(Editor’s note: This article was first published in the I-Witness News Independence e-magazine. The magazine can be downloaded here, free)
By Maxwell Haywood
Living in an independent, small island developing state comes with profound challenges, possibilities, and constraints. This is applicable to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), a country situated in the Caribbean, and one of the smallest and financially poorer nations within the Americas. Despite this, it possesses a population with a rich historical legacy.
SVG faces daunting challenges as an independent country. Independence came in 1979 and the nation was expected to meet daunting challenges using its own decisions while still being constitutionally accountable to the British Monarchy.
The challenges were enough to give the leaders many sleepless nights. For instance, in 1979, after such a long time in colonialism, SVG had one major public hospital, located in capital Kingstown. Many of the existing schools were in a deplorable and shameful state. The housing stock was also not desirable for a proud people who made up the nation. The means of communication and transportation were not up to standard. And the political system was severely lacking responsiveness.
So the governments after Independence had their work cut out for them. National or social transformation was a pressing need to be met. They went about fulfilling that need with varying degrees of success. Though not sufficient, there have been positive changes in the education system, housing, health, communication, transportation, and political or governance sectors. These positive changes have resulted in improvements in the living conditions of the people. Nevertheless, numerous negatives still haunt the nation 34 years after independence.
In SVG, much work needs to be done to meet the needs of the people for decent and productive jobs, education, housing, participation in development processes, freedom from crime and violence, and opportunities for enjoying high quality leisure and cultural arts. These needs are popular needs of the vast majority of Vincentians.
An independent nation should be able to provide dignified shelter or housing for all of its people, be able to educate them, keep them productively employed in decent work and ensure they are healthy.
I strongly assert that these daunting needs could only be met by full mobilization of the people in their villages, towns, constituencies and parishes. And within these locations, people must be mobilized within their work places, within their community organizations, places of worship, farms, sports or playing fields, entertainment centres, schools, families, shops or stores, and political party groups and organizations.
Who is going to do this mobilization? Citizens with the capacity to carry out this task should feel obligated to rise to the challenge of mobilizing the people. Furthermore, the socio-political system (political parties, Parliament, public sector, unions, civil society organizations) has a responsibility to do so and must facilitate this approach. It means that the political actors must abandon the notion that the public administration bureaucracy, the political parties and the private business sector are the only ones to meet those needs. Only a vigilant people, organized in their resident communities, their organizations, and primary groups, could make the public bureaucracy, political parties, the private business sector, and the civil society sector respond effectively to the needs of the people. Too often what takes priority are the needs and desires of the political party and the parasitic profit impulses of the private business sector. The needs of the people come last on the list of priorities in too many instances.
Relatively new independent nations such as SVG must ensure that it is fundamentally committed to human development rather than becoming subjected to the dictates and nature of bureaucracy, parasitic private profit making, and a tribalistic political system. As it stands now, human development is too often held hostage by political parties and the public bureaucracy.
Human development must become the goal served by the three major institutions namely public administration, economic enterprises and NGOs or civil society organizations. In turn, human development will have a positive impact on these three institutions. Investments in human development will spur on higher levels of development of people, governance, and economic enterprise.
A country with no major set of natural resources such as oil and minerals from which to build wealth must recognize that its people is its major resource. This reality means that social consciousness is the key factor in transformative processes. A deep consciousness of the interdependent nature of human beings must be promoted and developed. Each citizen must be empowered with a social consciousness that enables them to create, build, and sustain a resilient and prosperous society based on solidarity, justice, peace and compassion.
Only a full-fledged participatory system would provide space for human development to bloom. Colonial rule was commandist, authoritarian, repressive, and oppressive. It was this governance framework that SVG inherited at the time of independence. The struggle for decolonization has been a major challenge facing the Vincentian nation.
No development policy could be sustained if this commandist and authoritarian legacy of colonialism is allowed to continue without making a complete break with it and putting in its place a full-fledged participatory democratic way of life.
About the authorMaxwell Haywood in an international civil servant, working especially in the field of social development. He has worked at the international level in areas such as poverty eradication, NGO relations, racism, youth development, higher education, social integration, and cooperative development. He presently works on issues related to the social and solidarity economy. He has degrees in public administration and education, human resources development and public policy, and business management. He has also done studies in other areas such as mass communication, international political economy, international social development policy, international leadership, negotiations, project management, elections monitoring, and globalization.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].