On Tuesday, March 13th, 2018, the Trinidad & Tobago-based University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Unit, which monitors the Caribbean region, raised the alert signal for the ‘Kick ‘em Jenny’ underwater volcano off Grenada to the color ‘Orange.’
As predicted, a seismic eruption did take place that Tuesday in Grenada. But it was neither underwater nor offshore. Instead, it came through an earth-shaking national general elections result.
For the third time in 19 years (1999, 2013 and 2018) -- and for the second time consecutively -- the ruling New National Party (NNP) had routed the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) with a clean sweep of the polls, winning all the 15 seats contested.
The 71-year-old veteran Prime Minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, led the NNP in the battle of the ballot against the NDC, led by veteran finance administrator and economist, Nazim Burke.
Mitchell was sworn-in for his fifth term as Prime Minister in just over two decades. Thus started yet another phase in the history of the small three-island nation that gave birth to the Grenada Revolution exactly 39 years earlier on March 13th 1979.
Grenada (encompassing the other two islands) is only 133 square miles (344 square kilometers) in size and home to just over 110,000 people of mixed races, but predominantly of African descent.
Some 78,222 voters were registered to elect 15 of the 45 candidates, including independents. The NNP won with 33,786 votes, while the NDC lost with 23, 243.
The election threw up another very interesting result: 7 of the 15 victorious candidates are women.
Mitchell, who had served as PM for 23 years since 1984, won his seat for the 8th consecutive time -- again with much support from women.
Historically, elections contests across the CARICOM region are mainly between men backed by money. Today, however, more women are being nominated as candidates or named on lists of candidates, in many cases in keeping with their party’s concern about being seen as taking ‘politically correct’ steps.
Mitchell would score yet another Caribbean first: he appointed a Cabinet with women in the majority.
Challenges and Opportunities
Grenada’s economic challenges remain the same as before the election – and more. The traditional national income-earners (tourism, agriculture, etc) will continue to face hard times in the foreseeable future. But Mitchell is preaching both renewed and new-found optimism.
During the campaign he announced that a Russian oil company contracted by government had found oil Grenada’s maritime space.
The prime minister has since identified a long list of costly national endeavors, including: a new housing program, improvements to water and sewage, a new road network, rehabilitation of towns (including the capital, St. George’s), new jobs, new health and unemployment insurance, better public pensions and public service reform.
With oil revenues very much on his mind, the incoming Prime Minister has also promised to turn Grenada into ‘a regional economic powerhouse’ -- and within a decade. But until oil starts flowing through pipelines, these are being largely regarded as positive political pipedreams.
Early Warning Signals
Whether or not Mitchell is hanging his hat where his hands may not reach, he’s received yet another early warning signal from Trinidad & Tobago -- this time from the oil-producing neighboring twin-island republic’s former Attorney General, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
The widely experienced Caribbean attorney warned Mitchell and the NNP to be careful about repeating his country’s mistake and over-depending on oil revenues for everything. Instead, Maharaj advised, a NNP administration should give just as much priority emphasis to development of agriculture and other productive sectors.
Other friends of Grenada have also been pointing to both Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, where historical over-dependence on oil revenues resulted in not much emphasis or attention given to development of other productive sectors.
The two countries with the largest oil reserves in the world both now find themselves facing the costly reality that oil revenues need to be buttressed and forcibly adopting new remedial measures un-thought of before -- Saudi Arabia introducing taxation Venezuela launching its own crypto currency.
Grenada’s headline-grabbing results must be viewed within the context of the quaint Westminster electoral model that Britain bequeathed to its former West Indian colonies during negotiations for their independence.
Under this ‘first past the post’ horse-racing approach, a party can win all the seats with just about less than half the votes. Conversely, the opposition can fail to win a single seat, even with over one-third of votes cast.
For example, the NNP’s ‘clean sweep’ notwithstanding, the results also reflected a higher level of opposition support or dissatisfaction with the NNP‘s governance than the distribution of parliamentary seats suggests.
Over 10,000 votes separated the winners and losers. But twice that amount (some 20,000) did not vote, meaning close to one-third (33.3%) of the eligible voters either voted against the NNP, or just didn’t vote.
Mitchell, a US-based mathematician in his earlier academic life, is naturally good at reading the arithmetic of Grenadian elections. He now promises to judge and treat every Grenadian based on one common denominator: his government’s duty to serve all the nation’s citizens equally.
But just how feasible will that be in a situation where there is no opposition and the ruling party controls every seat in the national legislature?
Mitchell and the NNP have twice before ruled without opposition, so what will be different the third time around?
Can and should anything change to make Grenada a better place than it was in 1983, when a US-led invasion buried the Revolution’s corpse?
In the absence of a parliamentary opposition, observers and critics near and far are watching closely at how Mitchell handles this rare and unique Caribbean gubernatorial reality a third time around.
Mitchell is (once again) promising to engage the opposition, private sector, churches and social groups in ongoing discussions about (this time) creating “a social partnership” to build the country’s future.
The Prime Minister says he is very much aware the uncomfortable numbers that voted against the NNP and promises to construct a new national ‘social partnership’ that he also hopes will include the NDC and other opposition forces.
