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Beyond this place of wrath and tears

By Michael Harris

This is my last column for 2012. As I have done in previous years I shall try to peer into the mist which always shrouds the future to alert my readers to what may be in the offing for our country in the year ahead. This time, however, I start by looking backwards. For while, for purposes of convenience, we may divide our time into calendar years, the fact is that the river of time is a continuous flow and the currents of the past always exert a strong influence on the ebb and flow of the future.

So I begin with my last article for 2009 which was entitled "A new year full of hope". In that article I stated, in part: "Reduced to their essence our problems revolve around two fundamental issues. The first is that at the time of independence we were, to use the famous description of CLR James, 'a bastard, feckless conglomeration of individuals, inspired by no common purpose, moving to no common end'. Our primary challenge then, as it is now, was to build a nation out of the diversity of our peoples thrown together on this piece of ground by the colonial enterprise."

I went on to argue that, "The second essential obstacle has emerged out of that initial failure. It is that in the context of a constitutional structure which effectively excluded the people, we had the emergence and entrenchment of a political structure characterised first, by representation on the basis of ethnic polarisation and second, by the utter dependence of each of these ethnic polarities on their political representatives for all of their well-being and welfare."

I continued that article by stating, "Now, for the first time in our independent history, the new year presents us with the possibility of dealing effectively with both of these oppressive obstacles at the same time." And I concluded by saying that for the desired social, political and constitutional changes to take place the key condition necessary was leadership. I described this leadership as one "which possesses the insight to understand the opportunity of the time, to recognise the true aspirations of the people, and to articulate for all the people a vision of their genuine security and sovereignty".

The year 2010 was indeed, at least for the first six months, full of hope. In my last article of 2010, which was titled "At the crossroads of history", I wrote: "On May 25, the day after the elections, it is no exaggeration to say that the country was high on hope. The hope was that by ushering in the new People's Partnership Government we would have marked the beginning of a new dispensation in our politics, the start of a new movement towards good government and good governance."

But, as I went on to point out, seven months after that election, "that hope is dead for all but the most obdurate of party loyalists and the country approaches the dawn of another new year as if shuffling along in some funeral procession to the beat of a mournful dirge." I went on to state, "It is clear that we have reached the bottom of the barrel. As we look at the chaos swirling about us one thing is clear; there is nothing left, no party, no leader, no formulation and no permutation that we have not tried before."

And I asked the question: "So what then shall we do?" The answer I gave was, "...we are now left with only two very clear and very stark options. We either rise to the challenge of national transformation, beginning with the construction of a truly national party and the crafting of a viable and sustainable system of governance or we wallow in chaos forever."

Finally, last year, 2011, in my article titled "The pressure, the pain and the possibility", I wrote: "Everywhere is stagnation, dissolution and decay. In such a circumstance we shall not now escape the pain. The pain will come in continued crime and violence, in growing social upheaval and unrest, in mounting unemployment and destitution, and in rivers of wrath and tears."

But mine was not a vision of unrelieved doom and gloom. I went on to argue that, "in that total collapse of the old order, amidst our tears and pain, lies our possibility. For the shackles which have bound us shall be no more and the opportunity will present itself in which to start to build new political, economic and social arrangements and structures free of the fears and shibboleths of the past."

Today I see no reason to change that prognosis from last year. We have squandered a golden opportunity for change and in the aftermath of that betrayal of our hopes, all that has been left to us is a toxic and inflammatory mixture of desperation, despair, outrage and anger which should frighten us all.

But, the question I posed at the end of last year is still the question I will pose again this year. "Can we, as a people, recognise and seize the opportunity for freedom and greatness or shall we, traumatised by our fears, end up rebuilding the structures of our dispossession?"

I must confess I do not know the answer. I can only say that I have not abandoned hope. And it is in the spirit of that hope that I remind my readers of the poem which kept that giant of our times, Nelson Mandela, buoyed and defiant during the darkest days of his captivity:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

(Invictus by William Ernest Henley)

May Allah grant us all courage and wisdom in the new year.

• Michael Harris has been for

many years a writer and

commentator on politics

and society in Trinidad and

the wider Caribbean

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