Rescue Our Regional Project

                                                     The Caribbean Is One Nation.

Rescue our regional project

By Ian Randle

Following is a shortened version 
of the address by UWI Honorary 
Graduand (Degree  of Doctor of Laws), regional publisher Ian Randle, to the Graduating Class of the Faculty of Engineering and Law at UWI 
St Augustine on October 24.For you members of the 2013 graduating class, this marks the fulfillment of an academic achievement, a source of  pride of your families and the hope of your country and the region. 
You must not underestimate its significance; a full generation after independence, you are members of a very small elite who were given and have grasped the opportunity of a university education and have come through with flying colours. This achievement is not to be taken lightly; neither are your new degrees regarded simply as a qualification for your chosen careers nor the opportunity to increase your earning power. Being a part of that elite also comes with responsibilities to your families, communities and your respective nations.  But I want to suggest that it also carries responsibilities towards the wider Caribbean nation of which we are all a part . And why is this so?
Firstly, you are graduates of the University of the West Indies which was conceived and continues to represent the ideal of that Caribbean nation. Most of you will probably not have taken a single class outside the walls of this St Augustine campus but the degree that you now cherish so much is not a St Augustine but a UWI degree. 
The University of the West Indies much more so than any other institution, be it the vaunted West Indies cricket team or the nebulous Caricom, is the genuine glue that continues to hold this region together as it has done for the over 60 years since its inception. But how much longer I ask, can the UWI continue to provide this unifying force in the face of the challenges that confront it? Permit me a brief moment of nostalgia in reminiscing about a time not all that long ago when both faculty and students on the St Augustine and Mona campuses came from all over the Caribbean
This was the Caribbean in the making, real integration—far more genuine and effective than meetings of Heads of Government at which no decisions of significance are taken; the bloated bureaucracies of our regional institutions or silly meaningless tokenisms like Caricom passports which don’t make travel and entry from one country to the other in the region any easier.
It is no accident that Caricom achieved its most significant strides towards functional co-operation during the last two decades of the 20th century because it coincides with the period when graduates of the UWI became 
heads of government and assumed top leadership positions across all spheres of activity throughout the nation and the region. The Caribbean as we knew it at the end of the 20th century was essentially a UWI creation where these leaders were bound not only by family ties but were imbued with a sense of their regional commonality.
It is a matter of regret to observe that in the first decades of the 21st century the UWI has also lost many elements of its regional personality that were so essential in the creation of that Caribbean nation. I hasten to emphasise that no criticism is being made here nor is any implied. 
We are all aware of the pressures under which all universities operate today and especially a regional university like the UWI which depends on national governments. While the devolution of administration to the national campuses is understandable and in many respects inevitable, and is, on balance a positive development,  one can’t help having the feeling that in responding to these everyday demands of survival and viability we have thrown out the baby with the bath water—have been too willing to give up the ideal of what UWI was and could be. I say this because any intelligent observer will notice  a clear correlation between the decline of regionalism and the decentralisation of the governance structures of the UWI and the growth of the national campuses.

There is an ongoing debate in Jamaica today about the relevance and usefulness of Caricom, with recurrent calls for the country to actually leave the Community as it is currently structured and operates. Yet amidst those calls there is no suggestion that we no longer want to be part of a Caribbean nation—no calls for leaving UWI, CXC or the West Indies cricket team; no ladies and gentlemen, the call is to leave Caricom. This is a very important distinction because it says to us that my generation has somewhere along the way lost the plot in that our current leaders, both political and technical, have become too engrossed in creating the institutional trappings of functional co-operation and in the process have lost sight of the essential element that makes the Caribbean one—you, its people. My own assessment is that rather than creating the enabling environment for people of the Caribbean to integrate (as UWI did so effectively in the past) our leaders, yes, the leaders of my generation have instead got in the way of the people by creating structures, institutions and a bloated bureaucracy that only they understand. In Caricom and its multifarious institutions we have created a metaphor for integration not integration itself.
My charge to you today is for your generation to rescue the regional project of creating a Caribbean nation from the bureaucrats in Georgetown and the political leaders whose vision rarely extend beyond their five-year terms in office. You can begin by seeing the geographical space of the Caribbean as your space, your oyster, your nation. Insist on your right to move freely from Port of Spain to Kingston to Bridgetown and Georgetown. 
Whether you set out to look for opportunities for further studies for yourself; as you leave here in search of work and the start of new careers; and when you simply come to plan for a family vacation, consider the Caribbean, your nation as first among equals. A crucial element in this mission to rescue the regional project is your individual commitment to the preservation of The University of the West Indies as a truly regional university—regional not just in the governance structures that link the individual campuses together but in your openness and willingness to take post-graduate courses and research projects at Mona or Cave Hill and to remain and teach at those campuses also. 

Remember, the Caribbean is your nation, your oyster and what might be Trinidad and Tobago’s loss will be the region’s gain and your individual contribution to the building of a Caribbean nation. And if you must stay at home here in Trinidad and Tobago, do not be silent or passive observers to the actions of those who advocate and promote insularity and divisiveness. 
Like all significant strides in the history of human advancement, the project of creating a Caribbean nation will inevitably go through advances and setbacks in a process of trial and error. Our pre-independence leaders got it  wrong in hindsight with the experiment of political federation. 
Their immediate successors learned from the experience by focusing on functions and processes to facilitate the development of an integrated Caribbean but my generation became mesmerised with creating the structures and lost sight of the people. With the knowledge gained from a first class education here at the UWI and the legacy of an institution that has for more than 60 years led the way in the creation of a Caribbean nation, the responsibility of leading us through the next stage is in your hands.

(From The Trinidad Express 11/5/13)


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