The Road Ahead
Early Caribbean (British West Indian) political parties have won super majorities before -- including in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the late 1960s, when Ebenezer Joshua’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won all the seats and -- as the new Premier -- he appointed his (also elected) wife as the Leader of the Opposition.
But Caribbean parties have not (yet) built a reputation of transforming super-majorities into faster delivery mechanisms regarding their wall-to-wall election campaign promises.
Keen political observers are therefore watching to see if Mitchell will create avenues for citizens to express views and participate in discussions on national decisions that will affect them.
Dr Wendy C. Grenade, a Grenada-born Senior Lecturer in Political Science in the Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Barbados, offers an interesting recommendation.The stated reason: “Highly elevated levels of seismic and/or fumarolic activity or other unusual activity” had been observed, so the three-island state of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique (the nation’s official name) and the surrounding Eastern Caribbean islands (including Trinidad & Tobago) were being advised that “an eruption may begin with less than 24 hours’ notice.”
In an article in Grenada’s Carib Update Weekly newspaper dated March 28th 2018 – two weeks after the election – Dr Grenade recommended that the new Grenada government revisit and adopt a very effective participatory democracy mechanism successfully employed during the Grenada Revolution.
Dr Grenade called for creating ‘People’s’ Parliaments’ across the tri-island state akin to Zonal and Parish Councils that featured during the revolutionary period 1979-83 – essentially, orderly public meetings at which state projects and proposals are explained to and discussed with citizens.
“Let’s revisit these models of community governance and refashion them for the current moment,” she wrote.
None of the two major parties seriously promised in their campaigns to revisit or reintroduce any of the most successful and rewarding projects undertaken by the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).
But Mitchell being the ‘man of surprises’ that he likes to be seen as, nothing is being ruled out – not even by his critics.
New Term, Old Job…
PM Mitchell has started his fifth new term in his old job with renewed hopes across the country that this time around, a Cabinet dominated by women will make a difference in how the government approaches national issues.
But in the meantime, regional and international political and economic conditions continue to be unfriendly and the new administration will have to – now more than ever – navigate the rough waters at home and abroad.
Meanwhile, just as the NNP leadership celebrated, another eruption was quickly brewing in the UK, where a whistleblower had fingered a London-based entity as having illegally farmed tens of millions of private Facebook profiles and used them to (try to) influence the outcomes of the 2016 US Presidential Election and the UK Brexit vote.
Cambridge Analytica (CA) and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) are both well known in the English-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM), where they have long been employed and deployed to play leading roles in the management of information and social media platforms of leading political parties.
These high-priced, high velocity outfits may not have been seen or heard during the Grenada elections, but before the final votes were counted, revelations were pointing in the British and international press to their footprints and fingerprints having already long dotted the Caribbean’s shorelines and skylines.
SCL and CA deny all the charges. The two companies, sharing the same address at Canary Wharf in London, say the way they harvested the private Facebook data was not illegal -- and in fact constituted normal practice in the industry. They claimed they simply used their creative and artificial expertise and intelligence in the information technology domain to do what every other like IT business entity does: use the world of information at their fingertips to the benefit of paying customers.
But official investigations sparked off in London by revelations in The Observer over a long period of time led to similar inquiries in the US, where Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under intense fire for their silence and apparent complicity in the CA’s alleged larceny of the private data of tens of millions of people worldwide who had entrusted it’s protection to the global social media machine.
Four days after the Grenada election (March 17th 2018), The Observer published an interview with whistleblower Christopher Wylie that led to official investigations into whether CA played a role in the Brexit campaign of Nigel Farage and his UK Independent Party (UKIP).
Two days later (March 19th) the UK’s Channel 4 News broadcast an investigative report featuring secret recordings of CA’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, boasting about his firm’s global influence as a mind-bending machine that influences elections worldwide, including the 2016 US Presidential Election in support of the Trump campaign.
On March 23rd, 18 investigators from the UK’s Information and Communications Office (ICO) spent seven hours searching CA’s London offices as part of a raid executed in the wake of the whistleblower’s revelations and the findings of concurrent parliamentary and congressional investigations in the UK and the US, respectively.
On March 25, a legal complaint was filed with the US Federal Elections Commission accusing CA of using the improperly acquired Facebook information of millions of Americans to influence the votes in the November 4, 2016 presidential election against Hillary Clinton.
That same week, Facebook’s Zuckerberg faced a marathon questioning session before a US Congressional Committee, after rejecting a similar earlier request to testify before a similar UK investigative parliamentary committee.
On April 4th, British and American lawyers also launched a class action lawsuit against Facebook, CA and SCL, for allegedly misusing the improperly harvested data of 71 million people.
On April 17th, Nix cancelled a scheduled appearance before a UK parliamentary committee and on April 21st CA called a press conference to re-proclaim its innocence and reiterate its claim that what it did was normal practice, if not standard operating procedure for entities of its kind.
But the damage had already been done.
On May 2nd, CA and SCL announced they were closing down – and yet another seismic eruption had taken place, far from Grenada’s shores but close enough to cause ripple effects across the Caribbean.