A ‘failed state’? Not my native land

By Raffique Shah
May 25, 2008

Hall of Justice“Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! If such there breathe, go, mark him well; for him no minstrel raptures swell; High though his titles, proud his name, boundless his wealth as wish can claim, Despite those titles, power, and pelf, the wretch, concentered all in self”

Sir Walter Scott

Recently, many politicians, columnists, academics and ordinary citizens have boldly applied the new global catchwords, “failed state”, to Trinidad and Tobago. They cite unbridled crime, the seemingly powerless protective services, and the consequential insecurity of the population, as signs of a collapsed State. They argue, not without merit, that the judicial system is subverted by shoddy police investigations, murdered witnesses, and others who conveniently lose their memories in the witness stand. Most of all, citizens’ insecurity seems overpowering.

To add to this cacophony of discontent, President Max Richards is reported as having described the country as being “backward”. The President lamented the fact that less than ten per cent of the population has achieved tertiary education. In contrast, he argued, in successful countries like the USA, Japan and Korea, up to 38 per cent of the working population have attained higher education. Besides President Max, others also point to a failing education system, a health system that fails to deliver and poverty levels that are inconsistent with the country’s wealth.

While I agree with all these observations, gross inadequacies on the part of the Government and its agencies, I cannot call my country a “failed” or “failing” state: my soul is not dead, nor is my patriotism shattered by the failings of the Government, the State, and most of all the people.

There are many definitions of a “failed state”, but the one I find most applicable is by the US-based Global Policy Forum: “Failed states can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty. Within this power vacuum, people fall victim to competing factions and crime, and sometimes the United Nations or neighbouring states intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”

The Brookings Institution’s definition: “In other words, weak states are unable or unwilling to provide essential public services, which include fostering equitable and sustainable economic growth, governing legitimately, ensuring physical security, and delivering basic services. Yet, lacking concrete metrics to evaluate state capacity in each core area of state responsibility , policymakers and scholars resort to a host of adjectives-“weak”, “fragile”, “failing”, “failed” and even “collapsed”-to distinguish among countries suffering from a wide variety of capacity gaps.”

If we agree with these definitions, can we seriously classify Trinidad and Tobago as such? In education, while we are far from where we ought to be, we can safely assume that 90 per cent of children have access to primary and secondary levels education. More recently, with the introduction of free tertiary education, almost anyone who has five CXC passes can enter some institutions, while others need Advanced Level or CAPE passes. So the state provides the means by which parents can easily educate their children.

I do not agree, however, that tertiary level education is a measure of intellect, or even of intelligence. Nowadays, here, and in the high-performing countries President Max referred to, many products of those institutions are hardly more intelligent than post-primary students of yesteryear.

We point to the high failure rates at all levels of the education system. Who are to blame? Government? Teachers? Parents? Students? Quote “It’s unacceptable that 20 per cent of pupils go from primary to secondary not fully functional in literacy and numeracy.” TTUTA? No, that’s from an Ofsted report in the UK last week. It added that ten per cent of teens are “dropouts”. Violence and drunkenness among the young are reaching alarming proportions in England. A more frightening development there is a rise in numbers of violent “girl gangs”. So shall we call Britain a “failed state”?

That we do have an intractable problem in runaway crime and citizens’ personal security is indisputable. Government and its security forces have failed miserably in reining in the bandits and murderers, in eradicating “gangsta culture”.

While Prime Minister Patrick Manning proceeds merrily with his notion of skyline development, I often wonder is he spares a daily word in his nightly prayers for the hundreds of victims of criminal activities.

Robberies and rapes in broad daylight: the lawless no longer need to cover of darkness to conduct their nefarious activities. A policeman doing what he thought was his duty was shot five times by a thief, such is the criminal world’s disregard for the law and its officers.

Still, do all these negatives make us a “failed state” or a “backward” country? Think of life in these randomly selected countries before you answer: Sudan, Somalia, Burma, Nepal, Nigeria, DR Congo, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Would any Trini, from pensioner to “piper”, professional to politician, opt to live in these countries? I think not.

