Wed | Feb 1, 2023

UWI Press releases ‘How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean’

Published:Wednesday | March 2, 2022 | 12:05 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer

In 1972, scholar and activist Walter Rodney published his groundbreaking book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. He posited that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by European hegemonists. One of his arguments is that Africa developed Europe much to the same extent that Europe underdeveloped Africa.

Half a century later, another book, How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean:A Reparation Response to Europe’s Legacy of Plunder and Poverty, written by another well-known Caribbean scholar, Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI), is pushing forward an argument similar to Rodney’s. In this case, Britain underdeveloped the Caribbean in its quest to aggrandise itself.

It was published by the UWI Press and launched on February 25 on UWI TV. “In this publication, Sir Hilary, professor of economic and social history, focuses his attention on the British Empire and shows how successive governments have systematically suppressed economic development in their former colonies and have refused to accept responsibility for the debt and development support they owe the Caribbean,” the UWI Press said in a previous release.

In the opening remarks, Dr Luz Longsworth, higher education, leadership and management specialist, and UWI vice-chancellor for global affairs, said the launch was particular important in 2022 because of the milestone celebrations of the Independence of Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Moreover, it is the 50th anniversary of George Beckford’s Persistent Poverty, and Rodney’s aforementioned book, both of which inspired Beckles’ latest book, a sequel to his 2013 Britain’s Black Debt.

The book, she said, is an “easy narrative”, and an “extraordinarily accessible, dramatic, evocative, entertaining, compelling piece that is crystal-clear,” and “a must-read for all. It’s about linking the economic, historical and future discourse of this region … not just a recording of the past, but also a clear understanding of the past, and how we must now reshape the future.”

The first of two readers was Dr Patricia Rodney, widow of Walter and adjunct professor, Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, and CEO of the Walter Rodney Foundation. She said the groundbreaking publication, is a “much-needed and acceptable insight into our Caribbean experience,” timely, and critical in order to understand the persistent poverty of English-speaking Caribbean nations.

She also remarked on the scholastic and personal similarities between Beckles and Walter Rodney, and how it was Rodney who inspired Beckles to become a historian. “It (Beckles’ book) is a testament to those like Hilary who are doing the work to throw off the vestiges of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and, importantly, to seek reparations for injustices,” Dr Rodney said, before reading two paragraphs from the prologue.

reparation campaign

The second excerpt was read by social historian Professor Verene Shepherd, director, The Centre for Reparation Research at the UWI who commented that Beckles’ work was “powerful and timely,” and “which, along with Britain’s Black Debt and Barbarity Times, expertly showcases the indecency of colonialism, the brutality if its implementers, the agency of its victims, the lingering legacy of colonial-era ideologies, and the road map for redress that we the descendants must use”.

The paragraphs she read, Professor Shepherd said, are “ones that reinforce the justification for the reparation campaign, because, as the author frequently states, that campaign represents the greatest political tide of the 21st century”.

In his capacity as reviewer, Professor Rupert Lewis, professor emeritus of political thought, Department of Government, UWI, Mona campus, remarked, “This book makes the argument, on sound empirical evidence, that British slavery and colonialism have been the foundation on which under-development and persistent poverty have taken in the West Indies.”