The distinguished diplomat
Title: The Caribbean and The Wider World: Commentaries on My Life and Career
Author: Alister McIntyre
Publisher: The Radcliffe
Reviewer: Claude Robinson
Unarguably one of the most accomplished and respected Caribbean personalities in international diplomacy and academia, Alister Meredith McIntyre has been 'in the room' for most of the major contemplations and decisions that have shaped post-colonial Caribbean societies and the global development agenda for most of the last 50 years.
He has seen a lot, done a lot, and he knows a lot. The multiple decorated Sir Alister McIntyre shares some of that vast knowledge and experience in a small, easy-to-read volume (270 pages) of commentaries on a life and career from growing up in Grenada to active service in the Caribbean as educator, institution builder, policy adviser and problem-solver to international service through the United Nations (UN) system at the highest levels of policy and practice.
For readers who grew up in the first stages of the Caribbean independence project, The Caribbean and the Wider World is a reminder of the struggles, accomplishments and disappointments of the period. For younger generations who have taken the baton, the book offers an historical perspective on what the late Professor Rex Nettleford used to call the Caribbean's ongoing "awesome process of becoming".
McIntyre begins his reflections with the early years in Grenada, where he was born in 1932. He offers brief glimpses of family structure, social relations and political life with the early anti-colonial stirrings stoked by the legendary T. Albert Marryshow and the charismatic Eric Gairy, both of whom would end up as major political figures in the Spice Island.
Marryshow's weekly political speeches, making the case for West Indies federation and political independence, would influence his life-long commitment to regionalism.
At Grenada Boys Secondary School, (GBSS), McIntyre showed early intellectual promise, passing the Cambridge Senior School Certificate Examination at 13 and the Higher School Certificate (now CAPE) two years later.
He writes of his disappointment when, on entering sixth form at 13, the headmaster refused to bestow on him the traditional sixth form honour of being a prefect. Students would not take instruction from a 13-year-old, the headmaster insisted; so he had to wait.
After GBSS and a few jobs in Grenada (including a stint as a radio DJ!), it was off to the London School of Economics (LSE), where he earned first-class honours in economics and later Nuffield College, Oxford, where he pursued graduate studies and research in economics.
McIntyre reveals that his interest in economics came at GBSS when a family friend lent him two books by the redoubtable Sir Arthur Lewis, the St Lucia-born winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. "I read them and was highly enthused" (p. 11).
He returned to the Caribbean to join the staff of the then University College of the West Indies, (UCWI), serving from 1960-64 as lecturer in the Department of Economics. He outlines several differences between himself and the largely expatriate leadership of the department. Suffice it to say, it was not an altogether satisfying experience, leading him to other directions, including teaching in the United States and policy work with the UN in Mexico.
After Mona, it was on St Augustine campus of the UWI in Trinidad and Tobago and the Institute of International Relations championed by Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams who recognised that "training in foreign affairs would be an indispensable requirement to deal with the new international issues that would arise as a result of independence", (p. 62).
St Augustine, McIntyre writes, also gave him the opportunity "to develop the Economics Department and the Programme of Management Studies along the lines that I felt was most relevant to the country and the Caribbean as a whole," (p. 68).
Back at Mona (1967-74) as director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) he found renewed energy and focus on making the Institute "a centre for research and policy information for the Caribbean", (p. 75).
That was my first time meeting and working with McIntyre, when he hired me in 1971 as publications editor for Social and Economic Studies, the peer-reviewed journal of the ISER. Apart from the journal, I had the opportunity to work on getting out publications by some of the more noted economists of the periodNorman Girvan, Owen Jefferson, C.Y. Thomas and George Beckford. Theirs were among several books published by the Institute, reflecting McIntyre's desire to use academic output to support public policy discussion on development.
He left ISER in 1974, partly because of criticisms about his leadership of the Institute. His critics (unnamed) felt he was "too willing to accept personal requests for help with policy problems from the political establishment in several Caribbean countries", (p. 79). He denies the charge.
The book catalogues McIntyre's institution-building and development work in the region from CARIFTA to CARICOM, to the Regional Negotiating Machinery to the UWI, where he was vice chancellor from 1988-98.
Among other things, he served as secretary general of CARICOM and also offered advice to specific governments on various economic development strategies and negotiations with transnational corporations, especially in the mining sector.
He describes in some detail the important role and responsibility of economists and other technical functionaries to give informed advice to political leaders without seeking to make political decisions for them or push personal agendas.
McIntyre offers insight on several integration projects that stalled, including the ambitious Caribbean Food Plan of the 1970s, designed to achieve regional food security and generate employment and higher incomes.
We all know that it foundered, but McIntyre offers reasons I had not heard before. The main issue was "major disagreement" among the principals: Jamaica's Michael Manley and Guyana's Forbes Burnham were pushing for associated status with COMECON, an association of Soviet-oriented Communist nations founded in 1949 to coordinate economic development. Dr Williams objected, and because Trinidad and Tobago was to be the main source of financing, the plan was dead with the doctor's no-vote (p. 93).
In addition, the plan failed because "there was no explicit provision for participation by the private sector" in the region (p. 96).
The book catalogues and discusses McIntyre's career with the UN system, where he served in several roles, including deputy secretary general of UNCTAD in Geneva and at a similar level at UN headquarters in New York in the 1980s.
This was also the period of upheaval in his native Grenada. In the aftermath of the US invasion following the murder of Maurice Bishop and the collapse of the state, McIntyre led the effort to structure a new administration. Subsequently, he accepted the position of interim governor general pending stabilisation of the situation and the holding of fresh elections.
But he did not take up the offer as he had serious eye problems with a real risk of going blind. Part of the treatment was to remain in a dark room for six weeks. However, a newspaper reported that it was a "diplomatic illness" and the concern was giving up the good life of a senior UN official in Geneva. He writes that he and his family were stung by this untrue report (p. 194).
Regarding his role as UWI vice chancellor, McIntyre writes that the two guiding principles of his tenure were student development and positioning UWI as "a central institution in the development of regionalism" (p. 250). These remain both fundamental and challenging.
Alister McIntyre's The Caribbean And The Wider World: Commentaries on My Life and Career, to be launched at UWI Regional Centre at Mona Monday (December 12), documents the breadth and depth of an illustrious career in academia, regionalism and multilateral cooperation.
I would have liked more reflection on the people he interacted with and the period in which he functioned. Of course, that would have required a much longer book. But what comes through unmistakeably in this volume is his abiding faith in Caribbean regionalism. "We do it better when we do it together."
- Claude Robinson is a public affairs commentator and associate teaching fellow, Mona School of Business and Management.