-To be continued


9 thoughts on “A ‘failed state’? Not my native land”

  1. Hi Mr. Shah , how are you? Keep up the good work There is nothing better than a man who loves his country passionately and strives to ensure that it gets to the level that it deserves. I like your commitment over the years in what ever capacity you found yourself. You have never haulted in your drive to be the voice of reason . Stay strong and keep up your good work.Let us continue to keep the healty dialogue moving in our quest to find the solutions for our beloved twin state. Our country deserves no less.

  2. Trinidad and Tobago is not a failed state, a failed government but not a failed state, not yet at least

  3. although I have lived abroad for many years it was always been my dream to return on retirement it is now coming to that point. What I cannot understand it is said to be a failed state yet so many foreigners are buying property in the failed state and people who will like to return is priced out of the market. I love my country with all its warts, during my time abroad I have returned with my children to live in the country for 3 years they loved it andnow they are grown up they still talk about the experience. Of course we will like better governement but T&Tis not a failed state

  4. You are on to something here Ms. J. You see, the few nationals like your self, and some sensible foreigners knows a good deal when you see it. You are quite aware of what a failed state really is, once you have access to the internet, can read beyond high school levels ,and don’t depend on leaders with the dinosaur mindset to mislead you and make you believe that everything outside in places like Germany , Italy ,Miami , Vancouver , and ,New York is great.
    I for one would forever regret not bringing my kids home a bit more often so that they can reconnect and stake more of a rightful claim on this blessed country. I am working feverishly on it now, in recognition that this is all you really own- what your ancestors toiled and paid a heavy price for.
    It is correct time to invest in your country and do encourage the kids to do the same, and make what ever contribution you can towards its development. Do not be misled by those pretending to run, and use every opportunity to tarnish the good name of the country. The last time some of these clowns saw a ‘fail state’ was in a text book or some obscure International Relations journal when they were busy getting educated at the taxpayers expense abroad.
    Notice how we have finally progressed, the Brits are now demanding Visas to come to their country. Perhaps they are attempting to deter some of us from bringing so many frivolous appeals to their antiquated Law Lords.
    Your point on better government is valid, who would not want one? See how Americans cannot wait for November 2008. It remains however the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that this occurs. Let’s begin by being vigilant, and hold ‘all’ our respective leaders to the same high standards. Please note my emphasis , as this small point is often overlooked.

  5. I am certain there are many voices like ours who will like more for our nationals i understand the law is now in progress to stop foreign nationals from purchasing land. I think of pandoras box once it is open how are they going to close all the loopholes. There are many like myself who have the same dream, some think we are mad and some say go for it. All we can do is follow our dreams. I hope there will be more like Mr Shah who stands up for his country. It is never too late take your children now Neal they will have the experience of a lifetime.

  6. Trinidad is a chosen country but we have either ‘removed’ or stepped out of the ‘secret place’ for so long that we have become gravely lost,repentance is critically needed and we will be restored because we are loved by an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God who can still cause all[fallen] things to work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his plan!!!!

  7. Well done dear rog ,our pleasant, faithful,God fearing ,neo Christian , turn the other cheek, let dem again kick in your brain kinda fellow.’Flaunt your Bible pontification matras about hysterical “chosen country” / milk and honey . In case you forgot , your country is made up of Hindus, 400 differentiated white god Christians, Muslims, Jews, Confucianist,new aged Buddhist, and myriads of greedy, money grabbing atheists,fixated on economic power aka selfish, family aggrandizement ,as they continually milk their fellow ‘Trinis to the bone.’

  8. Message to Neal.There is reason for optimism!

    The browning of the clans
    PETER O’CONNOR Sunday, February 28 2010

    Back in the 1950’s when I first started working in the oilfields, one of my early girlfriends was a beautiful girl in Port-of-Spain who happened to be — using today’s language —“pass for white.” Although my parents, when they met her, were charmed, and welcomed her, my father soon was to ask me how serious was the relationship, because she had — in the language of the times —“a touch of colour.”Any potential social crisis was averted when she dumped me, and we both moved on.

    Fast forward to the late 1960’s, when I returned to Trinidad from University in Houston, having experienced the Civil Rights Movement, having walked through a Klu Klux Klan picket line to hear Stokely Carmichael speak on campus, and having a failed marriage to terminate, I found Trinidad a very changed place. The people in the clubs and parties that I was frequenting represented a far wider cross section of our society than was the case when I left in early 1964. Even my friends were different—-as were my parents’ friends— people who, years earlier, my father might have entertained in restaurants were now guests in his home, and when I brought home my dark girlfriends, the question of their colour was never raised.

