October 12, 2009

Commentary: How realistic is it for the Caribbean to join the G20?
Source: Caribbean Net News
Published on Monday, October 12, 2009
By Dr Isaac Newton and Debbie Douglas

In the Caribbean, schisms have opened up over such pressing issues as immigration, foreign policy agendas, borrowing from the IMF, implementation of the Caribbean Court of Justice, viability of the Caribbean Single Market Economy, and leadership clarity over regional direction.

More worrisome are: inadequate critical discussions on national and regional issues over the development of the region, preferred worldview that excellence is imported and things foreign are superior, and threats over sub-regional and regional splits on South American alliances.

But excluded from serious public debates are priorities such as ecological security, fiscal scare, die-hard poverty and rising debt. The paradox is that year after year, the Caribbean spends wasteful resources on conferences that do not yield positive outcomes.

Yet, in this climate, some conscientious political analysts and social scholars attempt to differentiate local realities from global trends. They are on a mission to decipher where points of intersection could help clarify, the key variables needed for the Caribbean to forge its own success pathway.

Against this wider backdrop, former Antigua and Barbuda diplomat, Sir Ron Sanders has written two articles: “
Can the Caribbean rely on the G20?" and "Who is listening when the Caribbean speaks?

We have read Sir Ron Sanders’ admirable endeavors to support Caribbean leaders by articulating why they should be given a place at the table where decisions that affect them, directly and indirectly, are made. Such places include the G20, the IMF, and the World Bank.

We know that the Caribbean has played a significant historical role in providing resources that European countries and the USA used to catapult their societies into advanced economies. We are aware also that the Caribbean continues to advance ideals of democracy, with geographic strategic value for Europe and North America. From this angle, we resonate with Sanders’ righteous anger, for rallying against wrongheaded attitudes that arrogantly dismiss the Caribbean and arbitrarily victimizes poor regions.

We particularly embrace Sanders’ enormous optimism, and praise his outstanding passion for envisioning the Caribbean as qualified to enter into the G20 circle. But we are aware of the dizzying nature of how unlikely his goals are to be attained. Added to that, is the unsentimental cost of the possibility of being slighted by the major powers of the world.

There is a difference between a coconut tree and a lamp post-- both are firmly planted in the ground-- one has roots but the other does not. In the same way, Sanders’ desire may be exceedingly earnest but his declaration appears incredibly inaccurate. For the Caribbean to execute its lofty goal of achieving G20 status, it must be willing to put vital steps in place to get there.

At best, Sanders’ articles contribute to our understanding of how geo-politics and ethics are deeply connected to our conceptions of sustainable development and identify. At worst, his ideas illustrate how the Caribbean itself, fails to create added value to penetrate world shaping institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the G20.

First, the G20 nations deliberately set up structures to protect self interests; they are not too much concerned with building bridges or even recognizing how their fate and the Caribbean’s destiny are interlinked. When shoring up their faltering economies, being charitable towards the Caribbean, is the last thing on their minds.

Second, the very nature of G20 is discriminatory. It is designed for well developed and highly integrated economies both to support each other and to superimpose their collective financial agendas on the rest of the world. The Caribbean’s economies are too meager and far too insignificant to be considered worthy of inclusion.

Third, although ‘a little leak can sink a big ship’, Caricom seems inept, to reverse president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s ousting, when outside powers, unseated a democratically elected leader, from amongst its rank. It took an African country to offer him a place of refuge.

Fourth, until the Caribbean gets its strategic intelligence, market integration, immigration freedom, and innovative educational practices act together, our future seems dismal. Caribbean leaders must concentrate on internally derived development solutions, and on the capacity to ignite the genius of its people, both at home and abroad, to facilitate its growth. Since these dynamics are not in place, why should the most powerful countries in the world, listen to the Caribbean or take our issues seriously?

The fact that so much is at stake, yet we continue to fight ever so often, over narrow terrain of resources and interests, knowing full well, that such infighting has dire consequences for our collective future, suggests that our moral compass is not set in the direction of self-empowerment.

We have our internal work cut out for us, and maybe feelings of being flatly ignored, is a clarion call to explore possibilities for sustainable unity, which is essential for regional advancement.

Perhaps the time to shift strategy and begin to rethink, how to fashion our destiny, from the inside out, while not dismissing the supreme value of finding relevant global partners, to harness mutually beneficial interests, has come.

Sanders’ highly ambitious enterprise, and remarkably, in these difficult economic and social times, places the cart before the horse. Therefore, we read his unique advocacy, more as an investment in encouragement, than as a signature of regional readiness and achievement.

The sentiments in his articles imply that our self-promoting agendas, (we can’t even get the China/Taiwan issue straight) that foster regional hierarchies and that work counter to the need to be critically conscious about the way forward, must be first clarified.

Invisibly and thence consciously, until we nurture a strong sense of ‘regionhood,’ which is indissolubly tied to the power of representation, we will be left out of important decision making processes.

Essentially, the Caribbean must find productive methods of listening to each other. We must speak with one voice by packaging indigenous issues in convincing frameworks to the G20, the World Bank and the IMF. This will increase our clout.

There is plenty of merit for the Caribbean wanting to have its own representation in international gatherings. We can no longer simply react to policies. We must provide intelligent input to shape and implement them. But to have our concerns addressed realistically, depends on our perceived and real weight.

For example, what are we bringing to the international table and how are we communicating added value? Do we have the leadership to build a sustainable regional economy to earn a place at the G20? Do we invite our most competent people to represent our views at the World Bank and the IMF?

No one will listen to us, if we continue to be disunited and needy. In short, we have a lot of growing to do, before we develop the capital to get the deference and high regard needed to wield influence on the global landscape. We wonder, what will quicken in our souls, given how far from the G20 mark we are, for us to realize that seven requests, of wanting to be included, do not an invitation make?

Ultimately, the Caribbean needs to cultivate a robust self-confidence to excel at prosperity-generating ideas. We must also learn to model a quest for excellence through virtues of mutual affirmation, cultural creativity, justice and fairness, critique and rejuvenation.

In essence, the Caribbean must find strategies to ensure that its place in the global-mix is not compromised. Preserving our best cultural features, should involve arresting the attention of global players, in our pursuit of ambitious exploits.

While some amongst us are worrying about the big questions—like, ‘How to develop the Caribbean as a major world force?’ Caribbean leaders have smaller concerns to tackle—‘How to harness and unify the Caribbean’s best energies (human and natural) for its own survival?

Perhaps we must earn inclusion, before we demand it. We need to unite, define our regional interests, build our economies to attain G20 status, and carve out a strategy that advances our needs/wants effectively, to rightly gain the possibility of a place at the table.

Dr Isaac Newton, an international leadership and management consultant, is a graduate of Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, and Debbie Douglas, a legal analyst and government relations consultant, is a graduate of McGill University, Stockholm University and University of London.

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