Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Community spirit the key

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government held their annual conference in Antigua & Barbuda from July 1–4. For some, this meeting was viewed as yet another regional talkshop; but for those of us with a more positive outlook, there were promising steps taken to turn talk into action.

Of particular note was the adoption of the first-ever Strategic Plan for the Caribbean Community, which is intended to “reposition the Community and identify priorities and activities that would meet the challenges of the international environment”.

According to a release from the Secretariat, the plan identifies eight Strategic Priorities and key areas of interventions: Building Economic Resilience; Social Resilience; Environmental Resilience; Technological Resilience; Strengthening the CARICOM Identity and Spirit of Community; Strengthening Community Governance along with Co-ordinated Foreign Policy, Research and Development and Innovation.

As we would expect following the two-year consultation period, the areas identified are indeed significant. However, one which we see as pivotal to the success of all of them is the strengthening of the CARICOM identity and community spirit. Despite the many organs and institutions to advance the regional integration movement, it is the people of the region which put the ‘community’ in CARICOM; therefore, without their interest and involvement, there can be little hope for integration to move forward, rather than in circles.

We would never underestimate the impact of regional entities on the lives of Caribbean nationals. Nonetheless, we are concerned that the idea of a regional identity is still far away from the everyday experience of the Caribbean citizen. Indeed, sometimes even the very officials who pledge to promote a regional outlook can be inconsistent in their utterances and actions. For regional integration to be truly successful, regional governments will have to make a greater effort to analyse national issues through the lens of regionalism and incorporate regional perspectives into national discussions – and not just as a basis of negative comparison – so that citizens begin to see themselves as part of one regional family on a consistent basis.

Sad to say, but we would bet that if asked the significance of July 4, the average CARICOM citizen would cite the Independence Day of the USA. While this is indeed true, it is also celebrated as CARICOM Day. Yet, from what we can tell, this is an occasion that is met with little fanfare throughout the region. As far as we can see, it has little to no significance to the man on the street, or even the executive in the office or the technocrat in the conference room.

The selection this year of an official CARICOM song is a step in the right direction, as anthems have long been seen as a unifying force for a nation. If regional governments are serious about this aspect of the Strategic Plan, there are tried and true awareness-raising methods that have not yet been fully utilised, such as an increased media presence year-round, with a spike during the lead-up to CARICOM Day. Similarly, existing regional entities can do more to promote a feeling of connectedness among their staff, as well as the Caribbean public they serve.

We are not suggesting a subsumption of the national identity into a generic regional one, but there must be a way for the two to co-exist more comfortably.

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