IDEAS, EN­ERGY, VI­SION . . . HOPE

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

Darn­ley Norville, a dear de­parted friend, acted as gen­eral sec­re­tary of the United Work­ers Party in the mid-1970s. He soon be­came a close ally of po­lit­i­cal leader John Comp­ton. Over drinks one af­ter­noon at his Bonne Terre home, Darn­ley re­lated his dis­ap­point­ment in a con­ver­sa­tion with his po­lit­i­cal leader. The gist of the con­ver­sa­tion was that Comp­ton be­lieved that the cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive of the UWP was a mi­cro­cosm of the Saint Lu­cia elec­torate. Darn­ley would not have any of it. He felt that the party was way bet­ter than the av­er­age of the so­ci­ety.

Darn­ley’s an­noy­ance stemmed from his be­lief that the hi­er­ar­chy of the party had proven it­self bet­ter en­dowed with more dy­namic ideas, more en­ergy, and was more vi­sion­ary than what ex­isted in the pub­lic do­main. These bet­ter qual­i­ties, he be­lieved, had set the UWP apart. He was happy to in­form his po­lit­i­cal leader of his feel­ings. Comp­ton re­mained qui­etly adamant that the party was the av­er­age of its con­stituent parts - no bet­ter and no worse. Comp­ton was aware that the party did not dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy. In­stead, it reached for prac­ti­cal ways to grow the econ­omy, and en­cour­age busi­ness to in­vest and cre­ate jobs.

That con­ver­sa­tion with Darn­ley was one year or so af­ter his tête-à-tête with his party leader. I had just left my agron­o­mist job in the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and was de­ter­mined to bring my en­er­gies and knowhow to a new landscaping busi­ness. I was for­tu­nate in my first foray into the pri­vate sec­tor to en­counter per­sons will­ing to em­ploy my skills. Within months I was earn­ing three to four times the mea­gre salary of my for­mer agron­o­mist job with the gov­ern­ment.

Not­with­stand­ing the prospects of a brighter fi­nan­cial fu­ture, I had set my sights on a po­lit­i­cal course and had, per­haps un­wisely, put my fi­nan­cial gains in jeop­ardy. I was cer­tain that I had the en­ergy, vi­sion and hope to make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to pol­i­tics and, in par­tic­u­lar, to fur­ther agri­cul­ture on the is­land. I would make peo­ple stop and pay at­ten­tion – or so I thought. I was con­vinced that it only took a few good men (and women) to fix what was wrong with gov­ern­ment and with the coun­try.

I had ar­rived at this de­ci­sion af­ter much thought and care­ful cal­cu­la­tion. My ca­sual man­ner did not project my de­ter­mi­na­tion. Frankly, I liked it that way. The po­lit­i­cal plat­form was my pul­pit, not pubs and bars or any­where else. I of­fered many si­lent prayers but did not give God suf­fi­cient time to re­spond. Pa­tience was not one of my strong suits. I used the ex­cuse that pa­tience is the virtue of the jack­ass that labours un­der its load and is con­tented, even though I was aware of an African proverb that says, ‘He who has pa­tience has all.’

I had by that time be­come a po­lit­i­cal stu­dent of CLR James and Dr. Eric Wil­liams and had read, dis­cussed and an­a­lyzed the writ­ings of Stokely Carmichael, Frantz Fanon and sev­eral oth­ers on slav­ery, colo­nial­ism, dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism and the colour ques­tion. I was part of a fo­rum that had qui­etly re­flected on the hu­man con­di­tion in Saint Lu­cia and the Caribbean. We ques­tioned the rea­son this is­land was stricken with and suf­fered from only two sec­ondary schools – ‘col­lege and con­vent’ – as the man on the street called them. The lack of proper is­land-wide ed­u­ca­tion was the Achilles heel of the is­land, in the fo­rum’s think­ing.

