by Earl Bousquet
Whenever I say ‘I wish every Caribbean citizen would tune to UWItv
Global at least once a day’, I’m always asked to explain why — and I
always give more than one reason, each time.
One: It’s the only regional TV station and system committed to giving
the Caribbean a mirror to watch and a platform to parade itself as a
dynamic region with people and institutions akin to all — and better
Two: Its programming offers knowledge and exposes Caribbean leadership
in and at its full, like one I watched on August 9, 2020 that
celebrated The University of the West Indies (The UWI) for a string of
sterling achievements never scored by any other in the Caribbean or
The UWI had quietly achieved ‘Three Firsts’ in three
years, following a new, innovative and challenging plan to elevate it
to global competitive standards and is now ranked First in the
Caribbean, One of the Top Ten in Latin America and one of the Top Ten
Percent in the world.
Three: UWITv Global has, within the same three short years, also
gained a deserved reputation as the region’s only television channel
featuring content entirely produced in the Caribbean by and for the
Caribbean, with exquisite voices and images of Caribbean people of all
walks of life.
The station lauded the achievements on the regional,
Hemispheric and global academic highway, by showing how it was done
and why the results emerged.
Four: And the advent of UWItv Global and its service to the Caribbean
must also be added to the list of The UWI’s achievements in recent
years under its current leadership.
Five: The sharing of the wealth of knowledge of UWI Graduates of various ages
and stages interviewing or being interviewed about regional subjects
or international developments of regional import on UWItv Global’s
screens is another reason to always be sure that tuning-in will offer
a new or different perspective on a regional or national issue.
Six: The UWI’s new alliances with international universities such as
with the University of Glasgow have resulted in access to millions of
dollars worth of research funding, now available,
as part of a joint Reparatory Justice program between the two
universities worth £20 million.
I can (and sometimes do) offer more reasons to “Doubting Thomases” why
they should simply go home and just press the channel numbers for
UWItv Global, but the six factors in the equation offered will suffice
as they all have one common denominator: Leadership of the current UWI
Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.
Beckles is not just an acknowledged Caribbean historian and academic
of international standing; he is also considered in the sporting world
as being more knowledgeable about the history of West Indies cricket
than any other writer on the subject. (He’s written a few books on the
More than that, his very life revolves around The UWI, which he has
led admirably since moving up from Cave Hill Principal to Vice
Chancellor at Mona.
From Day One, the new VC set the objectives of preparing and making
the UWI to not only confirm its place as the region’s top university,
but also to compete with and rank among the best any and everywhere.
And in less than three years, he built a leadership team that has
almost mechanically synchronized with and in time across the three UWI
campuses, the ‘Five Campus’ entity in Antigua & Barbuda (representing
the OECS territories) and the UWI Open Campus that has taken classes
online and offshore to over 30 non-campus territories and entities
across the wider region.
‘Leading from in front’
Beckles’ leadership in each of these departments has been crucial in
setting and achieving the high goals being celebrated together, in one
short period of time.
And their levels of progress and achievement at home and abroad (in
the region and on the world stage) under his watch, have been nothing
but remarkable, as reflected in the citations and other commendations
coming to The UWI today, now more than ever.
His role has been one of ‘leading from in front’ (to quote an
appropriate Caribbean term). He is President of an Association of
Caribbean universities that included 58 across the multi-lingual
region of islands and mainland territories washed by the Caribbean Sea,
and is widely respected in the world of university alliances.
Just recently, he signed an agreement on behalf of The UWI with the
alliance of Universities of the European Union and the latest
graduation of the regional institution higher-up the universal
tertiary ladder is sure to result in more similar alliances with
similar bodies on other continents.
An author of too many books and papers to list, the UWI’s Vice
Principal, as a devout historian with an insatiable appetite for new
facts, wrote the seminal piece on Reparations called ‘Britain’s Black
Expecting the unexpected
Beckles faces one hiccup that’s become sorrily traditional across the
Caribbean over time — people expecting nothing from the best from
good performers, to the extent of getting so accustomed that
performances of excellence are treated as customary, normal and/or
natural and therefore to be expected.
But this can sometimes result in the value of each achievement being
either overlooked or undervalued and totally unappreciated, simply
because the good performer, like parents expect of their
high-performance child students, is expected to only and always score
top marks as ‘the best’.
Beckles, like all his predecessors, is naturally expected to give it
his all, but when one has gone beyond normal expectations like he has,
each signal achievement is deserving of the equally signal praise that
is often normally withheld from consistent sterling performers.
It’s crystal clear to all who have followed his words and works that
Beckles has well-studied (and perhaps also well-patterned, some will
say) his academic life along the lines of his predecessor and first
UWI Vice Chancellor, Sir Arthur Lewis.
Sir Arthur wrote the seminal piece ‘Labour in the West Indies’ ten
years before being appointed to lead the transformation of the
colonial College of the West Indies into the UWI in 1948, then spent
the next down years fighting to preserve its regional character in the
face of the divisions that came with the end of the West Indies
That first major published work by Sir Arthur contained the first
veritable case for Reparations from Britain for Slavery and he is now
belatedly celebrated as the intellectual author of the first blueprint
for Caribbean Reparations that CARICOM is now proposing as the basis
for the British and Europeans to pay their outstanding historical
debt, through a Caribbean Development Plan to be called ‘The Lewis
Plan’ (akin to the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II).
Paramount to development
Like Lewis, Professor Beckles sees The UWI’s role as paramount to the
development of the Caribbean. Both men carved roles that transcended national barriers and drawn borders
and allowed The UWI to ride the waves that crashed colonies, and each
has stood out in their prescriptions for the university that, at
different times, raised its profile beyond the West Indies and the
Lewis secured the UWI as a unit after the crash of the West Indies
Federation and Beckles has taken it beyond realms ever thought
possible a decade ago.
