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The tensions, challenges of independence


Every year we celebrate the anniversary of independence. We celebrate, it will seem, the mere fact that on the October 27, 1979 we achieved what is often called ‘flag independence’. We received a new flag, a new anthem, our Governor became Governor General and Premier became Prime Minister, and the British gave us a constitution that was a carbon copy of what they gave to other colonies in the Caribbean. We were then, we believed, masters /mistresses of our own affairs. We were supposed to take pride in our new status and to work together for the development of the nation since we were then in a position to rid ourselves of our colonial underpinnings.{{more}} We were about to create something called ‘Vincentian’.

Today 27 years after, this question still baffles us. What does it mean to be a ‘Vincentian’? Furthermore who are we? Are we Vincentians or is there something called a West Indian? There is no doubt that we are West Indians when the West Indian cricket team is winning. When any of our favoured national cricketers is omitted we begin to qualify our West Indian persona. We celebrated when the Soca Warriors reached the World Cup as we did with the Reggae Boyz because we recognised a common bond. When we travel outside of the region and are asked to identify ourselves, we quite often use the term West Indian because we are unsure if being a Vincentian is something recognisable. If we are far away we might say our homeland is an island near to Barbados or not too far from Jamaica or that we are from a region that produced Brian Lara or Garfield Sobers or Vivian Richards, or something like that. The question remains, who are we? What identifies us as Vincentians? Is it enough merely to celebrate every year the fact that the reins of power, what ever that means, were handed to us on that day?

On October 27 we look back. It is my view that little is done to make us understand that that day represents a phase or rather a milestone on a journey. Where that journey is supposed to lead us is still not clear, or rather there is no consensus. Every day new challenges emerge that should be forcing us to redefine who we are and what independence really means. Independence for us as for any of the other small Caribbean islands came as an afterthought. The original intention was to have these islands as a part of a broader regional independent entity. Certainly before 1960 the very idea of independence for small island states was not even a dream. It was unthinkable until the United Nations in 1960 declared that size was not to be an obstacle to independence. Shortly after our still young independent regional grouping that was yet to be consummated, crashed, forcing us to play around with a series of experiments that finally saw the individual colonies going it alone.

The dream of a West Indian entity was still in the background, bolstered by the exploits of our cricketers and the reality of a university that was supposed to be a base that was going to help us to define ourselves and to produce the human resources that were required to transform ourselves from being bastards of the empire. A lot has changed particularly in the period of the ’80s and ’90s. Our Education system has undergone some transformation. We are no longer dependent on the GCE examinations to certify our people. There is a lot more Caribbean content in our education system. Our social scientists have been putting their spotlights on Caribbean societies and peoples.

But while those developments are taking place a number of other factors and, in some cases, forces are challenging our definition of independence. Globalisation we have to admit is not a new phenomenon but given the power and medium of technology it carries more meaning and is more pervasive in its operations today. One of the challenges of the global community or global village is to prevent ourselves from being subsumed by those that hold the power, control the technology, create the images and dominate the institutions that are supposed to guide and shape the global village. Fear of the consequences of size in this kind of environment has forced us into the formation of an entity called the Caribbean Single Market and Economy which however faces the challenge of operating in a region of independent states. Will the reality of serious external challenges force us, even as independent states, to surrender some of the trappings of individual independent beings and give greater scope to the dynamics that are supposed to be at play in a CSME environment?

There are at the same time other challenges. Why is there still the fear of breaking away from the British Privy Council? What does this tell us about our psyche and the confidence we hold or should hold as an independent people? While the tension between island independence and a regional being remains there are other things to be thrown into the calculations. The sense of being West Indian was more easily formed in Caribbean communities in North America and Europe. For the first time different island peoples and mainland peoples were coming together in numbers and recognising some common bonds but then technology is at the same time working in another direction. It is now a common view that in looking at what constitutes a nation, persons in the Diaspora have to be brought into the calculations. This is something we need to take more seriously in our plans for development. When we listen to ‘birthday’ programs on radio we begin to recognise the extent to which home is much more than this small land space. Furthermore our ‘Call -In’ programmes are being heavily patronised either by calls from overseas or by e-mails from persons who are locked into whatever is done at their home base.

The environment in 2006 is quite different from that of 1979. The challenges are much more severe. The understanding of who we are is much more complex. These are issues that call for a lot of reflection and debate. It is not enough to know who did what to assist the emergence of an independent nation. Independence will have meaning for us not because we accomplished something in 1979 but because independence would have created a spirit, and released the energies to assist us in achieving the hopes and expectations that were born at that time and confronting the challenges that are constantly arising. Celebrating independence should be an occasion to ensure that we tap into all of this.