Let me first congratulate Alston BECKET Cyrus on being one of 16 honorary graduands to be awarded at the graduation ceremonies at the University of the West Indies Campuses. He will be honoured at the Five Islands Campus Graduation Ceremony in Antigua on October 9.
This follows a similar award given to Frankie McIntosh in 2018, the partnership between both artistes having helped to lift them ”Higher.” At the Awards ceremony in 2018, Frankie paid tribute to BECKET, indicating that “Coming Higher” which he worked on with BECKET, helped to catapult his career. The Vincentian newspaper, of October 12, 2018, quoted McIntosh as saying that “There are few people that I feel a blessing to share this earth with, and Alston BECKET Cyrus is one of them. St. Vincent will never produce another BECKET, so cherish him as long as you can.” Alston is still a graduand. In another few weeks he will be granted his honorary degree and I will have more to say then.
What is the state of our union? This is a question I am putting to all Vincentians who inhabit this space. We interact with others. We see things that are happening, even if limited to our particular corner of the Vincentian space. Some of us would have developed an understanding of aspects of what is happening. We might not share our views publicly but our very existence and interaction in the space provides us with information and we act based on that information. We might be influenced by others, sometimes even doubting that we have seen what we have seen! Others might interpret things differently but what we see and hear are important and cannot be taken away. So, when we hear talk about prostitution, crime, poverty, rape, many of us do not believe because we do not have an understanding of what is happening in our own country, but some can certainly tell you about what is happening in their own corner. Often when the reality dawns on us we blame the happenings on YouTube. We say the perpetrators of unsavoury acts are influenced by looking at too much TV or following gossip on social media. Our PM said recently that our young people need to take advantage of the many opportunities available to develop skills. But their failure to do so is a question we must ask.
It is one thing to dismiss things in this way, but we have to go beyond this and to put things in context and even to accept certain realities that we have been dismissing rather than discussing publicly. In the last issue of the Vincentian there is a piece entitled SVG POVERTY RATE ABOVE AVERAGE. It quotes from a 2021 UNICEF report which stated that in 2016 “30 % of people in SVG were living in poverty and 3 % were indigent”. Indigent it explained “entails living in a level of poverty in which real hardship and deprivation are suffered and comforts of life are wholly lacking.” This was before the pandemic and volcanic eruption, so what is the situation since then? The Vincentian piece quotes an International Labour Organisation June 2022 ILOSTAT database that places SVG as having a 41.1% unemployment rate, the highest in the region even higher than Haiti which is shown to have a 35.7% rate.
These are not opinions but statistics that reveal certain realities. To what extent can the ills in our society be related to this? Shouldn’t we in any event be giving top priority to areas of high poverty and unemployment? But we need to know them! The crime situation is getting out of hand, and we often blame this on gang warfare, which in itself of course we need to understand. But we are seeing certain developments we had never seen before. I point here to the murder of 17 year old Sion Hill youth, Precious Williams whose body was put in a sack and deposited in the Murray Road/Village area. Then even more recently the body of Keisha Small, said to be in her 40’s, was found at the E. T Joshua tarmac with a pipe protruding from her vagina. We are now in the early part of September and already have 30 homicides. The perpetrators seem to think they will never be caught. We have to get to the possible source of these ills, even while strengthening our crime fighting apparatus. But action is desperately needed!
l Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian