are divided and I sometimes wonder if that is the way our “leaders” want it. Think or the people and not themselves. I know of a minor political person that demands a certain task or certain attractive, vulnerable young ladies if they wish poor relief. What if this person gained a high position?
    I hope that one day this country can start going the right direction.
    I do not agree with much of what Jomo says but this “food for thought” essay is a good one. Jomo is a hard-working person with good intentions, at least that is better than many in government.

  3. The writer has written a well put together piece but fails to realise that all these countries that he has mentioned are industrialized countries.

    They posses thriving health care services, accessibility to proper tertiary education, vibrant science and technology sector, well funded research in medicine and science, strong military and little room for nepotism and political victimization because of the size of the private sector and lack of influence the governments of these mega nations have over such.

    The small island economy such as ours does not posses any natural minerals such as gold,oil bauxite etc. We survive mainly off farming which is small scale and disorganized, thus causing little or no market for our produce. Fishing falls in the same category and our tourism product is taking forever to catch up with the rest of the region, despite the fact we have attained a brand new international airport, which we must be proud of as all vincentians.

    The government derives its revenue mainly from taxation and may not be doing enough to attract more outside foreign investors into the economy. The Buccament Bay Hotel is taking forever to ressurect and the proposed sites for the major hotel projects are just too far outside of the city center and the airport itself, given the topography of mainland St.Vincent and the winding road networks that we have.

    Not saying these projects would not work but these are all factors that needs to be considered, especially with persons coming off long flights and need a smooth transition to their relaxation destination.

    What l would like to see the writer speak about, given his candid sense of research and intellect, are alternative or rather additional means to revenue for government, how can the health care services be upgraded to first world standards and how can we attract investors of manufacturing industries and major hotel resort chains in the country, whereby creating more employment for the youths of the nation.

    It has become so common for many to speak about the problems affecting us but little offer any plausible effective solutions to what plagues our nation.

  4. One could not have made a better case against Jomo’s “red herrings arguments” other than the one that you have made here SJOHN, when you write that Jomo for his part, “fails to realise that all these countries that he has mentioned are industrialized countries” with Australia and New Zealand having Queen Elizabeth the second of Britain as their head of state too.

    For SJOHN, Jomo and the Gonsalves family dominated party, the ULP, would keep this country of ours totally un-industrialised and in utter darkness, continually begging the industrialist and their industrialized countries for our upkeep.

    Their model for human progress is Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and see what disastrous results those adherents of pseudo Karl Marxian ideology have produced. See what they have done about industrialisation and the very raw material that God had so blessed them with! In short Jomo is but a house slave for the Gonsalves and who for his own part is forever lost in his own confusion.

  5. SJOHN your last two paragraphs cover the entire dialog. We always seem to know the problem, but lack solutions to those problems. Most of those wealthy nations mentioned used slave labour to get where they are today. They also still maintain the same outlook on people of colour. There are lots of reasons why some black people don’t make it and this is what has to be examined and change to give them a lift-up.

  6. Jomo explanation is myopic with respect to the very reasons we are in such a state of underdevelopment. The problem is not one of inferiority complex but a failure to transition from a slave society that is hindering our economic and self development. Since the abolution of slavery we continue to be primary producers of raw materials to export to Europe. Today we have not transition from that philosophy, even when we produce oil or other minerals, it’s done under the same protocol.

    Jomo may want us to believe that he is a horse of a different colour, however, the old adage that goes like this” birds of a feather flock together “. Jomo is part of the ruling class, he is part of the bourgeois. So Jomo show us where you have tried to change the party that you are member of . In additional , show us where you philosophy is aligned differently and is committed to total eradication of the slave culture that we inherented from the colonial masters. Show us Jomo how you are different from your associates in the Ulp.

    As far I am concerned, you talk the talk but not walk the walk, as public servant you still carry on your full time legal work while paid by the taxpayers of St Vincent just like your associates . This is real economic prostitution and you are a bonafide elemement of the universal set ,indeed one of a kind. Another bird of the same features and feathers. However, I sympathized with you since you may say that you are positioned in a place that can be described as a rock and a hard place.

  7. There are two things one must say;
    a) It would be good if Jomo could respond on this site to these comments that are being made about him and converse with us in an attempt to his dispelling the multiple and serious criticism that are being put at his door, because of his perceived aliment with our traditional and continual oppressors.
    b) We must also thank Kenton for his hard work to both us and the nation as a whole, in his providing this vehicle for utterly free expressions, free expressions that are now available to us as suffering Vincentians, who for so long, were being denied a free voice, because of gross intimidation and fear, elite privileges and individual exclusions.

    That apart,will you Jomo, now deal with these perceived collusion of yours, or are you just a “little squirt” or truly an ignoble quisling!

  8. Amos Greaves. says:

    Duke there is no such word in the English language that is referred to as “irregardless “.Is this a new invention?

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