“You find me on the loose/ fighting to be free [Education]
now you show me a noose/ on a cotton tree [Christmas-election hampers}
Entertainment for you/ martyrdom for me”
(Adapted from Third World’s, 96 degrees in the shade)
When the images of rows upon rows and yards upon yards of Christmas hampers allegedly being prepared for distribution by political operatives of the ruling Democratic Labour Party of Barbados reached my cell phone, my thoughts immediately moved to the decision by the DLP government in 2014 to bring to an end the funding by the state of the tertiary education for all Barbadian citizens. My training in dialectical reasoning could not allow me to miss the connection between these two apparently disconnected developments, hence my paraphrasing of Third World above.
The provision by the state of tertiary education to all eligible citizens was a genuinely empowering development, which had a ripple effect in terms of development, expanding outwards from the individual to his or her individual family and reaching out to, and impacting positively the community and the nation as a whole.
In contrast, the individual, denied the benefits of a tertiary education, exists below his or her full potential, and is totally dependent on a small politician for his chance at a life. The lower the sights of the politician, the less able is he to fashion a policy program which can facilitate the genuine development and empowerment of his constituent. It is no wonder that the politicians who are at the forefront of the decisions to terminate the policy of state-funded education are the ones who are most prolific in organising parties for children, dinners for retires and are often found handing out tablets and laptops to grateful constituents. It is almost as if their idea of representation is to make people dependent, rather than self-sufficient.
There is something particularly obscene in twenty-first century politicians getting personal satisfaction from the dependence upon handouts by large sections of the population. The obscenity deepens considerably when those handouts are dished out for votes in a context where most of the previous options for independent self-advancement have been closed by the very policy-makers who come bearing gifts. Like negative Robin Hoods, they take much from the poor to give them less.
There is much that is wrong in the idea that the personal distribution of hampers is good politics. There is even more that is wrong when these hampers go to families whose sons and daughters had previously benefitted from state funded tertiary education, and who would likely have empowered themselves and their families, free from the seasonal indignity of depending on itinerant politicians.
Unfortunately, any hopes for a more progressive politics will have to await the emergence of a new generation of politicians. The current generation has disqualified itself.
By Dr. Tennyson S. D. Joseph