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Towards a Politics for Sustainability

Global events within the past year have continued to test the resilience of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The COVID-19 pandemic and the negative economic fallout are ongoing against the existential threat of climate change. As I write this article, our sisters and brothers in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are grappling with explosive eruptions of the La Soufriére volcano. I commend Caribbean people and their governments for the outpouring of support that is being shown to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at this time. This demonstrates our Caribbean tradition of solidarity as we seek to build collective resilience to overcome the multiplicity of complexities that confront our region. This article seeks to address a central question: given the constancy of uncertainty, and the persistence and intensity of risks and threats, what type of politics is best suited for Caribbean SIDS as they seek to navigate the rough waves of the twenty-first century? In the recent Carol Bristol, QC Distinguished Lecture Series, I called for a shift from the politics of survivability to the politics for sustainability. I will elaborate on the latter in this article.

My main argument is that the politics for sustainability is a necessary imperative for Caribbean SIDS if they are to effectively manage the myriad challenges they confront individually and collectively. I contend that the seriousness of the times calls for new thinking about politics and bold action to engineer change. The politics for sustainability is a solutions-based approach to political life that requires collective efforts by the whole of society.  It is a societal partnership for development that transcends narrow partisan interests. That is, a developmental politics, where the national development vision is insulated from the political cycle. This approach to politics requires a shared national vision; inclusiveness; unity of purpose and collectivity of efforts. Some may argue that this is idealistic and cannot be accomplished in the context of entrenched adversarial politics and a political culture that privileges the paramountcy of political parties and fierce political competition for power.

The politics for sustainability does not wish away competitive elections. What it does, is create space for political parties to engage in the struggle for power through periodic multi-party elections, while finding common ground to build consensus around large issues of national importance, such as constitutional reform, managing pandemics, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters. This new political modality requires a paradigm shift. Within this new framework, ruling political parties would have to genuinely include opposition forces in decision-making on critical development issues. By doing so there would be greater probability that supporters of opposition parties would buy-in to governmental decisions. This would also enable skilled experts, who may not necessarily vote for the ruling party, but who are committed to the country, to be involved in sharing their expertise to promote large developmental causes. Too often, too many well-meaning citizens are locked out of governance and unable to contribute more directly to national development because ruling parties sacrifice efficiency and competence for party loyalty. Equally, the politics of sustainability requires opposition parties to continue to critique government policies while always being pro-country and solutions-focused.  The premise is, if government fails in managing severe threats, then the entire country fails and sustainable development is undermined. Opposition parties cannot aspire to lead a country that they cannot affirm and build up while in opposition. Opposition parties cannot afford to engage in old-style politics – opposing for the sake of opposition – in these very difficult times.  The politics for sustainability demands inspirational leadership. It requires both ruling parties and opposition forces to take the high ground and engage in mature political behavior for the sake of the country as a whole.  The question on all sides should be, would this decision or behaviour advance the interest of the country, even if the political party stands to lose? In short, the politics for sustainability necessitates a harmonious coexistence between political competition for power and national consensus for long-term sustainability.

Beyond the role for political parties, the politics for sustainability requires for its success: an informed and conscious citizenry; non-partisan civil society organisations; intra and inter-sectoral support groups; enlightened, vigilant youth; responsible media; and a vibrant and engaged scholarly community.

How can the politics for sustainability be applied to the case of Grenada and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant economic challenges that it poses? As at April 18, 2021 Grenada has reported 159 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with one death. Within CARICOM, confirmed cases and deaths range from 44 cases with no deaths in St. Kitts and Nevis to 43,684 with 721 deaths in Jamaica. To date, the Government and people of Grenada have done relatively well and should be commended. The challenge now relates to the way forward as the third wave of the pandemic gravely intensifies in several countries.

I wish to encourage Grenadians to not let their guards down and to consistently follow the protocols.  The vaccine provides another level of protection against severe illnesses from the virus. This helps to protect lives and safeguard the well-being of health care workers and the health system. With respect to vaccination, as at April 09, 2021, 10,574 vaccine doses have been administered in Grenada. Comparatively, as at that date, Barbados had administered 63,758; Saint Lucia, 22,935; Antigua and Barbuda 22,032; Dominica 18,503; and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 11,384. There appears to be some measure of relative vaccine hesitancy in Grenada.

Several factors may account for this: insufficient broad-based public discourse on the pros and cons of vaccination; lack of collective leadership from governmental and non-governmental forces; mixed messages and simplistic conspiracy theories by the religious communities; fear and indifference among the citizenry, among other factors. Given Grenada’s weak public health infrastructure, complacency combined with vaccine hesitancy can roll back the gains which have already been made in the fight against the deadly virus. What can be done?

I propose a whole of society approach, which can include the following:

Regular joint statements on COVID-19 between the Government of Grenada and opposition parties.

An active Association of Medical Practitioners to provide accurate and timely public health and other medical information to the public.

The scholarly community to more actively engage in public education through workshops, webinars, media interviews, joint statements etc.

People’s parliaments on responsible citizenship and COVID-19.

Re-activation of the Grenada Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, where women from across party lines can discuss the gender implications of COVID-19 and the economy, aimed to find workable solutions.

Civil society forums on the implications of COVID-19 for global supply chains, food security, markets for farmers and fisher folk etc.

Panel discussions between experts on agriculture/fisheries and tourism to suggest ways in which both agriculture and tourism can be done differently going forward.

Youth across political party lines can have debates on the cost of complacency in the context of the intensity of the third wave of COVID-19.

 Disaporic connections bringing together scholars, health practitioners, psychologist etc to virtually link up with Grenadians at home to share stories, address questions and create support networks.

A supportive leadership role by the religious community to provide spiritual sustenance and responsible guidance to citizens in these difficult times.

Finally, as Grenada approaches fifty years as an independent state, the politics for sustainability is critical for sustainable development. COVID-19 and its attendant economic challenges provide an opportunity for a new political praxis in Grenada.

By Dr Wendy C Grenade, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.

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