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A nation to build!

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In Errol “De Man Age” Rose’s calypso “We have a country to build”, he admonishes us that “if we don’t do it who will?”

A more nuanced but similar idea flows from the independence declaration of then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Eric Williams: “We now have a country of our own”, he is reputed to have said. “Our next task is to build our nation”. I take note of the “WE” part in both exhortations.{{more}} Even as we watch things though, we are losing bits of our country, especially land, to natural and private predators. The sea has grabbed unmeasured areas of our country since Independence in1979. More critically, observers like Cecil Blazer Williams, the late Victor Cuffy, as well as Father Mark Da Silva and others, tell us with anger mixed with sadness that local and international predators occupy and plunder their way into agricultural acres and other beachfront commons.

We, the general citizens, and we, belly banding agricultural citizens, are losing our country… the geographical territory of home. We have to set up a “country watch” agency to check out what is going on around us. If we don’t do it who will? Among the politicians, only Mr Ivan O’Neal seems to have an interest in these matters, and he has accepted the role of being merely a paper tiger, not an interactive mover.

TO BUILD A NATION

We have come to see that a nation is more than a country made up of land, sea, airspace and the endowments and inhabitants in each sphere. This is what we must analyse.

In 1979, a Declaration of Independence from the National Independence Committee (NIC) a group of civil society agencies pointed to two features of a democratic nation. These were the “Internal Relations” and the “International Relations”. At the moment when Independence was celebrated in 1979, we focused on one aspect of our international relations – the break from the domination by Britain over our constitutional affairs. Trevor Monroe and others call this external aspect of independence, “constitutional decolonization”. Yet more and more as we move deeper into our independence experience, something clicks in our minds. A conviction emerges and it is this: To Build a Nation is a matter of internal relations, first of all. The “WE” factor that Errol Rose and Eric Williams speak of, while it is normal to leave international relations to our political (and business) leaders, if we leave our international relations to these elites, we will not build our nation. Simple as that.

De Man Age is right on the ball: “if we don’t do it, who will?” Citizen character, quality and control of leadership, social unity and solidarity – for those three things to develop among us in positive ways, if we don’t do it/them, our leaders will be happy to destroy them.

When we talk about the character of our citizens or citizenry, we are pointing fingers at us and asking what kind of people are we Vincentians in our outward and our inward values and consciousness? When it comes to the business of our nation and our rights, responsibilities and initiative, do we have firm principles of our own?

ME AND YOU

Instead of pointing fingers at other people and putting our neighbours under the spotlight, look at “me”, yes the me that is “you”. Like me, you are 100 per cent Vincy. What answer do I (and you) get when we stretch our hand to get our wage, salary or payment for things we sell and the question comes: How much work did I do for this money, am I robbing my country every week, or is the country robbing me? When I pay my Vinlec or my Cable bill or buy my lotto, and pay tax, how can I know if any unfair games are playing? How much am I building my nation, or helping these agencies to rip off the nation? And when unfair games play before my eyes, do I say, well my turn will come too, so let me keep cool?

In all of this looking at our Vincy character, the “class” we belong to plays a part. Some studies point to nation building as a mobilizing of opportunity by the middle class, while the lower working class and underclass receive patronage and handouts. Such a community nation develops a class which is acquisitive, entrepreneurial, extortionary, or corrupt, and another which has a begging, waiting, divisive and also corrupt character. Where do I fit, and can I break out of the trap that my class wants me to fit into?

Is there another way to build citizen character and nation quality? How can citizen groups help with this? Do we need a new kind of citizen group and citizen education? Two generations ago, and earlier also, a spark of new citizen enlightenment began to glow, particularly in the early 1970s. Middle class mobilization and political enticement and dominion stifled it. National citizen character can blossom again from small cells that resist corruption and class and party accommodation. It is a task for you and me. If we don’t do it, who will? Men like ‘Man Age ‘and women too can provide lyrical and other cultural material to stir and sustain this national enterprise of character renewal, and perhaps pockets of support may come from agencies like the Christian movement which used to proclaim character transformation as their raison d’être.

Citizen character, leadership discipline, social unity and solidarity cannot be put aside if we are going to build the Vincentian nation. Let us look at me, look in you, we can do it.

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