We like to recall the early days of our life and the sage advice of our Grannies –“Larn yo’ lessons well”. In so doing, Granny was referring not only to our education in school but the lessons of life in general.
It is a critical piece of advice which we have not always heeded, to our detriment. For too many of us, that bit of advice is often restricted to our formal education and we fail to heed or understand the lessons of everyday life. We are the worse off because of it.
One glaring example of this weakness of ours is the field of politics and among the biggest culprits are political parties and politicians, real and imagined. So bent are these on believing their own propaganda that they continually ignore the lessons from their teacher, the electorate, and attempt to spin the teaching of reality to suit their own purposes. No wonder that the failure rate in the Caribbean in this category is so high!
Each general election fought in the Caribbean brings with it a rich body of lessons which ought to enrich the education of this group of persons and better equip them for their own challenges ahead. Sadly, our collective experience has demonstrated either a refusal or incapacity to absorb the lessons. After each round we resort either to triumphalism, mistakenly believing that winning at the polls is a blanket endorsement of all that we do and say, or to “rejectionism” and what I would call “Oppositionism”, more strident opposition to all things on the other side, good and bad alike.
Let us take the recent elections in Dominica as an example, for the lessons are fresh and right before us. As in almost every country where elections are held, including that of the leading lecturer in “democracy”, the USA, there seems to be controversy over the electoral system and the conduct of elections. Yet for some strange reason we seem not to want to fix our problems by rational and intelligent discussion and consensus, but by political confrontation and resort to the courts. We have had precious little to show for it. Public education and engagement will surely realize more benefits, but these do not suit our warped political perceptions.
Among the biggest bones of contention are always the Voters List and its accuracy. It is a critical area which has bearing on who is registered and important aspects such as voter identification.
No one can deny the centrality of these to the conduct of elections and it is therefore vital that agreement be arrived at on such issues well in advance of elections so that these administrative issues do not cloud our choices of whom we should trust to govern our nation’s affairs. Dominica has again demonstrated to us that we must collectively address any loopholes real or imagined, before we embark on our next exercise.
Yet there is a teaching from Granny that is forgotten. That is the old saying that “prevention is better than cure”. Thus if political parties would spend time on familiarity with not just the List, but with people in their communities, not only will they be in a better position to carry out the tasks of vigilance on election day, but they would also make it very difficult for fraud to be committed and save a lot of time and money on expensive court cases which resolve nothing, or on vitriolic campaigns which spread more hate than produce results.
Talking of campaigns of hate and violence, Dominica again demonstrated the futility of that approach. Clearly the electorate gave a verdict on that, though ‘Duncy Head and company’ seem not to understand. Amusingly, I hear some local folk here making reference to what is called “the road-block revolution” of 2000. If, 20 years after, there are still politicians who believe that it was the road-blocks of that time which gave the ULP victory in the 2001 elections, then they must go back to the political school. If you do not understand our history, you are incapable of leading.
The lessons of Dominica would be incomplete unless we focus on the critical areas of campaign financing and related to it, the controversial Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programmes. The victory of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) in the face of exposures and allegations of abuse of the system and how it can be used to exploit our ‘open sesame’ approach to campaign financing, can cause these issues to be swept under the carpet. We must not allow this to happen for campaign financing has gone far beyond our control and has grave implications for our democracy. The finger-pointing should not be at the conduct of parties but at the system itself, it is an open invitation to corruption and the continued domination of the majority by the moneyed class.
Those are the lessons which we can take home for our homework over the Christmas season so that we can show Granny in 2020 that “We larn’ our lessons well”.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.