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On Our Own

By Sunity Maharaj

 The departure of Karl Hudson-Phillips QC is a defining marker in a season of notable good-byes as time claims our first generation of post-Independence leaders.  

They were the transition generation. 

Born in a colony and bred in a nation sovereign and free, they stood between the retreating back of our colonial past and the beckoning finger of the future.

Marked for leadership by their excellence, their natural terrain was the incongruity of in-betweenity, where outstanding individual achievement cohabited comfortably with general deprivations of every kind.

For the masses who had barely seen a secondary school, these persons of eminence were the moorings to the old world of order and the signposts to a future of better days to come.

We launched out into the future confident in the ability of the few good men and even fewer women, to carry us safely to the other side of history where, we assumed, a new world was awaiting us. 

Today, the innocence of those assumptions is matched only by the depth of our frustration over the difficulties of changing the entrenched order.

As we worked our way down to the bottom of the barrel of easy options, we have gone from disbelief, to anger, to depression and, increasingly these days, to futility, overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.

With self-confidence on the ebb, blow-hard and bravado have become the tenor of the times with fear feeding the instinct to turn back and embrace the old repression and authoritarianism.

‘Lock them up and lock it down’ is the theme of our futility as it rises in direct proportion to the failure of the leadership class to govern on the basis of democratic engagement, persuasive negotiation and competence.

The social disorder that has sent us fleeing for cover under such abominations as the misconceived state of emergency, the Defence Amendment Bill and the Bail Amendment Bill among others, is not the result of some innate lawlessness. It is the consequence of our political failures to transcend the legacy of divide and rule by imbuing our politics with the trust needed for consensus on the Independence project of nationhood. The cheering gallery for law and order by any means necessary, needs to consider how much higher it will be willing to up the ante when these repressive measures fail to stem the criminal symptoms of social dysfunction, as they surely will.

Nothing so demonstrates the loss of confidence in our own capacity as the national penchant, from the government down, to look for answers beyond ourselves, at whatever cost to purse and pride. The ease with which the government is purchasing policing solutions from New York reveals everything we need to know about the emptiness of the anti-crime plan on which the People’s Partnership rode to office. Equally, the public’s enthusiastic embrace of the US Drug Enforcement Administration following the Norfolk drug bust reveals more than we would care to admit about our lack of confidence in our government and institutions. From society’s top to bottom, people are praying for deliverance by the DEA, openly dismissing their own government and police as useless and untrustworthy; in matters of justice we can’t even muster the confidence to let one arm go from Britain’s Privy Council; in academic circles, the agency business is thriving with our appetite for importing brand-name speakers whose intellect could easily be plumbed for free on the internet.

In everything but name, we are giving up on Independence, the responsibility for ourselves apparently too much to bear.

Under the spreading shadow of dread, we, the rainbow people of the Caribbean, envied as much for our joie de vivre as for our per capita income, are condemning the republic for being broken beyond repair. 

We no longer believe that we have what it takes; only that we have the money to buy what it takes.

For far too many of us, it’s all over. It doesn’t occur that, in truth, we are only now starting. 

In this classless society of ours, we live on the double-edged sword of equal opportunity, taken either by talent, ruse or at gunpoint. Where money might otherwise have divided us, crime—white and blue collar—settles the score and evens the odds. The plundering adventurers who got islands and plantations to become the first West Indian elite 500 years ago are succeeded today by a home-grown generation of plunderers willing to exploit every advantage, by any means necessary, on their way to the top.

The challenge we are up against is to break the 500- year-old mould in which West Indian society has been set. This is no easy task, but it is the definitive task upon which the solution to everything else rests.

As we survey the parade of incredible persons who have been gifted to us, including the generation of leaders to which Karl Hudson-Phillips belonged, we can believe with conviction that our problem is not one of intelligence and dispense with the extravagance of buying ideas from abroad. Intelligence we have. Aplenty. 

What we have not yet acquired after 500 years is the deep and personal conviction that this place truly belongs to you and to me and to all of us. When we come to terms with this revolutionary idea we will be ready to claim the rights and accept the responsibilities that come with ownership. 

That moment, when it comes, will mark the end of giving people permission to mash up the place—while we grab what we can and run.

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