Left behind

Barbados, like virtually every other black nation on the face of this earth, suffers from the major deficiency of a lack of industrial production capacity, as well as from a lack of high technology capacity in other spheres of economic activity.

And over the past five years of international recession, the pernicious effects of this deficiency have become only too obvious, as Barbados has assumed the appearance of an impotent nation, with its leaders reduced to woefully and helplessly waiting and hoping that the North Atlantic countries would come to their rescue with a resuscitation of the flow of white tourists from the US, Britain and Canada.

The sad thing is that it did not have to be this way! Back in 1966, when Barbados embarked upon its journey of Independence, the then leaders of our country – faced with having to decide upon a major strategy of economic development – made the wrong choice of opting for a path of tourism-based development.

Barbados’ approach may be contrasted with that of Singapore, a similar small island developing nation with little or no†natural resources that became independent in 1965. Faced with a similar choice, the political leader of Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, a lawyer who had been a contemporary of Errol Barrow at the London School of Economics, opted for the opposite path of industrialisation.

Prime Minister Yew has acknowledged in his memoirs that, faced with the daunting problem of endemic unemployment, the newly independent Singapore did turn to tourism for the first two years of its Independence journey, since tourism required little capital. But he quickly goes on to point out that he and his cabinet colleagues were clear that tourism could only be a temporary stop-gap measure, and that the long term survival and development of Singapore would hinge upon industrial development and the establishment of factories in Singapore.

Furthermore, the leaders of Singapore not only opted for industrialisation, but consciously set out to give their country a technological capacity that would permit it to provide indispensable functions for industrial companies engaged in the most advanced, high technology production. And, of course, once Singapore had developed that aptitude in relation to manufacturing industry, it was able to carry it over into areas of sophisticated, high priced services such as banking, shipping, medical services, education and financial services.

If we fast forward some 48 years to 2013, we can see how right Lee Kwan Yew was! Today, Singapore is one of the most successful nations in the world, with a powerful economy based on electronics, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, machine production, biomedical services, financial services, petroleum refining, shipping and ship repairs, and with a per capita Gross Domestic Product of US $60,688.00 — the third highest in the world.

I wish to stress that the leader of Singapore had been guided by the notion that the people of Singapore must be given the capacity to play a critical role in disseminating the benefits created by industrial production based on the newest and most sophisticated advances in technology. As a result, Singapore has not only developed the capacity for the high technology of the past half-century, but has also consciously positioned itself to be in the thick of things as it anticipates futuristic high technology developments in computer technology, micro-biology, gene therapy, cloning, organ reproduction and other cutting edge areas of knowledge.

How do we in Barbados compare? Well, the sad truth is that we have been left way behind, and are still at the level of agitating ourselves over how we can better serve and please the white tourists that we are able to attract to our shores to enjoy our sea water and sun.

The trouble with us is that we have set our sights too low, and have been satisfied with too little. Clearly, we are not a people who are bereft of intelligence and ability. Indeed, we recently received a very pleasant reminder of the outstanding intellectual potential of our people when the story of Alan Emptage – the Barbadian computer scientist who invented the Internet search engine — hit the international news headlines. It brought home to us that it was a Barbadian who gave the world the critical invention that has permitted Google, Yahoo, Altavista and all the others to establish their multi-billion dollar enterprises.

The question we should therefore be asking ourselves is: How many other potential Allan Emptages are there among the tens of thousands of students that are being educated in our Barbadian schools?

There is no reason why we cannot set out to replicate the Singapore example by taking our people to a level where they become indispensable collaborators in the world’s most advanced and sophisticated systems of production.

And, if we adopted such an ambition and approach, we too need not restrict it only to the sphere of manufacturing or industrial production! Rather, we could also extend it to putting Barbados in the forefront of new, cutting edge developments in the Arts, the Humanities, in Education, and in the provision of a range of sophisticated, high priced professional services as well.

Of course, if any of this is to be accomplished it will require a revolution in education in Barbados. It will also require that a new way of thinking take hold at the highest levels of Government.

Too ambitious and idealistic you say! Well, I don’t think so. I don’t think that anything is beyond the capacity of the Barbadian people. But how do we start upon such a revolution? Perhaps an indispensable first step is for us to simply posit the notion and to start talking and thinking about it.

* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party

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