It’s time to rec­on­cile at least some of our dif­fer­ences!

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

Ad­mir­ers of Nel­son Man­dela like to point to his ad­vo­cacy of univer­sal adult suf­frage in his na­tive South Africa and to his 27-year in­car­cer­a­tion on Robben Is­land as wor­thy of praise. For my part, what sets Man­dela apart is the es­tab­lish­ment of the Truth Com­mis­sion af­ter he be­came Pres­i­dent of South Africa. No other African leader has come close to es­tab­lish­ing such a far-reach­ing and con­se­quen­tial body. It was his way of rec­on­cil­ing the long his­tory of racism, big­otry and dis­crim­i­na­tion against na­tive Africans and to set his coun­try (and Africa) on a path to peace and pros­per­ity.

Two oceans away, my sup­port for US Pres­i­dent Obama turned luke­warm when

I per­ceived him go­ing out of his way to avoid of­fend­ing white folks, play­ing it safe with his ready smile and gen­tle man­ner. He ap­peared ag­o­niz­ingly weak and fee­ble from this dis­tance. In­ter­est­ingly, of the large field of Democrats an­gling to re­place Pres­i­dent Trump at the next elec­tions, only Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia has made what I con­sider a po­ten­tially trans­for­ma­tive state­ment. Ms. Har­ris has pub­licly said, “Amer­ica has never had an hon­est di­a­logue on race re­la­tions.” She also knows that Amer­ica’s white ma­jor­ity will un­til the end of time avoid such a dis­cus­sion. The old white men in her party will also avoid Ms. Har­ris, and she will dis­ap­pear as a Trump chal­lenger.

In the mean­time, these same peo­ple, some black and brown folks too, will also pre­tend that the fiery young Demo­crat Ms. Alexan­dra Oca­sio-Cortez is a threat; the Trump Repub­li­cans and oth­ers have la­beled her a so­cial­ist, what­ever that means in to­day’s world. Not sur­pris­ingly, these same hyp­ocrites were pre­pared to wear tee shirts sup­port­ing a Rus­sia-Trump al­liance, ev­i­dently pre­fer­ring white Rus­sian com­mu­nists over black and brown Amer­i­can Democrats. It sur­prises no one that Ms. Oca­sio-Cortez has be­come a po­lit­i­cal tar­get even though she is too young to be a can­di­date for Pres­i­dent in 2020. What­ever they do and how­ever they turn, the voices of Amer­i­can women and those of the black and brown com­mu­ni­ties will not be eas­ily stayed. It is a voice and an agenda whose time has come. And who bet­ter to lead it than a young and fierce fe­male?

Whether in the form of repa­ra­tions or a truth com­mis­sion, it’s high time that Amer­ica faced up to an hon­est di­a­logue on race in­clud­ing slav­ery, Jim Crow and the con­tin­u­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against black and brown peo­ple. This line of think­ing nat­u­rally took me back to Saint Lu­cia as she con­tin­ues to mark 40 years of In­de­pen­dence. I was not privy to the dis­cus­sions, which led to the year-long cal­en­dar of events to mark the for­ti­eth an­niver­sary, but it’s not too late to sug­gest an item for in­clu­sion on the list of ac­tiv­i­ties. I sug­gest the in­clu­sion of a na­tional dis­cus­sion on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, aimed at nar­row­ing our dif­fer­ences on In­de­pen­dence, in­clud­ing the colours of the na­tional flag, the coat of arms and above all our at­ti­tudes.

