Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk”, Feb. 28, 2020)

There is a local saying that goes something like this: “Blood is thicker than water, and politics makes for the thickest ties of all.” Simply put, it means that while people may enter and end family, religious and business relationships during a lifetime, the strongest bond they form is with a political party.

This is a phenomenal development considering that political parties are only two generations old having come into existence in SVG in 1950. We were told that the family, church and schools are the most critical institutions of socializations. It is from these centuries old institutions that we get our basic understanding of life.

So, what has happened? How is it that the political party, an institution that entered our lives about 70 years ago, has come to take such a dominant place in the collective psyche of our nation? What caused political parties to eclipse the family, church and school, and force them to give way or bend them into its liking?

To understand this development, which we have repeatedly lamented as being unfortunate, and which every Vincentian should endeavour to reverse, we must take a close look at our society and where it was in the first half of the 20th century.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines remains an underdeveloped, resource-starved country. It is a place where government has a major stranglehold over literally every aspect of life. Government is the single largest employer. The private sector remains small, and many of these businesses depend on government support and patronage to survive, prosper or make a profit.

Joshua’s People’s Political Party (PPP) emerged in the 1950s when the ruling planter class dominated the economy. It treated the majority population, which comprised persons of African ancestry, and whose parents, in the main were captured and brought here as enslaved Africans, as less than human. Our forebears did back- breaking work on plantations owned mainly by persons of European extraction.

It was Joshua who went to these rural plantations and fought for our parents and grand parents. It was Joshua who imbued them with what Rex Nettleford, the Jamaican intellectual and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies described as “somebodyness”. It was Joshua who taught them to be proud of who they were and to be dignified in what they do.

All this time they had family. They had the church too, but in the main the church taught them to trust and obey because this world was not their home. Paradise and eternal bliss in heaven awaited those who lived for Christ.

The St. Vincent Labour Party of Milton Cato emerged in 1956 mainly as a foil to the militancy of Joshua’s PPP.

It was a grouping of middle-class elements, the commercial and educated elite. On the political hunt, it sought to convince the black majority that Joshua’s PPP was too militant, and that Cato and his band of educated men will better serve them. While Cato’s Labour Party tinkered here and there with the economy, most of the people remained mired in poverty and mostly dependent on government.

By the time Mitchell’s NDP emerged in the 1970s following the demise of the Peoples Political Party, the contest for the hearts and minds of the people emerged in earnest. Cato’s Labour Party dominated from 1974 to 1984, and Mitchell from 1984 to 2001. Mitchell’s biggest stamp on the memory of the people was the purchase of estates from plantation owners and their distribution and/or occupation by villagers. The best example of this being “Freedom estate” in Lauders.

All these governments before sought to use political patronage to bind supporters. When a proper study is done, it will be demonstrated beyond doubt that no party was as effective as Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party in distributing goodies to supporters and the population at large. From lands to houses, university scholarships to jobs, help to the elderly and repairs to the homes of poor, plus the election year distribution of cement, lumber, galvanise and steel; none before did more to bind supporters to the leaders and the brand.

All of this happened at a time when there was a conscious effort on the part of all post-independence leaders to consciously bend, break or destroy civil society organization. In the 1980s, literally every village across this country had a community development organisation. These groups have mostly disappeared. Where they still exist, they are a shadow of their former selves.

The National Youth Council (NYC) was given a warning to depart. All too many union leaders know the party song much better than their organization’s constitution; churches are split down the middle because one side supports this or that political party or politician.

The saddest development of all is where family members no longer speak to each other because of political allegiance. In some cases, they curse and fight over this or that political issue or leader. We may leave church or union, refuse to talk to a family member, neighbour or friend, but come hell or high water, disrespect, neglect or abuse from our politicians, too often, too many of us declare that we love our party and will remain loyal until death.

Sadly, we have come to this because the political party has become the most important and dominant institution in our country. Supporters are not taught to question anything. Blind loyalty is cultivated. To interrogate power or authority is to invite the wrath of the leaders who send coded messages as to how supporters are to deal with ‘troublesome’ individuals and contrarians.

No one is encouraged to use their minds for independent investigations. The leader said it. I believe it; woe be onto you who challenge what the leaders say. We are encouraged to be angry at the messenger and disregard the message. We have now arrived at a murky place where narrow, partisan politics has triumphed over the best interest of the people. We need to untie the ties that bind and get to a place where our country stands supreme over self promotion.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

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].

3 replies on “The triumph of the political party”

  1. If it is indeed so JOMO that “It is from these centuries old institutions that we get our basic understanding of life”. How sad it is therefore that under the pseudo-socialist Gonsalves family lead ULP that all of these institutions but for their despotic politics have all been rubbished and declined in importance here despite the non-existent education revolution. Are we any the better under this family rule than our ancestors on the plantations?

    What a shame that we the descendants of African slaves have had to endure so many years of despotic government under a single family regime all over again. How did we come to this?

