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Emancipate ourselves

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There is an old saying which warns us to “Be careful what you wish for….” In real life it has a lot of significance for us because often, wishes do not turn out to be as romantic as we would have hoped. I recall for instance the clamour that many of us, myself included, had made about the relegation of two important holidays on our calendar to dates of convenience. Workers’ Day (May 1 ) and Emancipation Day (August 1) had over the years been shifted from the original dates to the first Monday in May and August respectively.

What a great stink we made of it, clamouring for their reinstatement to May 1 and August 1 respectively! These dates were too sacred, we argued, not just “nice time holidays of convenience”. We wanted them restored so we could organise activities appropriate to such occasions. Well, we won and got the restoration but ah shame to say what has happened since. Whether May 1 or August 1, there is hardly any more significance that we as a people pay towards observing those dates; still just public holidays. Yes, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for indeed!

In the absence of meaningful national activities to commemorate Emancipation Day in the Caribbean, (and let us not hide behind COVID, for only a few countries in the region organise prominent activities for the occasion), all kinds of trivial excuses are made. A friend of mine in St Lucia even had the gall to tell me that the electoral defeat of Allen Chastanet and his government on Monday represented “the emancipation” of St Lucians from the rule of “big man and foreigners”. Let us not get so ridiculous.

Clearly Chastanet’s electoral demise demonstrates that in his one term, St Lucians had not only gotten fed up but realised that he has no solutions to the pressing problems of the country and people. He it is who might have to live forever with the term “One-term Papa”, incidentally coined by his NDP friends here in SVG to describe PM Ralph Gonsalves and which backfired horribly.

Reflecting on the St Lucian electoral experience, a change of political guard every five years since the turn of the 21st century, to what degree can we expect the return of the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) to power, after being twice rejected in 2006 and 2016, to be a harbinger of progressive and fundamental change? Will the new government, led by the veteran politician Phillip J Pierre, make any significant difference?

It may well be that given its experiences, disappointments and oft-vaunted hopes, the St Lucian electorate has adjusted to these vagaries and has adopted a pragmatic approach, recognising that no “saviour” is on the horizon. Thus each time the opportunity is afforded them, St Lucian voters take the chance to change, each time a reminder to the incoming bunch that” if you do not perform, your exit papers will be served too”.

What is new this time around? Can Prime Minister Pierre and his team, inclusive of former  SLP leader and Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, make the impact that the late John Compton, in his later years,  Dr Anthony himself and Chastanet’s predecessor, Stephenson King, all failed to do for any sustained period? Or have St Lucians begun to regard elections not so much as a hope for the future but as a punishment for those who failed? Is there anything about the latest change of fortunes which raises hope, however faint, for the future?

There are differences in the outlook of the Chastanet clique and the SLP with its old labour traditions. Time and again, accusations have been made that the Chastanet regime had in fact hijacked John Compton’s United Workers Party and was in fact, pro-big business, pro-foreign interests and itself was advancing the interests of a rapacious clique. The two successful independent candidates, Stephenson King and Richard Fredericks were themselves in the UWP leadership before being displaced by the Chastanet bunch.

In foreign policy terms too, there were signs that Chastanet’s government was considered a weak link within CARICOM, prone to bend to external influences at the expense of regional ones. From that standpoint alone, its defeat may well help in the consolidation of CARICOM foreign policy and in a more assertive regional bloc. That factor cannot be ignored or belittled.

But to what degree is the Phillip Pierre SLP a progressive alternative is an open question to be answered. It is even more so because St Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean islands find themselves under the sway of the two-party system with no real organised progressive political movement to pressure the incumbents into keeping promises and fulfilling their patriotic duties. It becomes a scaremongering about “if you don’t like us, THEY (the Opposition) are worse”.

As we mark our Emancipation weekend, let us spare some thoughts about how we can begin to emancipate ourselves from this type of “In de river, On de bank” politics and take the long and difficult road of encouraging our young people to broaden their horizons, and let us aspire to go beyond this outmoded approach.

Best wishes to Phillip Pierre and the SLP and spare some thought this weekend on our quest for political emancipation. 

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.