Caribbean Studies Association 50th Anniversary Conference: Scholars Urged to Set a New Paradigm for Sustainable Caribbean Development

By Earl Bousquet
Dr June Soomer delivering the feature address at the 50th Anniversary CSA Conference
Dr June Soomer delivering the feature address at the 50th Anniversary CSA Conference

The Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) launched its 50th anniversary conference at the Harbour Club Hotel in Gros Islet on Monday (June 3), with calls on scholars to set a new paradigm for the region’s sustainable development.

The same call was made separately by Saint Lucia’s Education Minister and the Chairs of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC) Board of Governors and the University of the West Indies (UWI) Global Campus Council, each calling for radical approaches to revisiting the present and future of the Caribbean Education, if it’s ever to become sufficiently-relevant and sustainable.

Third Time & Three Languages

The opening ceremony of the CSA’s 48th annual conference was the third in Saint Lucia and delegates were welcome with multilingual remarks in the indigenous Kweyol  language, also in English and Spanish.

Hundreds of delegates attended from Saint Lucia, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the wider Caribbean region, including Cuba, Martinique and Guadeloupe, the Netherlands Antilles (Curacao and Sint Maarten), Africa and the African Diaspora, Canada, France, UK and the USA.

Under the theme ‘Caribbean Development Sustainability: The Convergence of Technology, People, Planet, Peace, Prosperity and Partnerships’, the conference heard Chair of the SALCC Board of Governors, Cletus Springer, welcome the participants on behalf of the organizers – SALCC, the UWI Global Campus (Saint Lucia) and the Monsignor Patrick Anthony Folk Research Center (FRC).

Bridging Divides

Education Minister Shawn Edwards welcomed the CSA delegates to “the island that produced two Nobel Prize-winners” and “over which nations fought”, also urging that they think and act in ways that’ll “bridge the digital divide” in pursuit of sustainable education and development.

Also calling for delegates to “redefine prosperity”, the minister called on university graduates and the region’s education decision-makers to “forge alliances for cooperation and share themes, on the journey of transformation and renewal.”

Revolutionary Mindset

Feature speaker Dr June Soomer – also Chair of the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum for People of African Descent – reflected similar views and posited that “only a revolutionary mindset” will bring the level of sustainable development necessary for advancing genuine Caribbean development.

Recalling Sir Arthur Lewis’ warning that “Equilibrium is not equality”, the UWI Global Campus Council’s chair also called on the gathered scholars to start to “face the region’s peculiar development challenges.”

Dr Soomer noted that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while okay, will also need adaptation to the region’s specific “spiritual, moral and cultural realities.”

Again quoting Sir Arthur, she noted the task at hand today is to “uproot a 200-years-old system of colonial education” implanted over time by those he described as “living on islands of wealth, in oceans of poverty.”

Acknowledging Caribbean Pioneers

Urging that the Caribbean start acknowledging its regional pioneers who laid the groundwork for much that’s still relevant today, Dr Soomer argued offered the example of Sir Arthur and another significant contributor to economic theory.

She said, “We know everything about Adam Smith, but nothing about Sir Arthur Lewis.

“But,” she added, “if Sir Arthur had been from the Global North, he would surely have been acknowledged globally” for his no-less-important contributions to theories of economic development for developing nations.

Revisiting Regionalism

Saying “Our educational advancement has been forestalled,” Ambassador Soomer advocated that “We have to revisit regionalism, or our independence will mean nothing.”

Dr Soomer also called for more sharing of stories of unsung national heroes who struggled against slavery and for emancipation, noting that while much is known regionally and internationally of Jamaica’s national hero ‘Nanny’, not-as-much is yet known of Saint Lucia’s ‘Petronille’, who was murdered in plain sight of fellow-enslaved for her determined resistance to slavery, or the Dominican resistance leader, ‘Sarah’.

“We cannot stand-up for our rights,” Dr she argued, “if only half our story is told.”

She also quoted current President of the UN General Assembly, Trinidad & Tobago Ambassador Dennis Francis, to say: “If our colonial education system isn’t changed, we shall continue to be mental slaves to our colonizers.”

New Development Paradigm

The feature presenter warned that it’s important “not to allow others to recreate our past” and “to have the world respect our rights.”

She proposed “a new development paradigm” to be considered, adopted and implemented, with regional and global cooperation, “because we cannot attain full development on our own…’

The ambassador, who is also a member of Saint Lucia’s National Reparations Committee (NRC), named UWI Vice Chancellor and Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), Sir Hilary Beckles, among her mentors.

She invited the gathering to always consider that Education is not only about its financial cost, but more about the importance of being educated – again quoting Sir Arthur, who said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

Themes and Topics

Other themes and topics presented and discussed during workshops at the CSA conference included: ‘Lands, Skies and Seas: Ecological Crises, Climate Action and Caribbean Futures’; ‘Development Cooperation in the Caribbean: Technology, Integration and Growth’; ‘People, Partnership, Peace and Prosperity: The Role of Women in Facilitating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Caribbean’; ‘Rethinking Investment, Economic Development and sustainable Growth in the Caribbean Region’ and ‘Culturally Responsive Sustainability for Regional Development – Protecting Our Shared Space’.

CSA members also discussed ‘The State of the CSA After 50 Years’, ‘Finding Support Though to the Next Level’, ‘People and Prosperity’ and ‘Publishing 101’.

Notable Highlights

Other notable highlights included the brief but telling address by Wes Hall, the owner of Harbour Club Hotel – the conference venue – a Jamaican who worked on a plantation as a child and moved to Canada, where’s he’s now Chancellor of the University of Toronto.

Also present was a 90-year-old woman delegate from Guadeloupe, the oldest CSA member present.

The Vote of Thanks was delivered by SALCC Principal Dr Madjerie Jameson-Charles, who was acknowledged to have set the successful hosting of the third and historic 50th CSA anniversary conference in Saint Lucia as an immediate priority after taking office in 2023.

Screening and Launch

The opening night ended with a screening of the international award-winning Saint Lucian-produced film ‘Shantaye’s World’, written and directed by dynamic local film-maker Mathurine Emmanuel.

Thursday (May 6) featured an ‘Authors Celebration’ at the conference, where and when Saint Lucian Professor Tennyson Joseph will launch his latest book on celebrated Trinidadian and Caribbean political thinker and writer, C.L.R. James.

The conference concluded on Friday, June 7  with a new president, Rhoda Arrindell of Sint Maarten, who will serve for 2024-2025.

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