June 4, 2021
Electricity – essential to a nation’s development thrust

THERE ARE MANY dates in our history that we take for granted, unaware of the enormous significance of occurrences on those dates. May 25, 1931 is one such date where the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines are concerned. It marked the beginning of the electrification process in our country, a process which is vital to its modernization and economic and social development.

It was on that date that the then electricity provider, the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC), an arm of the British colonial government, which was later renamed the Commonwealth Development Corporation, first switched on electricity in Kingstown to serve some 31 privileged customers. The name CDC continued to be synonymous with electricity in SVG up until close to the end of the 20th century, although it was finally acquired by the government of our independent country in 1985.

The fact that electricity only came to our country less than a century ago speaks volumes of life under colonialism. It was typical of colonial society here that electricity came as a privilege for a few, not a right for the many, and underscores how backward the level of development in colonies such as ours was at that time.

It is therefore no wonder that the poor and underprivileged, those for whom electricity could not even be a dream in 1931, erupted in open rebellion in 1935, four years after the first spark of electricity.

It was not necessarily the lack of electricity mind you, for the vast majority of Vincentians were at the time without the basic amenities for a decent life, not even proper homes to be electrified. That was life in the colonies of the Britain which boasted that “the sun never sets on the British empire”.

The electrification process under the CDC, which enjoyed a monopoly, continued modestly, but for years up until the 21st century, there were still communities deprived of electricity on the grounds of financial viability, and thousands of Vincentians gained their education via lamps, candles and even street lamps.

Even later, when it was available, the cost factor was a deterrent for many, and it took a patriotic national campaign, in which cultural icon Cecil “Blazer” Williams and progressive organisations, played a prominent part, to force the government to finally take over the electricity company in full in 1985.

Thanks to successive governments over the years, we have moved from electricity being a privilege to it being a right. No longer can scales of economy be used as an excuse to deny entire communities access to electricity. More than half of our present population 60 years and older must have grown up being at some point in their lives without electricity in their homes.

Today not only has it become a necessity of modern life, it is an essential factor underlying a country’s development thrust. Access to electricity on affordable terms is critical for ensuring a decent standard of living as it is for facilitating our economic development thrust.

It is a pity that such an important milestone in our history has passed with only matter-of-fact attention. It reflects our lack of appreciation of the road we have travelled, and our tendency to take too much for granted these days. These are landmarks in our people’s history, and our children must be made aware of their significance.