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Reflections on Independence, and, remembering Shadow

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We can look back with some satisfaction at the celebrations of our 39th anniversary of independence, even though there are some among us who continue to be concerned about our failings to demonstrate unity and patriotism on such occasions. National unity and love of country are not indicators of an absence of political differences; they instead underline the fact that our Vincentian heritage comes first.

The organisers of the National Exhibition and the creative exhibitors above all, must feel pleased with the success of their venture showcasing Vincentian entrepreneurship and creativity. It is now left to be seen the degree to which support both to sustain these and to develop them further, is provided. In particular, marketing both at the national and export levels, is critical to success.
At a time when job creation to combat the scourge of unemployment is so essential to our economic and social development, the display at the Exhibition reminds us that the solution does not just lie in the traditional approaches, but in a concerted effort to develop entrepreneurship, especially among young people, to create these jobs with our talents so as to complement foreign investment and state initiatives.

As we move towards our 40th anniversary of nationhood, there is no denying how much progress we have made since 1979, in virtually every area. The “Education Revolution” continues to be a flagship, but let us not for one moment ignore the social transformation in respect to the quality of life. A major part of this is accessibility to housing and this was highlighted on Independence Day with 124 more persons in the north-east of our country, populated mainly by the indigenous people of our land, receiving titles to land and the revelation that over 5,000 lots have been distributed nation-wide since 2001. We must remember as well that at Independence in 1979, most of the land above the ‘Dry River’ was in the hands of a private family and that since Independence, the state (under the Mitchell administration) has been able to acquire possession of these lands making all this redistribution possible.

For all our successes however, we still have formidable challenges before us. One can particularly highlight youth unemployment and crime, though there are a number of worrying social factors, including attitudes to work and productivity, a craving for conspicuous consumption and a relatively low level of national consciousness. On the latter, Prime Minister Gonsalves has announced plans to set up a “National Committee for the re-naming of Buildings, Roads and Parks”, to erase some of the colonial shadows over our national psyche.

This is long overdue as this column has repeatedly pointed out, including in the just-completed pre-independence series. People who have emerged from the prison of colonialism, in Africa and Asia in particular, have done and continue to do this, even reverting to original indigenous names for their countries. We in the Caribbean have always been far more reluctant to go in this direction.

In fact, we were even critical of persons giving their children African names, we, descendants in the main of African people! My concern, as I support the initiative, is that it does not go the way of earlier failed initiatives in reclaiming our culture (national dress, national dish, our flag and anthem). Let us be far more serious this time.

On a final note on the independence issue, I would urge that as of NOW, government should move to set up a broad-based National Committee to spearhead activities for the 40th anniversary celebrations. Please ensure that we have representatives of the Opposition and the social and economic actors. It must be a working committee, not a prestige thing, one based on inclusion and patriotism.

AN ENLIGHTENING SHADOW

In making mention of the Committee for re-naming, my thoughts went in the direction of the late calypsonian Sir Winston Bailey of Tobago, better known as the SHADOW, who was laid to rest on Tuesday of this week. Tributes have been pouring in from all parts of the globe, including one from our own calypso icon, Alston ‘Becket’ Cyrus, read at the funeral service. Among the classics penned and sung by this immortal bard is one which underlines why such a re-naming process is so necessary. It was called, in Shadow’s own simple way, “Columbus Lie”, exposing the lies perpetrated by European colonialism.

That characterized this most unconventional of calypsonians who would use a very simple expression to put forward a powerful social message, a message of resistance, challenge, struggle for a new vision. If one such message must remain with us and posterity forever, it must be his reminder to us all, that “Everybody is somebody” and that conversely “Nobody is nobody”. As we bid our last farewells, we can only reflect on what an enlightening Shadow he has been for us all. Take time to listen to his calypsos!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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