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Our approach to Independence – Part 2

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Earlier this week, I was engaged in conversation with someone whom I consider to be a patriot, concerning our Independence Month.

In the course of that exchange it was noted that there continues to be a lack of spirit of national unity and pride in us as a whole as we approach October 27.

My colleague expressed disappointment in the political divide in the country even at a time when we should be exhibiting unity and remarked that our politicians, on both sides, seem permanently focused on the quest for power which seems to override national goals. Although the month began with political leaders holding hands in a show of unity on the occasion of the National Day of Prayer, both camps seem unwilling, or unable, to put aside political differences, even for this month, and try to mobilize the nation to strive for our common good.

We have been unable consistently to focus on Independence as a national achievement and symbol, overriding our political differences. There were times when we lifted ourselves up, as for instance during the Herbie Young-led focus on the Best Village competition which ignited pride in the community, during the early NDP governing period.

That steadily declined in the latter years and it took an infusion of enthusiasm from the Gonsalves-led ULP to re-ignite patriotism and pride in independence. Do we remember how that was manifested in the display of national flags and national colours for Independence? There were even attempts at getting consensus on National Dress, National Dish and the like. Unfortunately, that too, seems to be going downhill and we again appear to have lost our way.

There are historical roots for these developments, as I indicated last week, stemming from the approach to independence in the late ’70s, an approach which has never been inclusive and which, 39 years later, leaves so many of us bemused as to the meaning and benefits of independence. Indeed, there still remains the view among some that we may well have been “better off” under colonial tutelage. No wonder that so many of us are reluctant to shoulder our responsibilities and wish for others to guide us, as in the Privy Council situation.

1978-1979: Mired in controversy

The achievement of independence carries with it the need for a complete re-education from the colonial period when subjugated people, particularly those like us who have suffered from slavery and genocide under colonial rule, were taught that colonialism was necessary for our civilisation. To this day, the images deep in our minds about our own roots are of “savage” peoples who had to be “Christianised” and educated if we were ever to manage our own affairs.

Moving from this to management of one’s own affairs is a mighty challenge. Some countries have had to fight wars of independence to gain that right, at great cost of human life and economic disruption. We were rather more fortunate in that respect, but that very fact brought with it a loss of focus. Independence became all about having a new flag, (it hurts me to even mention the flag situation, but that is another matter), and above all the trappings of power.

One year before independence, that is with what our politicians seemed to be occupied. Whilst Joshua’s PPP was ranting about “no independence under Cato”, Mitchell’s NDP took to the courts to try and have the Independence motion passed in the House of Assembly invalidated. There was an absence of common purpose in educating our people about independence, pointing out the possibilities and limitations, and insisting that whilst, democratically, we have a right to political differences, the national interests must always be placed first. No wonder we are like this today!

We ended up being led into independence by a government whose main spokesman has insisted for years, up until just four years before independence, that we were “not ready” for it. On the other side of Parliament there were persons who could not see the wider picture and rather than try to engage in meaningful dialogue to force the Labour government to take an approach which would involve the nation, which would give us a sense of the grave challenges before us, which would recognize our historical development, were more interested in anti-Cato protestations.

The boycott of Independence talks with Britain was one such serious error, but even more damaging for the fledgling nation was the failure to embrace the popular movement and to join with civil society organisations in forcing the government to adopt an alternative approach. We shall look at that alternative in the next column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.