Last Sunday, late at night, I took a flight to the ANR Robinson Airport in Tobago. The journey was unremarkable, but a memory kept rising.
That memory was of Mr ANR Robinson on a similar flight, but from Tobago to Port-of-Spain not long after he had split with the then Dr Eric Williams-led PNM. As he boarded the plane that evening, the Tobagonian passengers erupted with boos and other uncomplimentary remarks.
It was painful to witness since, in my opinion, he had worked hard for the sister island. I doubt that any passenger on that flight would have imagined that the airport would be re-named after this Tobagonian politician in the future.
This memory recalled a Bertrand Russell quote: ‘The time has come to review my life as a whole, and to ask whether it has served any useful purpose or has been wholly concerned in futility. Unfortunately, no answer is possible for anyone who does not know the future.’
How do we decide who a worthy hero is? When do we decide?
As I mused about ANR Robinson, I realised that I no longer thought about my life in decades. The Bible talks about the length of our lives being ‘three score and ten’. I am on borrowed time. Now, there is not much imagining and working towards a future beyond my expected time on earth.
I wondered whether our ageing politicians accept this reality as they continually ‘chinks’ and seek to prolong their stay at the wicket. What is their vision for us? What will be their legacy beyond their length of tenure?
Our Jamaican counterparts embrace this need for transition with great success. Nigel Clarke, the Jamaican Finance minister, and his Prime Minister are in their early 50s. How can Jamaica groom young people to take the leadership reins while we tell ours that they are too young? Where are our bright young people? Why do they not step up?
What are the consequences of such actions for the growth of our country? Is Farley Augustine unique? What is the glass barrier against our young women on both sides of the political aisle?
This home truth became even more self-evident as the days went by. I watched young people working from a Tobago location and conducting full-fledged discussions with teams in diverse places. They are Trini-bred but globally connected. Why is this capability not possible for all our young?
This remote work approach is the foundation of the ‘digital nomads’ dream that Barbados and Estonia pursue. What stops us in T&T from plugging into the wider world? How do we teach our young people to lift their sights and desire more? How do we strike a balance between work and island life?
Shall we choose to imprison them with the pettiness of our present existence? Will we set them free to explore a new future? How do we exploit our geographical advantage as we did in the times of the naval bases? Are we waiting for the overseas bosses to recognise the potential to link into Latin America?
Meanwhile, we are stuck with empty promises because there is no will and a lack of national pride. We are choosing to highlight and glorify the wrong things in our society. Our young people are no less talented but lack the supportive initiatives to make it all happen.
To achieve anything of value requires a commitment sustained over many years. We prefer to zig-zag every five years. Why do we not have a national agreement on our development priorities? What is the benefit of abandoning a policy when we change administrations? How do we achieve this consistency?
We choose to complain about the Carifta Games media coverage when we have not invested appropriately. How could Jamaica birth a SportMax media house and we could not? We see Usain Bolt and the string of women athletic stars encouraging their compatriots to succeed but never imagine that we can do the same.
Talk is cheap. Our charlatans can chat convincingly. We grudgingly provide funds that cannot consistently support our athletes, yet we expect miracles. Our corporate sponsors are fair-weather friends. At the core, we cannot imagine that we are a nation, a people who desire to succeed. There is no ‘us’. Will we ever become a nation?
While in the Bible, the Apostle Peter told the lame man, ‘Silver and gold have I not’, and raised him from his helpless condition (Acts 3)—our leaders appear to have had only silver and gold but no vision of helping us out of our helplessness.
In 2012, there was a huge furore over the building at Shirvan Road and the Claude Noel Highway. The argument then was that Tobagonians ought not to rent but to own their buildings. It was estimated that the total savings from the construction of that building would be over $100 million. Today, other super-structures, which house the various government ministries, dwarf that building.
On the one hand, we could see where the money was spent, unlike our fortune in recent times in Trinidad. But the question remains, is this investment in these structures sustainable? Is this the best use of our money in constructing our future?
If we had a chance to do it all again, would we? How does this spending orgy shape our expectations in the future?
I witnessed another aspect of this ‘silver and gold’ phenomenon at a tyre repair shop. A man in his 40s visited a tyre shop to repair a tyre. His truck was slung so low that it was difficult to remove it from the hoist on completion of the job. He then became disrespectful to the unfortunate shop owner.
After he left, the proprietor dealt with my problem. When I asked him about the fee, he brushed me off, “Small thing. Go your way.” I stuttered.
In the face of rudeness, he had retained his dignity. Who was the wealthy one? Does money help us be better people, or do we perpetuate the indignities of colonialism? Are we all desiring to be the governor on the white horse?
As an interlude, I read the new book about Ferdie Ferreira, The Portrait of a Patriot. It put into context the shallowness of the various political forays in recent weeks. He represents the hard work of building a political party organisation that can endure.
We now wish for ‘instant’ success and abuse those we proclaim to love and represent. We repeatedly ignore the reality of the arduous task of governance. It is easier to blame the incumbents for everything in the world—inflation and commodity price increases—without identifying what we would do differently. We do not spend time creating a vision since there is someone to blame. It is just a vibe.
Why do we expect better from self-centred individuals? What are we drinking?
This week, former US president Barack Obama said: “You just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage. You just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plan enough conspiracy theorising that citizens no longer know what to believe.”
Our politicians know this game very well. Watch our media. Our nation suffers as a result. Will our education system provide the new generation with the critical thinking skills we require to navigate the new frontiers? Or are we doomed to be awash in sewage forever?
I return to Bertrand Russell’s 1967 piece: ‘Consider for a moment what our planet is and what it might be. At present, for most, there is toil and hunger, constant danger, more hatred than love. There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses.
‘Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture.’
Can we imagine the kind of country we wish to create? I continue to muse.