Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have fared well in their first 50 years of independence when compared with many modern countries, says John Hopkins University history professor, Dr. Franklyn Knight.
As part of the independence anniversary celebrations of two Caribbean countries this year, Dr. Knight examined five decades of accomplishments and failures and suggested some of the main challenges they will face in the future during a lecture he delivered last Friday night at York University.
“One of the things we do when we have occasions like this is really to try to draw that trajectory from the past through the present to the future,” said Knight, who has been teaching at John Hopkins for the past 39 years. “It’s in a sense a sort of assessment and in the case of Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, we have to be modest in our appraisal for a number of reasons. Fifty years is not a very long time in the life of an individual much less in the life of a nation.”
Knight said the fact that both countries have survived politically in a reasonably stable domestic environment during these perilous times is quite an achievement that they should be both proud of.
“The United States, in its first 50 years, had among other transgressions to political tranquillity the Whiskey Rebellion, the death of one of its founders, the War of 1812 and the country was at the point of tearing itself apart over the issue of slavery,” said Knight, who is writing a history of Cuba. “This was a country that pioneered political engineering in 1776 and has pontificated about human rights up to the present.
“Ghana was the pride of Africa when it gained independence and an inspiration to so many new states in the 1950s and 1960s, yet political instability has wrecked the country. If we compare the general Latin American experience 50 years after they gained their independence which was around 1812 and 1824, only Chile and Brazil have records comparable to those of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago during the first 50 years of political independence. Brazil, by accident, had a continuous dynasty and Chile, while they saw they did not have a critical mass like an Argentina or Mexico to fight fratricidal civil wars and destroy their oligarchy, decided to arrange political succession between the two contending groups until it broke down in the 1890s.”
Knight – a Jamaica Observer columnist for 14 years –noted however that while T & T and Jamaica have relatively been politically stable and democratic, the Jamaican political system is not as stable, democratic and responsible as it might seem.
“It’s in fact fraught with a number of challenges that must be successfully overcome if 50 years from today our successors are to be optimistic about their future,” he said. “Political stability, however, is relative and the Jamaican political problems are approaching the monumental unless there are some forthright changes…Both Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have institutionalized a two-party system to the severe detriment of the developing of a wider democratic society that would enable every citizen to be the best that he or she can be.”
A graduate of the University College of the West Indies-London and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Jamaican-born Knight acknowledged education as a notable achievement that stands out in the 50 years since Jamaica and T & T became the first two English Caribbean countries to secure political independence in 1962.
Jamaica, which has a population of less than three million, supports five universities and a number of higher level technical training facilities while T & T, with a population of about 1.2 million people, has three well-established universities and the Ciprani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.
“Despite much comment about the declining quality of education in Jamaica, just as in Trinidad, the system is well structured and quite impressively calibrated,” said Knight. “The pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary levels are expanding despite the economic challenges and the social climate that has manifested signs of breaking down.”
Knight called for the establishment of institutes in Jamaica, T & T and other Caribbean countries that would anticipate problems and provide options to political practitioners that they can apply to future problems.
The York Centre for Education and Community and the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean presented the lecture along with a colloquium and the launch of Jamaica in the Canadian Experience: A Multiculturalizing Presence, edited by York University professors Andrea Davis and Carl James.
Davis is an associate professor in the humanities department while James is the director of the York Centre for Education and Community. He also teaches in the Faculty of Education and in the graduate programs in sociology and social work.
The anthology commemorates Jamaica’s independence by acknowledging the immense and widespread contributions of Jamaica and Jamaicans to Canadian society.
“It also not only details the histories and on-going stubborn and insistent presence of Jamaicans in Canada, but also significantly asks us to revision the ways in which we understand what it means to be Canadian today,” said University of Toronto associate professor, Dr. Alissa Trotz.