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Our approach to Independence – Final Part

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This is the final instalment of the four-part series focusing on our approach to independence, 40 years ago. In the previous three instalments, I have indicated that even as we will next year be marking our 40th anniversary of independence,we seem to have forgotten the valuable lessons taught by our experiences one year before the actual date of national independence. Indeed that year, 1978, and the experiences endured form an integral part of our independence process.

As such, the year 1978, the year when Parliament approved the Resolution setting us on the formal path to independence, the year of the constitutional talks with Britain, and above all, the year of the political battles for a democratic home-based Constitution, has special importance for us all. Had those battles been resolved amicably and sensibly, we would have been spared the bitter experience of the constitutional reform process of 2003-2009, and all the division and acrimony in our society it brought and reinforced.

That division is a lasting legacy of the run-up to independence. As was noted in the previous three parts of this series, rather than a united, national approach to independence, our politicians carried us along the path of political partisanship which is deeply entrenched four decades later. That division continues to haunt us and to retard our progress as a nation. Today, too many of us do not consider ourselves as Vincies first and foremost, but look at each other from the perspective of whether we are ULP or NDP. We lack respect for each other, our leaders and even the law itself, leading us down the path of lawlessness and destruction.

No connection with our past

By the time we raised our national flag to usher in October 27, 1979, we had lost connection with our past and our roots. The flag itself, a product of political one- sidedness, (even the very flag was one-sided) couldn’t even survive the first decade of independence, while the words of the national anthem seem to be more of a tourism promotion than having anything to do with the struggles of our people.

A people taking the historic step to reclaim their independence and to forge a modern nation, need to understand their past, to connect with the struggles of their forebears to defend their homeland against foreign aggression, to resist slavery, genocide and colonialism, to fight for their fundamental human rights and to understand that they are equal to and no less than any other group.

Sadly, our lead-up to independence missed these features. It was as though we were being “given” our independence by Britain, and we debated whether we were “ready” for this gift, whether we were “worthy” to be entrusted with the responsibility of governing ourselves. That blight is still with us today. The feeling of national pride in our achievements is not sufficiently widespread and thus, 39 years after independence, we still lack that self-confidence necessary to confront the challenges facing any small developing nation like ours.

Born with defects

Although our Independence calypso monarch, SCAKES, in what is the de facto national anthem of our country, urged us to see independence as indicating that “colonialism is gone” and that “Our Nation is born”, there was not a single dramatic symbol of the new nation. Foreign troops led our national parade, the flag was hoisted at “Victoria” Park, and there was not a single indicator of the pride of a new nation.

Our speeches made no connection with the struggles of Chatoyer, the Garifuna and Callinago, no recognition of the heroic fight to end slavery and plantation dominance, no acknowledgement of the heroic rebellion of October 1935. Indeed, had it not been for the mass struggles of our people and mass organisations, independence would have fallen on January 22nd, the non-date of our supposed “discovery” by Europeans.

All this has had a profound bearing on our progress, the dents in our national pride and self-confidence. We are still far more comfortable blaming and fighting with each other than in confronting the fundamental roots of our poverty, ignorance and underdevelopment. The struggles of a people against all that oppresses us have been turned into narrow partisan fights. Our political leaders have, over the years, treated our precious independence in that manner, worthy of celebration only if one’s party is in power. Many commercial enterprises do not embrace this occasion of nationhood, neglecting to light up and brighten up for the occasion.

We have a long way to go still, and even if many of us are virtual “lost causes”, we must concentrate on our youth, their education, not just academic, if we are to save the soul of the Vincentian nation. In spite of all the negatives, we have much of which we can be eternally proud. Our problem is that we do not sufficiently highlight these and the positives.
It is said that life begins at 40. We have 12 months to begin preparations for the rebirth of a united nation.
Independence greetings to all!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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