The trinidad Guardian / Naked in the sun are we; oil and gas prices are low and unstable; our reachable petroleum resources all but depleted; our capacity for reaching down to retrieve whatever may be left is dictated by international capital and expertise, and stymied by our inability to find the right fiscal incentives to seduce foreign capital to delve into the lower depths of our petroleum reservoirs—our secret places.
Our national energy company is savaged by low international prices, depleting reserves from known sources, tortured too by the restrictions on its capacity to transform itself into the kind of corporation that is able to operate without the fetters of being subject to the agendas of a government, must also be circumspect too of a vigilant union concerned always about the interests of its members and prepared to take whatever action it perceives as being necessary to protect those interests, even if disruption and hardship are the likely outcomes.
Our condition, historically straightened by reliance on a private sector enfeebled by its historical and almost total dependence on and living off the revenue from petroleum circulated by the Government over the period of political independence, we wake up daily to that reality—a private sector unable to dynamize itself into becoming truly entrepreneurial, creative and with scientific precision to be positioned to scan the environment to recreate out of our existence here a new world, and this a couple generations after plantation society had become redundant and our colonial masters had departed.
Most crippling among our degenerative conditions is a political culture shaped out of our racially divided past, perennially engaged in a scramble for dominance, one racial group contesting over the other for self-assertion. The condition has become chronic and infected too by the vulgar desire for control over the resources of the land and sea. Competence and quality governance do not figure prominently, what does is the capacity for opposition.
Fact is that the politics which evolved in the post-colonial period grounded itself in racial cleavages, party fanaticism and personal ambition. As observed by CLR James, there is an absence of ideology: “Do they believe in capitalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, anything? Nobody knows. To West Indian politicians, a development programme is the last word in economic development. They never discuss the plan, what it means, what it can be. If they feel any pressure, they forthwith baptise their development programme as planning—” Party Politics in the West Indies.
In all of this, and to use LeRoy Clarke’s metaphor of our existence, “Douendom” chokes off our potential for growth and most alarmingly, we remain susceptible to a disease that constricts our otherwise natural potential to grow out of our condition.
Yet, conditioned as we are, we cling to our racial leaders who we have fashioned into cult heroes, no need therefore for them to have abilities that could lead to transformation of our condition, their visceral appeal is our greatest attraction to them. Dynamic leadership skills and original ideas to remake the society, economy and polity are not important; we take them as they are.
Almost unaware, unconscious of the paralysis that has come over us, we yield to social deterioration. A generation has given itself over to criminality, young boys growing up inside the rotting fringes of the social decay we have created are known to harbour the ambition of emerging as the next don of their ever- decreasing criminal community space.
The flowers of those communities have made themselves dependent on their maximum males and are subject to abuse and misuse, it does not matter.
How to remake ourselves to emerge from this imperilled position—there are many views, even the mourning ground is proposed as catharsis.
Is this too harsh a slide show of us? Maybe. But how else do we understand and explain our present condition for it to make an impact on our consciousness? More than any country and society, our size and based on the per capita resources available to us since the fateful Yom Kipper War (1973) that resulted in oil prices moving from US$3 to US$12 per barrel and the subsequent three booms of prices for oil and gas, we have had feasts after feasts and one famine in which the beast in us broke free.
We remain chained to the past dependent on one form of internal economic activity: gas and oil.
Our one stroke of self-propulsion, the monetization of gas, has kept our body politic from internal combustion; we found a way to avoid the gas imploding on us.
Nonetheless, we are a people not without talents, not without a history of achievement. We have forged in this crucible, human talent of international repute in science, in art, creative design and literature, in academic and intellectual innovation, in international sport, in music and musical creation.
The challenge must be as a society, we must find the alchemist’s potion to tame the devils that have been created by our history and which now reside in us constantly causing “malcady” to take hold of our being and prevent us from achieving.
Where are the alchemists, the obeah men and washer women who could pick the right bush for healing our diseases of race, petty politics, “smart-man ting” and studied incompetence?
Maybe there are no messiahs and no potions. To turn inward, all of us can be the only solution available.