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