Forward Ever, Backward Never

Apologies if the title offends some sensibilities but “Action and Progress” would do just as well. This is not about ideological isms and schisms, only concepts we borrow to draw parallels with current trends in our struggle for development. It is about progressive forces struggling with obstructionists and reactionaries to take Grenada into the 21st century.

We highlight four bold national initiatives, their trials and tribulations, and their contribution to national development. Then we present a new struggle with déjà vu all over again. In the early 1970s, Prime Minister Eric Gairy solicited Grenada’s independence from Britain and triggered a national crisis of violent opposition. The island became a “war zone” of street protests, demonstrations, strikes, and rampant police brutality. The Duffus Commission of Inquiry reported a total breakdown of law and order.

Opposition was against the context of independence not independence itself. Many feared that independence would usher in a new reign of terror under the “Gairy dictatorship”. They demanded a referendum on the issue. Yet, despite the troubles, independence achieved significant development advances for Grenada.

With the stroke of a pen we became a proud member of the international community of nations, choosing our friends, and charting foreign policy without interference from a metropolitan colonial master. Independence was our greatest national development initiative.

In 1976, St George’s University School of Medicine was established by an Act of Parliament to operate on True Blue lands south of the island. Detractors condemned the initiative as bad policy. A heritage movement protested wanton sale of our national assets to foreigners and environmentalists predicted havoc on the fishing industry and tourism from cadaver contamination of the surrounding seas. None of these arguments prevailed.

Today, St George’s University makes the largest contribution (16%) to gross domestic product (GDP). With a student population from 140 countries, the institution is credited with promoting medical tourism and the internationalisation of Grenada.

The construction of the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) provoked the biggest conflict in the history of Grenada. It created deep internal polarisation and the external condemnation culminated in war with the most powerful military force on earth, United States of  Domestic opposition denounced the destruction of nearby black-and-white sand beaches and inequitable compensation for land tenureship. However, the price of progress and development was small and the benefits vastly outweighed the cost. But the United States accused the People’s Revolutionary Government of building a military airport for Russian fighter planes in its “backyard” and the 1983 Grenada invasion was largely based on this false premise. Our counter-revolutionary insurrection was just the pretext for war.

OECS comparative statistics show positive correlations between international airports and economic growth. In our evolving global dynamics, the international airport is a critical logistical infrastructure to integrate with the world. As an international hub, MBIA leverages Grenada’s global connectivity in trade, tourism, and business. It is an engine of growth and development.

Our national stadium is a world class, state-of-the-art complex equipped with athletic facilities for training Olympic champions like Kirani James and hosting international cricket tournaments. The stadium is a powerful marketing tool for sports tourism.

However, like previous national initiatives, stadium development suffered birth pains and was almost prematurely aborted by disputes among foreign contractors. “Blows” from human error compromised its structural integrity and an act of God almost blew it away. In addition, many labeled the U$23 million capital investment project a useless “white elephant” costing money better spent on poverty mitigation.

And now we embark on a new initiative, a national university all developing countries see as indispensable for their development. With transformational education reform, the university’s national curriculum will empower the economy. Macro-economic development will be driven by a critical mass of innovative STEM systems, research and development (R&D), and information communication technologies (ICT) focusing our indigenous scientific needs including agriculture, fishing, and business. The STEM acronym means science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

Grenada has built a reputation on world-class, state-of-the-art standards for our institutions which must be maintained. Moreover, a university is universal and it must possess universal quality standards. Nothing less would do.

Naturally, the project faces challenges like everything else. It must be recognised as a national imperative and this requires political will for intervention by the authoritative powers. Also, very importantly, as a national university with international outreach, we need overseas embassies and missions (Toronto, New York, London) to launch the mobilisation of diaspora nationals to share ownership support for the venture.

As expected, opposition to the university project has been fast and furious. Some see it as tertiary education duplicity – wrong because the university will address the Grenada economy, something none of our tertiary institutions have ever done. Vicious scaremongering tactics, including allegations of a university scam to manufacture bogus degrees without accreditation, have bombarded the mass media. Déjà vu, anyone?

Yet, notwithstanding distractions, the national university initiative is gaining serious momentum. With action and progress, it is forward ever, backwards never.

Jay Bruno

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