What Independence?




A few weeks ago  we all celebrated Usain Bolt's victory in the men's 100m finals as one Caribbean. Bolt didn't run for the red white and black, but we were happy for him and Jamaica. As he preened before the camera in his inimitable style, he reminded his detractors that he had promised Jamaica a birthday present. It was a lovely present that he and his fellow sprinters gave to Jamaica this at the Olympics: gold and silver medals and the promise that Jamaica was making strides on the international stage. As the other Caribbean island celebrating its 50th year of Independence in the Caribbean, Jamaica has done theirs with considerably more style and passion than Trinidad and Tobago. I keep having to remind myself that we are in our month of celebrations too. Despite 50 years of achievements there seems to be precious little happening to commemorate anything. Go over to iTunes and you will see that Jamaica has a series of podcasts titled How Jamaica Conquered the World. The series looks at the ways in which the little island has become a cultural giant. Months before August 6th their Independence song was launched and on the lips of its citizens. Here in Trinidad we have an ambassador to Geneva who doesn't know the words to our anthem, and a foreign service so bogged down in politics little can be done about her. Instead of an Independence song, we have one artist getting a grant to produce a record with foreign artistes on it. Instead of a national song competition, we now have the 50th Anniversary Chutney competition and a separate Calypso Competition. Separate distinct and apart. And the chutney form is there to give a pretence at ethnic parity, because no musician worth his salt will ever be convinced that the chutney form is perfect for narrative and story telling. The classic chutney song depends on repetition and a hook line. And let's not forget the embarrassing website the Ministry of Planning had to pull down about a month ago.

It seems as if 50 years later our road to independence is mired in as much controversy and confusion as when we started. And that's another thing. There's absolutely no attempt to talk about the nation's path to self-autonomy and independence because it brings two things to the fore: the PNM's role as architect of the Independence movement, and the ethnic groups who lobbied against the movement. It really wouldn't do, fifty years later to remind the country that there were groups here that we're entirely against Trinidad and Tobago gaining independence and some groups even went so far as to petition the Colonial Office to persuade them to not grant the colony independence. Similar groups were also against the West Indian Federation forming; and the reason given on all occasions was the fear of ethnic dominance by a black government.

I can't see the People's Partnership government wanting anyone to bring up the petitions of 1925 by Indian groups requesting political ethnic segregation of the island. It was turned down by Major Wood on the grounds that if one ethnic group asked for it, what was to prevent all groups present from wanting their separate legislatures.

I doubt very much too that the Partnership will want a history of Independence that shows the DLP and its leaders then, such as Bhadase Sagan Maharaj and Rudranath Capildeo, as being opposed to the idea of Independence and strenuously so. They probably also don't want excerpts of that famous letter of 1958 to be part of the historical record anymore, because then it raises questions about loyalty, nationalism, civic pride and intentions. Difficult questions that 50 years later we are uncomfortable asking and answering. And they remain difficult because we still have people here, from all groups that think Independence was a bad idea and that Trinidad and Tobago started going downhill August 31st, 1962.

When you pair this history and these sentiments along with the dismal planning of our milestone anniversary despair creeps in. In a country where we are capable of throwing exciting impromptu limes and sumptuous all-inclusive fetes; in a country where not more than four years ago with a constrained economy we successfully held two international summits; in a country where every government is accused of treating Parliament like a fete...we can't celebrate ourselves.

Instead what we will get in lieu of a celebration is a series of policies that are really an election campaign in disguise, with tax payer's money being shared out to party hacks as part of the celebration. And while the party hacks get fatter, things like history and culture get thrown aside. Every single group in this country should have had their arrival and their achievements here be celebrated. Instead what we have is a government so afraid of its mediocrity that it denies the successes of any other group; and so preoccupied with holding onto the reins of power it strangles any kind of progress and development. It's not even August 31st yet and already the number 50 has become empty of meaning: a hollow reminder that though we have travelled far we seem to have learned precious little from the journey.