Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Letter of the Day | Imagination first, reparations next

Published:Friday | July 10, 2020 | 12:14 AM


I think that if CARICOM countries are serious about asking European countries for reparations, they should first draw up a list of specific developmental projects and then ask these former colonial governments for assistance in implementing them.

Preparing such a list would be an exercise of imagination, the ability to think about what is not the case. This kind of creative thinking is more difficult and challenging than thinking about what used to be the case: slavery, colonialism, and so on. But it would be more persuasive evidence that we were serious about contributing something of our own to the development of our post-colonial societies.

Germany compensated Israel by giving money to assist in the resettlement of Jews. It compensated individuals who could document and verify that they had been harmed. After the Japanese massacred thousands of Singaporeans, Lee Kuan Yew mentioned reparations to them but did not press for it. But his request planted a seed in the minds of the Japanese, and they responded by giving Singapore a sum – half as grants and the rest as loans – a move that benefited both countries.

In international affairs, countries are seldom moved by moral suasion, by long lists of historical grievances, or by the copious weeping and gnashing of teeth. They are motivated primarily by their own self-interest and are more likely to be moved by feasible, practical proposals, and the kinds of collaboration that are likely to reflect on themselves positively as well as boost mutual respect.

There have been several examples of this kind of creative imagination in the Jamaican past. I am thinking of examples like Norman Manley’s Jamaica Welfare, Michael Manley’s National Housing Trust, and Edward Seaga’s HEART programme. It is the challenge of present leaders to engage in this kind of creative thinking. Our own creative achievements are the best kind of decolonisation. Our leaders should draw inspiration from the creative achievements of the past; try to do likewise, and use both to inspire the intellectual creativity of future generations.


Former lecturer in philosophy

The University of the West