From the lit­tle knowl­edge that one had ac­quired, it was clear that John Comp­ton had hit the cor­rect but­ton in that long ago con­ver­sa­tion with Darn­ley. There was no way I could have ex­plained this to my talk­a­tive friend with­out threat­en­ing our friend­ship. How do you say that ideas, en­ergy, vi­sion and hope were not the pre­ferred items of dis­cus­sion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, then or now? The fact that I was op­posed to cer­tain poli­cies of his leader meant to Darn­ley that I should op­pose ev­ery­thing he said or be­lieved. I prided my­self in sep­a­rat­ing an is­sue from the per­son propos­ing it. That was the best ap­proach to ev­ery prob­lem one faced, per­sonal or na­tional; ‘never take it per­son­ally’ were words of wis­dom.

Darn­ley, to his credit, made an ef­fort to lis­ten with­out too much in­ter­jec­tion. I prof­ited the op­por­tu­nity to re­mind him that both po­lit­i­cal par­ties had a very lim­ited pool of bright, young peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­enced heads to guide them. To ex­pose the youth to the haz­ards of pub­lic life with­out ad­e­quate prepa­ra­tion was to im­pose too heavy a bur­den on them. Only fools rushed in where an­gels feared to tread. My friend was pre­pared to ac­cept that propo­si­tion.

The re­al­ity was (and is) that po­lit­i­cal par­ties draw their sup­port from con­stituen­cies on the is­land. No party had an ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme to teach ba­sic Caribbean his­tory, pol­i­tics, eco­nomics, cul­ture and ethics, etc. Reg­u­lar in­for­ma­tion was not shared within the party and the cen­tre did not seek to ex­plain the work­ings of a gov­ern­ment, its poli­cies and plans, in­clud­ing the leg­is­la­ture, fi­nan­cial rules and or­ders, the an­nual bud­get, and the like.

Over time, wider avail­abil­ity of ra­dio and tele­vi­sion, and the ex­pan­sion of schools made ed­u­ca­tion avail­able to more peo­ple. Even with progress there re­mained a wide gap in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of cor­rect in­for­ma­tion within the so­ci­ety. Con­stituency groups are dom­i­nated by folks with lit­tle for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and who are deeply loyal to their par­ties and lead­ers. These are the peo­ple who elect po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and can­di­dates for a gen­eral elec­tion. In essence, they are the ones who se­lect (and elect?) the gov­ern­ment.

If any­thing has been learnt since that con­ver­sa­tion with Darn­ley it is that the party ex­ec­u­tive, in­clud­ing its chair­man and po­lit­i­cal leader, are still se­lected by del­e­gates rep­re­sent­ing po­lit­i­cal con­stituen­cies seek­ing favours. This is true for both po­lit­i­cal par­ties on the is­land. Ideas, en­ergy, vi­sion and hope for a new Saint Lu­cia, as re­flected in Comp­ton’s con­ver­sa­tion with Darn­ley, re­main a dream to be pur­sued al­most 39 years af­ter po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence. Both par­ties re­flect the views of the leader and av­er­age sup­porter. New peo­ple in search of fame can in­fil­trate a po­lit­i­cal party bring­ing dirty money in with them, if they can. These peo­ple can also in­ject al­ter­nate ideas, vi­sion and hope into the cul­ture of a party. They care lit­tle about eco­nomic progress. In­stead, their agenda is to form a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment and pro­ceed to plun­der the na­tional trea­sury. They hide their ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties be­hind the gov­ern­ment as a pro­tec­tive front.

Armed with the ex­pe­ri­ence of the last fifty years, can the peo­ple use fresh ideas, en­ergy, vi­sion and hope to build a bet­ter fu­ture? Can they put aside their fears and mis­trust of politi­cians and cre­ate a new con­sti­tu­tion for them­selves? Can they make the CCJ their fi­nal ap­peal court? I won­der what Darn­ley and Comp­ton would think, had they been around.

“New peo­ple in search of fame can in­fil­trate a po­lit­i­cal party bring­ing dirty money in with them, if they can. These peo­ple can also in­ject al­ter­nate ideas, vi­sion and hope into the cul­ture of a party. They care lit­tle about eco­nomic progress.”

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