By Neil Armstrong
Franklin Knight, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History at John Hopkins University, says Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have accomplished much in their first 50 years.
“In the first place they have survived politically in a reasonably stable domestic political situation and that is not a bad achievement in these perilous times,” he said.
His lecture entitled “Fifty Years of Caribbean Independence: the Future of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago” was recently presented at York University at an event organized by the York Centre for Education and Community & Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean.
Among five areas he highlighted as having seen significant progress for both countries in the past fifty years are politcal stability, education and public health.
Prof. Knight said compared with many modern countries, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have not only been relatively politically stable but also politically democratic.
He said however that both Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have institutionalized the two-party system to the severe detriment of the developing of a wider democratic society that will enable every citizen to be the best that he can be.
Knight, who prefers a system that rewards every group participating in the political system instead of the first-past-the-post system, said that in both countries there is disproportionate representation based on the popular vote.
On education, Prof. Knight said despite much comment about the decline in education in Jamaica, just as in Trinidad, the system is well structured and quite impressively calibrated.
He said both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are actually doing better in independence than they did under the colonial period in culture and sports.
They have creative literature, Trinidad has a Nobel laureate in literature, art, drama, dance and music - all of these recognized internationally.
He said in both countries however, people are losing their sense of priority of what is important and “thinking that if you run 100metres fastest in the world you’re the smartest in the world.”
He said this results in people privileging those kinds of achievement based on these external metrics of achievement rather than trying to say you can be rounded “you can do well in school and run a 100 metres like Usain Bolt.”
Knight also gave high praises to both countries on their public health records. “They have a really good general public health system and you measure it in terms of the life expectancy rate,” he said.
He said despite this both countries face serious challenges, among them;
- Economic sustainability in a rapidly globalizing world where production and productivity can be trumped by malicious uncontrolled market manipulation.
- The problem of equality or meritocracy in a civil society which is breaking down because interest groups, domestic and foreign, are taking over these small societies.
- The problem of political succession, of working out institutionally how parties and governments really create that next generation of competent people who will take the society on.
- The global problem of narco-trafficking and its relationship to civil violence. He described it as a hazard to individual and regional societies.
The lecture bookmarked a colloquium to mark Jamaica’s and Trinidad & Tobago’s 50 years of Independence from Britain and the launch of the book, Jamaica in the Canadian Experience: A Multiculturalizing Presence, edited by professors Carl James and Andrea Davis.