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Commentary: Politics is education, not tribalism
Published on May 4, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Oliver Mills

Rickey Singh, a popular Caribbean journalist, in an article in the Saturday Express titled “Promises of new Jamaican politics,” says that the PNP opposition leader in Jamaica, Dr Peter Phillips, made a plea for his people to pursue a new kind of politics to overcome ‘tribal divisiveness’ and rebuild trust for a better national future. Singh noted further that those familiar with Dr Phillips’ involvement in politics both in government and opposition will welcome his call to discard narrow-minded politics.

Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
The journalist again notes that the Peoples National Party opposition leader admitted to learning from past mistakes and declared his intention to avoid repeating them as PNP leader and as future prime minister, focus on a new political culture, and ensure an economic environment that would see the majority gaining opportunities, not just the few.

To me, this new political culture based on Singh’s information consists of an end to tribalism in politics that splits the electorate and the country into two contending political groups, the rebuilding of trust, abandoning narrow-minded politics, and opportunities for all. This I feel, presents a new vision for not only Jamaican politics, but Caribbean politics as well.

Political tribalism in any Caribbean country divides it into “us” and “them.” Policies become partisan, benefits accrue mainly to supporters, and even if a particular political party that forms the government engages in a number of positive reforms, at the next election, if the opposition wins, these policies are mostly discarded. As a result, both the country and individual citizens suffer.

This is not what politics was meant to be like. Politics is educational, and encourages unity through respecting what is good for the country as a whole, keeping it for posterity.

Trust is a moral value in politics. It is the basis of getting things done, and is at the core of mutually positive relationships. It is confiding in others, with a knowing they will deliver, based on past interactions, or dealings. And it is based on an assured certainty because of the existence of common principles, and proven behaviours. Trust is a motivation for action, based on beliefs formed about the other, borne out in different situations. It comes from a sense of bonding.

A politics that is narrow-minded is one that is blinkered, unidirectional, shows in a refusal to see another point of view, and reflects close-mindedness. But politics as education fosters open-mindedness and trustworthiness.

Good politics comes from trust, an end to divisiveness, which will then bring the populace together, and develops a receptive mind, which although holding a particular position at any one time, is willing to change beliefs, because new evidence or information has come about which shows previously held ideas are no longer valid. Politics as education and transformation can then occur.

Rickey Singh has written an interesting article, and includes political practices in more diverse Caribbean countries that are more racially-based. This kind of politics is not healthy, but is educational in a negative way. It shows how race and ethnicity can create issues and challenges preventing the cohesiveness of a society. Here, every public service considers race when dispensing resources. True political education is about societal harmony and the welfare of all, and the role of each citizen in contributing to bring this about equally.

It would be interesting to know from Dr Peter Phillips what the components of his new political culture would be specifically, how his political project would be undertaken, and the strategies to be used to enable it to work. He needs to expand on these concepts, since to me they are of immense importance to the transformation of current Caribbean society.

I am surprised that Rickey Singh did not himself elaborate on Dr Phillips’ ideas, as an educational project for the further enlightenment of Caribbean people, noting their implications for the development of Caribbean society. Instead, we are left with the impression things will remain as they are, and that dialoging about them at the margins is sufficient.

Caribbean political leaders and journalists should be thought-generators, politically educating Caribbean people into new ways of being, seeing, and interpreting, so that they are being constantly enlightened to what their possibilities are, and can bring novel ideas to the Caribbean political conversation.

Our journalists should not just report, but concretely suggest viable alternatives, noting the differences that could be made if a reasonably argued position comprising solid ideas is presented. They should not just restate what political leaders say, but also provide an intelligent analysis of the issues that are presented.

Caribbean politics is too important to be just timidly dealt with. After all, it is the highest form of education, beyond statements about race and divisiveness.

Politics is education in the sense that it seeks to make better citizens through training individuals to deliberate, and make their own choices through reason and rationality. It brings others together, so there is no room for divisiveness. Politics is education because it aims to make individuals more humane through showing respect, being sensitive, and recognizing that it is through common interests that societal unity can be forged.

Further, as an educational tool politics creates social and cultural awareness, and helps in the formation of personalities whose consciousness inspire others to make the changes that transform society into its best self. It is about building on what was created by others, so that a rich tradition emerges that all can cherish.
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