    There was never any issue in the wider family when I got married again, to a girl far darker than the “pass for white” young lady who was the subject of concern in the 1950’s. And by now Trinidad had changed even more. The “Black Power” Revolution of 1970 had demanded –and achieved— considerable opportunity for young black people seeking employment in the banking and insurance industries. Incidentally, it was J’ouvert morning, 1970, protest Mas, when I met the girl who would become my wife.

    So let us move now to the Thursday after Carnival, 2010 — “Beyonce Thursday” you might say. It was also the day of the funeral of a cousin and dear friend. She, a carnival person all her life, had helped to make costumes for Conrad O’Brien’s small bands in the fifties, and stayed on, working with Wayne Berkley through the eighties and nineties. So, we went down to St Finbar’s Church to pay our respects and bid her farewell. It was a funeral of the French Creoles of Trinidad, with lots of good old white people my age and older.

    As I gazed around the church, I was aware of the new stratification which is becoming apparent. There were a lot of silver-haired old white people like me, but the next generation down, of course, had black, brown, blond and red hair. Then the generation following them not only had darker hair, but darker skins—and the little ones—the young grandchildren and great grandchildren were all so very different. As a little team gathered the collection baskets to take up the Offering, I realised that they were no longer white—but Indian, Chinese, and “Red”—lovely little children coming out of the confluence of all of our origins, to see off their Granny who had been born into such a different world than theirs.

    And poorer, too! In the old days when ethnic purity was more important than it is now, people could not appreciate and enjoy the diversity of friends, lovers, spouses, children and grandchildren who looked different than themselves. And please do not lecture me that back in the old days so much was better than now—like people having more honesty, “morality” and integrity. I agree with you. But the fact that our children are sharing their lives with people who look different than us, is not immoral or wrong. Indeed it is our saving grace in a time when standards in all of our constituencies have been changed — for the worse.

    For, as David Rudder sang to us a few short years ago — it is here that the Ganges has met the Nile. But more than just these two great rivers mix as one in our land. Into this mixed stream also flows the Yangtze, the Thames, Seine, Euphrates, Shannon, the Orinoco and many others.

    And as this great river of humanity flows through our land, no politician, no so-called leader can collect a pail of this water and separate the different sources from one another. It cannot be done. When we understand that, we will begin to accept that our problems are not about who we are, or how we look, but rather, how we behave.

    So, as I look into the different eyes of those little children, and indeed into the different eyes of my own grandchildren, I know that, but for our leaders, the future is secure. Let the Rivers flow!

  9. You are preaching to the wrong person cousin T-Man, for it is your one time Opposition leader in Chief Mr. Panday that needs reeducation as to the evolvement of his society. See what wiser , and more learned folks than myself have to say about the subject.


    Tell him for us that Madame Kamela is here to stay , and Indian women just like his political daughter Mikila,are no longer prepared to remain home barefoot ,illiterate , pregnant every other week, so as to sell roast corn along the dangerous highway , like they did during his boyhood before his fancy British education.Inform him that all those Trini Douglas did not emerge in our country due to rapes , as those idiots in Guyana like to claim.There is lots of love to go around for all of us in this our country. The only problem is that politicians stuck in the Medieval time zones are unaware.
    Well, as for uncle Peter O’Connor, our supposedly white Trini brother. We are happy that he became liberated when it comes to other amorous tribal overtures, unlike most of his other semi racist brothers and sisters that hides themselves away in Westmoorings , Maraval , Federation Park ,and Valsayn over the years. After all T- Man, there are only so many Chinese women available in Trinidad who can pass for white to historically compensate for the depletion of sexually liberated ,neo feminist , independent white women to service their men.
    For obvious reasons, inter racial romances was never a problem for folks from the African Diaspora T-Man.It is the others of divergent tribes that struggled to curb their prejudices, unless the Mandingo souls is a PM , a millionaire entertainment superstar, or holds some other socially influential and acceptable position.

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