Lewis and Beckles’ personalities are as distant as their generational
gap, but they walked and followed similar paths in the world of
academia: Lewis etched his name in stone in 1939 with ‘Labour in the
West Indies’ and Beckles did likewise with ‘Britain’s Black Debt’.
And the economist and historian also share reputations as bearers of
unwelcome and embarrassing, uncomfortable truths they uncovered before
During their life experiences and research they’ve come across hard
facts they used to prove true the hitherto unbelievable, revealing the
depth and extent of the excesses of the colonial overlords in their
management of chattel slavery and suppression of the colonies.
But governments and diplomats take personal or political umbrage to
disclosures of such uncomfortable truths, often preferring to take
offense to the disclosures than confront or accept the realities
revealed by time and history.
Interestingly, it is Beckles who’s made the most consistent case for
adequate and deserving recognition of Sir Arthur’s seminal work, done
after he’d taken time off as the youngest black on the British lecture
circuit and left Britain at the tender age of 23 to tour the British
West Indian colonies in 1938 to witness, document and assess the
conditions that led to what the British called ‘riots’ but he
described as ‘revolutions’.
In the book produced therefrom, Lewis offers a permanent blueprint for
Reparations from Britain to the West Indies, for 200 years of unpaid
labor (slavery) and compensation for the atrocious conditions
bequeathed to its colonies and majority poor people therein after
Emancipation and Abolition.
Have all those who have reviewed and graded works like ‘Labour in the
West Indies’ over the past eight decades failed to see in it what
Beckles has seen and CARICOM governments are now ready to adopt as the
model of Caribbean Development Plan they would like to see Europe fund
for the benefit of its former colonies (like the USA did with the
Marshall Plan after World War II)?
Or have they (like the gatekeepers of British literati did back in 1939
when they chose to bury the Moyne Commission’s report and
recommendations during the nine years the war lasted) also chosen to
ignore, downplay and overly disavow its relevance even today, eight
Both assumptions can be true — or not. But before Beckles shone some
Caribbean sunlight directly on the seminal Lewis all of almost eight
decades later, the reviewers were either blinded to the truth or
donned wooden goggles every time that book landed before them
Yet, all their differences apart, Lewis and Beckles seem joined at the
hip by their common commitment to the pursuit of Reparations from Britain by
way of development plans and the institutionalization of Reparatory Justice.
Their two mentioned related books harbor the veins they share on the
subject, as do the like passions that belie their arguments.
Around the globe
When Caribbean leaders discussed a call at their 34th Summit in
Trinidad & Tobago back in July 2013 for CARICOM to pursue Reparations
from Britain, their agreement stemmed from a major presentation
submitted by Beckles, at the time Principal of The UWI’s Cave Hill
And when the CARICOM leaders met for the first Reparations summit two
months later in September in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and
decided to establish a CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), they
chose Beckles, as Cave Hill principal, to be its Chairman.
In its seven years, the CRC has taken the regional quest for
reparations not only around the Caribbean but also around the globe —
to the British House of Lords and the US Congress, to Africa and Latin
America, to the universities of Europe and The Americas — veritably
to every nook and cranny he’s been since his appointment to the role
held by Sir Arthur and in his position as an equally committed
It should therefore be no surprise to anyone that in his next book,
Beckles aims to put Lewis, one of his obvious mentors, in a better
light. He makes no apology to name it ‘How Europe Underdeveloped the
Caribbean’ (almost akin to that by Walter Rodney about ‘How Europe
Underdeveloped Africa’) as, in it, he takes a similar approach to
following Lewis’ chart and set path to show how the British did
The likes of Lewis and Beckles also tend to be sacrificial lambs,
either slaughtered on altars of history by the descendants and
apologists for the slave masters and their heirs and successors
through undisguised and untraceable punishment, or through direct
deprivation of their ability to continue to be themselves for as long
as their words and works continue to expose today’s empires built on
the backs of slaves.
Lewis was denied the job of chancellor of a prestigious university in
Britain because of who he was: he was told his application was the
best by far and he qualified above all others, but he could not be
appointed ‘for other reasons’ that turned out to be a directive from
an influential minister in the then British government.
More than once the British did Lewis in, forcing him in the end to
dump all trust in the royal realm and to seek solace in his later
years in Africa, the West Indies and the USA, becoming the first
Economic Advisor to the first president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, who,
like Lewis, was a confessed Garveyite (influenced by the words and
works of Caribbean-born international figure Marcus Garvey).
Nkrumah named the national shipping company of independent Ghana ‘The
Black Star Line’ after a similar company established by Garvey in the
early 20th century to transport Blacks who wanted to repatriate to
Africa from the USA.
After Ghana, Lewis returned to the Caribbean to help lay the deep
foundations today enjoyed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), of
which he was a founding president.
His influence also led to the later establishment of the Eastern
Caribbean Currency Authority (ECCA), the veritable Central Bank for
the smaller and thereby disadvantaged OECS (Organization of East
Caribbean States) territories that he had also championed in an
earlier work called ‘The Agony of The Eight’. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Lewis is featured on the EC $100 bill, the highest in the OECS.
Will Beckles’ head one day feature on a future CARICOM currency note?
Nobody knows, as none of those deserving prominent Caribbean citizens
whose heads are on the national currency notes in CARICOM or the OECS
did anything but earn those places through their works over time.
But while Beckles himself would most likely squirm at the very idea of
him being even minted on a coin or paper, there’s no getting away from
the fact that he and Lewis continue to share a common Caribbean legacy
that’s also their common currency — and one that no one else can
spend or share.