A famous hortatory dictum, “we can be whatever we want to be”, suggests that we place no limits on what we envision for ourselves and what we can achieve. It is this conviction that it is possible that allows individuals and nations to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.
There are essential components, however that must occur in sequence. First, the self-confidence to define ambitious and unprecedented goals for ourselves, and second, the willingness to apply all our abilities in a sustained effort to accomplish these goals.
When individuals and nations fail to achieve their goals the explanations can be either that the goals were too ambitious or that the effort made was not sufficient to attain the goals.
The small states of the Caribbean have all set sustainable economic development as a desirable goal. This is not by any means overambitious, since many small countries have achieved sustained economic growth, eg Singapore, Mauritius, The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands to name but a few.
However, in recent years, especially since the global economic crisis, the small states of the Caribbean have stagnated or have not grown at a rate that can improve the economic well-being of their people. Indeed, in Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica the standard of living is lower than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
Since the goal of sustainable economic growth/development is not overambitious, then the explanation is that the small states of the Caribbean have not made sufficient effort. This is self-evident, but the issue must be examined at a deeper level.
The way to begin such an in-depth analysis is to listen to what the political leadership of the Caribbean states have said. Their thinking can be gleaned from the speeches made at the recent General Assembly of the United Nations.
The leitmotif of the speeches was to blame the plight of the region on external factors, in particular the global economic crisis, and to call on the international community for assistance. Some articulated the need for help as polite mendicancy, while others, with indignation, suggested that the international community had an obligation to assist.
The justification for this position is that the countries of the region are small states. Taken to its logical conclusion, it is a conviction that small states are incapable of economic development unless they are given assistance, in the form of financial aid, from external sources. Put another way, the political leaders of the region lack self-belief and self-confidence to chart and achieve sustainable economic development.
Professor Clive Y. Thomas of Guyana has explained that small size is not an insurmountable barrier to economic development, but it is an additional constraint. This fact has not permeated the psyche. The political leadership of the Caribbean has a mindset that small states cannot develop on their own volition, but need aid.
We reject that notion of incompetence, based on the economic performance of other small states. This bankrupt leadership is a disservice to the Caribbean people and must make way for those who, like the people of the region, believe that our economic destiny is in our hands, and that as a people we can achieve sustainable economic development without dependence on the handout or hand-up of other countries.