By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Nov. 3, 2023)
I was taken aback by lingering questions about the vitality and importance of the quest to regain our sovereignty and national independence. I did not think that 44 years after we attained political independence, some voices believe that we would have been better off with colonial overlords.
To be sure, I subscribe to a school of thought which gives little credence to the mere attainment of political independence. At the time when the conversations about independence were in the air, many of us in the progressive movement expressed disdain for “flag independence” and the mere change of a white racist misruler to one with a black face. The Trinidadian developmental economist Lloyd Best aptly labelled such a person, “AfroSaxon”. The more clear-sighted and visionary among us talked about Genuine Independence, People’s Ownership and Control.
Back then, progressives were clear that to chart a developmental course that was meaningful and sustainable, we had to first wrest political control from the colonialist who interrupted our independence course, destabilised our culture, dehumanised our people, and mercilessly raped and exploited our country.
So convinced were we of the potential for development that when former Prime Minister James Mitchell opposed our country’s transition to independence with the spurious argument that in “associated statehood with Britain we are as protected as sardines in a tin” many laughed in his face and told him where to go.
Therefore, it is disappointingly surprising to learn that there is nostalgia for our colonial times. The argument is that the remaining colonies in our region are better off economically and score higher on the social and developmental index. This argument neglects the fact that many colonies are akin to colonial showcases that responded to the regional independence movement, which began in the 1960s.
The argument completely erases the fact that the colonial authorities sabotaged the efforts to unify the region and worked for the collapse of the West Indies Federation, which was formed in 1958. More importantly, having “sucked the region dry” to quote Eric Williams, the former PM of Trinidad and Tobago, Britain has steadfastly refused to engage the region in a reparatory conversation that will lead to real and sustainable development.
It is this criminal neglect of the Caribbean by the former colonial powers which has forced post-independence regional leaders to borrow excessively, thus turning the Caribbean into one of the most indebted regions on earth.
Even so, as we will see, inequality in both independent and colonial states within the region is very high. In the colonial enclaves, the white settler class totally and completely dominated the economy and social environment. Consequently, notions such as gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita income are deceptive concepts that do not offer an accurate picture of how the people in the region live.
The GDP measures the size of the economy and offers an indication of how the economy is performing. However, the growth rate of real GDP provides a clearer picture of economic health. Many people now understand that economic growth does not necessarily mean economic development.
The same holds for concepts such as per capita income or the amount of money earned by each individual in a given country. For example, the per capita income in SVG is now over $8,000. But we have a poverty level of close to 40% and an unemployment level of over 40%. Taken together, this means that the vast majority of Vincentians can be categorised as working poor. Therefore, per capita estimates are bogus and do not reflect the actual state of affairs of citizens.
The infrastructure in many of the colonies is indeed better than in the independent countries, but that’s a function of the fact that the colonial masters in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Washington have turned the none non-independent territories into playgrounds for their economic elites. Small wonder then that residents of all colonial territories can be found in great numbers as they go in search of greener pastures. Puerto Ricans, Guadeloupians, and Martiniquais are found in considerable numbers in the metropoles. In the smaller colonial territories, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, BVI have large numbers of residents from the other islands who search for work and a better life.
The cultural vitality of independence is the fact that many Caribbean people assert a strength and determination in the metropoles of North America and Europe because they are accustomed to seeing persons looking like them in positions of authority in politics and the economy.
Conditions for the indigenous populations in colonies are similar to residents in the independent countries. For instance, unemployment in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cayenne is 18, 22 and 23 percent, respectively. Life expectancy at birth is 83, 82 and 77 years. Considering that all three societies have large white settler communities compared to predominantly black independent countries, the life expectancy numbers are hardly surprising. The metropoles look out for their own.
There is also the argument for maintaining colonial relics as the Privy Council. It is claimed that our judges all go to the same schools and know each other. Proponents of this view forget, dismiss or disregard a cardinal point: the law is rarely about friendships and more about class and political interest. Just as our lawyers go to UWI or British schools, British judges attend private schools such as Eton and King’s College. They are no brighter than our jurists. To say that you prefer a stranger preside over your legal matter than a homegrown judge is a sad commentary on what we think of ourselves. Such thoughts play into the views inculcated by the colonial overlords that our people are subhuman and thus possess inferior minds.
To hark back to the “halcyon days” of colonial rule reflects a lack of confidence and self-worth. Such views are predicated on an inferiority complex, which sees others as better than us in matters of state.
Onward to Genuine Independence, People’s Ownership and Control.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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