Some un­happy peo­ple have in­ter­preted this year­long cel­e­bra­tion as waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture. They do not know, or care to know, how much the State is spend­ing and who else may be pick­ing up the tab for these In­de­pen­dence events. It would not sur­prise me if such at­ti­tudes go back forty years or more. At the time, the op­po­si­tion had in­vited their sup­port­ers to stay away from In­de­pen­dence ob­ser­vances. Some went as far as to or­ga­nize their own beach party and other func­tions for the hol­i­day. To rec­on­cile our dif­fer­ences would in­volve an at­ti­tu­di­nal sea change. Why should that be when the op­po­si­tion has spent al­most as long in of­fice af­ter In­de­pen­dence as the govern­ment? Some peo­ple may ask why the Labour Party didn’t change what they did not like about the flag and coat of arms when they were in of­fice. In­stead, they chose cos­metic changes such as WASCO for WASA, Govern­ment Prin­tery to Na­tional Prin­tery and the NIC from NIS.

Let me be clear, my sug­ges­tion is to use this year to pro­mote a se­ri­ous and mean­ing­ful di­a­logue across po­lit­i­cal lines that have been post­poned for too long by weak-kneed lead­ers. Some peo­ple refuse to face the idea of unity be­cause they ben­e­fit from di­vi­sion. I am con­vinced that di­a­logue can be­gin be­tween lead­ers with the con­fi­dence and spir­i­tual for­ti­tude to try. Both sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide have a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to ef­fect this na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Each must stand on his or her feet and not be bogged down by party hacks and those who profit from di­vi­sion. We ought not to en­ter our forty-first year of In­de­pen­dence still so child­ishly di­vided and ob­du­rate. We need to re­store har­mony and put an end to hos­til­i­ties that are in­im­i­cal to our wel­fare and that of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. We need to stop fool­ing those who can’t read and are with­out.

Some­one must tell our civil ser­vants that a ma­jor­ity of them work in first- world class of­fices even as they serve half-ed­u­cated and strug­gling Third World peo­ple, in­clud­ing their fam­i­lies. In an at­mos­phere of fear and doubt and di­vi­sion spread by in­fan­tile bomb scares, only crim­i­nals and en­e­mies of the peo­ple ben­e­fit. Those who are des­per­ate for fresh gen­eral elec­tions were in of­fice for fifteen or more years af­ter In­de­pen­dence. They could have changed things for bet­ter. Only now do they ask for a fur­ther drop in the value added tax. They were too busy mak­ing costly deals in­stead of drop­ping the VAT rate. They are now busy watch­ing PM Chas­tanet as if they wish to en­joy his suc­cesses.

Forty plus years ago, the process of con­sul­ta­tion and con­sti­tu­tional de­sign was so tightly con­trolled, that there was lit­tle room for cre­ative think­ing out­side the mod­els pre­sented by the Bri­tish colo­nial mind­set. The govern­ment may even have be­lieved that its meth­ods were cor­rect. Who knows? How­ever, the more vi­sion­ary MPs were will­ing to imag­ine where Saint Lu­cia would be forty years later—mean­ing to­day, viz-aviz Sin­ga­pore and Tai­wan, for ex­am­ple. I have re­peated ad nau­seam the core dif­fer­ences be­tween the govern­ment of the day and the Labour op­po­si­tion at the time, on the mat­ter of In­de­pen­dence. Three decades later, af­ter wide­spread con­sul­ta­tion by the Suzie d’Au­vergne Con­sti­tu­tion Com­mis­sion, ap­pointed by a Labour govern­ment, Labour politi­cians had an op­por­tu­nity to do right by the peo­ple and re­place the Con­sti­tu­tion handed down by the for­mer colo­nial power. In­stead, they spat on the d’Au­vegne Com­mit­tee rec­om­men­da­tions be­cause it dared to recommend re­duc­ing the pow­ers of the prime min­is­ter among its other far­reach­ing rec­om­men­da­tions. Not­with­stand­ing the above mis­steps and faux pas, it’s high time to turn a new page through rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and be­gin a new phase of our in­de­pen­dent jour­ney.

Who will prove him­self wor­thy of the ti­tle Saint Lu­cia’s Nel­son Man­dela? Are our politi­cians made of the right stuff to ini­ti­ate such a move?

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