    It may be observed that as Jomo readies himself to vacate the chair as speaker of the house of Parliament, the man appears to be torn between hero worshiping of Ralph Gonsalves and the Socialist ideal and the obvious betrayal of him by the man Ralph Gonsalves, whom Jomo had so long worshipped as a hero these good many years. This surely one would say, is a case of the slave descendant having to come to terms with the sobering sad fact, that the master after all, only sees Jomo as a donkey. Just meat to be sent on errands. It must be quite hurtful for Jomo.

    In this his gross confliction, Jomo is here reminding us of this very sad fact that there was no material change in SVG over the years. This fact too he is also struggling with, after all, his ULP has been in absolute power for near on twenty years and with total political dominance of both us and our parliament.

    Quote; “St Vincent and the Grenadines remains an underdeveloped, resource-starved country. It is a place where government has a major stranglehold over literally every aspect of life. Government is the single largest employer. The private sector remains small, and many of these businesses depend on government support and patronage to survive, prosper or make a profit”. Surely this is an utter indictment of gross policy failure over the last twenty years of a ULP family dominated government.

    But why is this policy failure the case? Is this not the very outcome that he and the Gonsalves extended family have strived for, and so successfully hoisted upon us Vincentians? This surely is the ideal socialist utopian paradise. State control, as is witnessed in Cuba and the once rich Venezuela. In such a domain only Government employment could exist. And see how this government have wrecked the economy!

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13758003

    Yet Jomo further adds this in his confliction, that our “parents, in the main were captured and brought here as enslaved Africans, as less than human. Our forebears did back- breaking work on plantations owned mainly by persons of European extraction”.

    Well. Well! Now today we have foreigners owning most of the real estate here and providing nearly all employment outside government. But is Jomo blind to all this fact too? What therefore has changed for us other than the physical iron shackles and the grubby chains? Are the Gonsalves and the foreigners any better than the plantation masters of old?

    Thus it follows one may ask, who owns much of SVG today? What has changed Jomo? And how are we being treated any differently today if not as docile less than human nincompoops with even the ruling Gonsalves extended family denying us our basic humanity.

    Why, our new masters sure think that we are so dunce that they cannot even trust us with a FREEDON OF INFORNATION BILL, for as dunce baboons, we would not know how to deal with it. And there is that thing of the “white man’s burden” to ever deal with, as they care for us as incapable needy children!

    In his hero worshiping of the man P.M Ralph Gonsalves, Jomo advances us of this foolish opinion of his, that our democracy and our country have benefited by and large, from the glaring underhanded skulduggery of the Gonsalves family, who in exploiting our enduring poverty, especially at election times with their various handouts of sacks of cement and lumber and the likes, have done us good. Really Jomo?

    This singular fact Jomo deduces, has been a good thing for us, even though the Gonsalves family continues to use and abuse us. Such abuse should be overlooked by us for Jomo writes;

    “When a proper study is done, it will be demonstrated beyond doubt that no party was as effective as Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party in distributing goodies to supporters and the population at large. From lands to houses, university scholarships to jobs, help to the elderly and repairs to the homes of poor, plus the election year distribution of cement, lumber, galvanize and steel; none before did more to bind supporters to the leaders and the brand”. Jomo missed out the cash, and perhaps the pretty beads and trinkets.

    All this is from a man who would have us believe that he supports our true emancipation and our democracy. But I did say that he was conflicted between hero worship, socialism and now true decency. This indeed is the Brazilian example that Jomo ever the would-be socialist, Ralph Gonsalves, Maduro and all other pseudo-socialist would have us believe are acceptable behaviour by their kind.

    Swiss Bank Socialism as was so aptly demonstrated by the De Santos in Angola, the Castro’s, Maduro, Robert Mugabe, the Ghandi regime in India, the Ortega in Nicaragua and a plectra of other pseudo socialist around the world. Their policy is but fraud on the people.Swiss Bank Socialism works to enrich them and not us.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKhR9i5CGkA

    For Jomo, Swiss Bank Socialism as coined by that noted Ghanaian economist, is to be overlooked by us, for in the long run, we the dejected and exploited descendants of African slaves may find some release in free Lumber and sacks of cement. A price worth paying by us for their benevolence and care of us!

    But what indeed are really the true facts about the harm in world socialism for all those who have been foolish enough to have dabbled with it? From the Soviets to the Indians, China to Africa, South America to the Caribbean, socialism has been just one big long mitigating disaster on human kind.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEUUjoVjdM0

    Yet Jomo is unrepentant about the harm that has been done to the Vincentian people by the Gonsalves extended family and the harm that socialism has done to all those foolish enough to have fallen for its appeal of something for nothing. However most of us know that there is no such thing as a free lunch
    . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpH_rpjOl7o

  2. You are quite knowledgeable about a great many things but will people trust you to do the right thing in the decisive moment? As the wise said you playing smart but not being clever.

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