What do we, in SVG, celebrate next month?
Next week we begin our celebration of the anniversary of the recovery of our ‘independence’. What dowe really celebrate and what goes through our minds? For those who deck themselves with clothing displaying the national colours, are they merely making a fashion statement? What drives them? At Independence I was carried away with the idea that we were ridding ourselves of our colonial mother and beginning the transformation of our society that would bring benefits and pride to our people. What was the vision that was supposed to propel us to that task? Or were we going to embark on the path of becoming international beggars?
Today the Queen, who embodied colonialism, still commands our allegiance and the Privy Council remains our final court of arbitration. Britain no longer exercises the control it once did, but many of the symbols and structures remain, although bastardised. Some things were, however, discarded, particularly the British and European content of education. I remembered studying Keats’s poem “The Eve of St. Agnes”, trying to figure out what he meant by the ‘frosted breath’. My first chilly night in Canada answered that, but I had already done the Exam.
We have, of course, symbols of our ‘Independence’, but what does ‘Independence’ mean to us? An item in the news on Taiwan renovating what is now called the “Yurumein-Taiwan Friendship Bridge” brought back to me something I had thought of a long time ago when Taiwan’s donation of a pot to the Prison made the front page of one of our newspapers. Should they not be given an office or a unit in the Ministry of Finance? Venezuela is now falling on hard times and we are obviously praying for a return of the old days when they were ready to respond to our every beck and call. The US is still, despite the Trumpian chaos, the land of hope for many. The remittances that come to our shore keep many afloat. We look forward to visas, initially to visit relatives and friends, but with the hope of a longer, eventually permanent stay.
What are we doing for ourselves as an independent country? Our largest capital project has been completed, but it presents us with challenges. Our hope is that tourists will come, occupy hotel places, and partake of what entertainment we have to offer, and that our agricultural produce will find markets overseas. But what have we done to ensure this? An occasional news headline about a shipment overseas of some produce does not answer this. The regularity and quantity matter, but that means proper planning and organising from our end. Hotel rooms by themselves mean little because they are available elsewhere, cheaper, and better equipped. What do we offer visitors? Do we know what they want? The importance of the airport has to do with what we put in place. The cost of maintaining the airport is humongous. While we could have talked about the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ contributing to the building of the airport, its maintenance is our responsibility.
But where is the vision? George Lamming warns us that the politician “lives in a permanent state of emergency” with “the shadow of parliamentary opposition” blurring his sense of priority, “overwhelmed by concrete tasks to be performed” and fear “of betrayal within his own ranks” and lacks the vision of a new society. But he argues that the political leader may arrive at such a vision if he collaborates with other modes of thought, singling out the student of philosophy and social sciences, the economist, poet, and historian. But that is not how we operate and so the vision takes back stage stifled by the five-year electoral cycle. So, we limp from year to year not being sure where we are going.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian