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Decolonization – what are the prospects?


The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines earlier this week, continued to seek for answers to this complex question, as it relates to the remaining 17 identified non-self-governing territories across the globe.

Six of these listed are in the English-speaking Caribbean, namely Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands, in the main, British dependencies.

The United Nations has been very engaged on the question of decolonization since its establishment, which efforts, as it outlined, derive from the UN Charter’s principle of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples”.

Pointing to achievements on this front, UN records show that since its establishment, more than 750 million people in 80 former colonies gained independence, thus placing themselves in a position to shape their own political and economic destiny.

But the flood of dependent peoples clamouring for the severing of ties with their colonial masters has tapered off – Namibia (1989) and East Timor (1991) being the only recent territories to attain a new status.

It would appear that the peoples of dependent territories, certainly those in our geographical sphere, are not too keen to change their status any time soon. Financial considerations may have a significant role to play here; but, the conduct of some political regimes at the helm of independent states over the years may also give reason for pause.

In many independent states, there are still significant numbers of citizens who, from time to time, speak nostalgically about the colonial days.

How do you therefore convince a people who seem to have no strong desire, or any desire at all for independence, that they should shed their colonial status? There are no simple answers.

Speaking on Tuesday at the opening of the seminar, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves pointed out that the path to decolonization is long, and challenging. The road to independence was also littered with casualties from slavery, genocide, civil wars, dispossession and more, and de-colonized states are still struggling with the after-effects of colonialism in their under-development. But, he thinks that we should use history as a guide for how to move in the future and expressed optimism that, despite the realities, there is a path towards achieving the goal of decolonization.

Caribbean Governments, the region’s history firmly in sight, are now engaged in the pursuit of reparations to help repair some of the damage done by conquest and colonialism. It is a sober reminder that the transfer of the rights of national sovereignty do not guarantee a smooth path to development. In fact, former colonial powers still seek to influence decisions at the national level through a range of mechanisms.

In 1990, the General Assembly “proclaimed the first international decade for the eradication of colonialism,” recognizing the principle that “the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount” and acknowledging a sacred trust and obligation to seek their well-being.

This cardinal point must therefore guide the dialogues that would necessarily take place as the decolonization process continues to unfold and the UN Special Committee on Decolonization proceeds with its work.