On November 1, 2020, we will be celebrating 39 years of Independence, and we are justifiably proud. We can truly say “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” Of course, the word ‘hitherto’ suggests that there is more to be achieved; that our work and our journey is not complete. It is unfortunate.
For instance, it is so sad that after nearly four decades as a twin-island State, Antigua and Barbuda are as far apart as we’ve ever been. Remember, Barbuda was reluctant to come into Independence with us. They felt that they would not get a fair shake from the central government, and went to the 1980 Lancaster constitutional conference with a separate future as their will and pleasure. But the British were in no mood to countenance a separation that would leave Barbuda as a dependency of theirs. After much cajoling, they were able to get the Barbudans to agree, albeit kicking and screaming, to go into Independence with Antigua.
They did it on the word and solemn pledge by Papa V. C. that he would, “Leave the Barbuda people alone.” The Barbudans were, for the most part, by way of the Barbuda Council’s powers as enshrined in the Independence constitution, to manage their own affairs, in collaboration with the central government. Sadly, it has not worked out quite like that. Whereas the United Progressive Party (UPP) had an amicable relationship with the Barbudans – one based on mutual respect and a recognition of their legitimate expectations and historical claims, this Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration has cultivated a confrontational attitude towards them. This administration has called them all manner of pejoratives; they have said that they were only pandering to them to get their votes; and that “they must comply” with the wishes of the central government. Whatever happened to the old Biblical precept that, “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger?” Alas, this administration has ceased any pretense that it cares about the Barbudans, and that it wants to make nice. Tears that were once shed by those in high places are now proven to have been of the crocodile variety, and the entire fabric of any dialogue and peaceful co-existence has been rent in twain, for a generation. At least, until this administration is removed from office.
Remember, this administration has spared no opportunity to declare its supremacy in the twin-island relationship. They have declared in not so many words that since the Barbudans rejected the ABLP at the last election, those in high places will be putting them under ‘heavy manners.’ They have been told that “they must comply,” and our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, has said that he “will fight the Barbudans,” and would rather resign than yield to them. So sad!
It is a blot on our Independence. Instead of moving forward together as one people, we are so far apart, not only on this vexing Barbuda issue, but on a whole host of matters of national import. This administration is a go-it-alone outfit that routinely ignores the concerns of the citizenry on any number of matters ranging from YIDA and its utter failure to deliver anything of worth to Antigua and Barbuda, and the penurious position in which we find ourselves thanks to government profligacy and squandermania. Not a dime was squirrelled away for a rainy day. And pensioners and public servants are paying a terrible price, at a time when salaries and pensions are so desperately needed.
Then, shifting gears a bit, there is the matter of our continued acceptance of Her Majesty the Queen as our head of State. May we quickly follow the example of the Bajans in dispensing of this anachronism. According to Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley, “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind . . . This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving . . .” Indeed! And it addresses the call by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, “Up you mighty race, accomplish what you will.” Why we insist on clinging so pathetically to our absolutely dreadful colonial past is beyond many of us. May we quickly find ourselves, and may we heed the words of Barbados’ first Prime Minister after Independence, Errol Barrow, who famously said that countries that have gained their Independence, “Ought not to loiter on colonial premises.”
Of course, centuries of denigration and psychological abuse have given rise to self-loathing and crippling inferiority complexes. Ah, the self-doubt and the pernicious lack of confidence in our own. Exhibit A: Our rejection of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in favour of the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council (JCPC). Sigh! A wonderful opportunity to further advance our independence was lost a few days after Independence Day in 2018 (November 6). Seems, we still need “Emancipation from mental slavery.” [REDEMPTION SONG, Bob Marley]
And so it goes. Thirty-nine years after Britain handed us a Constitution, and a so-called “golden handshake” of a measly 6 million pounds, after centuries of wealth extraction and years of unpaid labour, not to mention horrific abuse and downright murder, we are still employing the titles of ‘Sir’ and ‘Dame’ as honorifics for our distinguished honourees. We still maintain the visage of the British monarch on our currency. We still have Queen Victoria Park, King George V Grounds and Queen Elizabeth Highway. That last, still adorns the letterhead from our Prime Minister’s office. Help us Lord!
Manifestly, we still have a way to go yet.
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