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Our difficulties with constructing Independence

By Theodore Lewis

 When ex-colonies such as us become independent, we do so out of nationalistic fervour. Getting rid of the coloniser consumes our energies, leaving little reserve it seems for us to deal with the issue of the construction  of independence.  

Not willing to become authors of our own existence by doing the necessary work, we resort to the default tactic of leaving everything the same. Naipaul says that rather than being inventive we resort to mimicry. The Civil Service, courts, Parliament, and schooling are roughly as they were in 1962. Lloyd Best said there was hard wuk to be done. We are fundamentally an accepting country. We don’t question. Independence came and we went back to what we knew. 

Even when things fall apart physically before our eyes, such as the Red House, we are not moved to improve the aesthetic. We wallow in the ruin, having kept the legal and legislative inheritances it once housed, including the idea of the Privy Council as final court.

Once Independence was achieved we found that we are afraid of ourselves. Contemporary examples of how this colonial stranglehold affects our ability to be creative, can be seen in (a) insistence by Major General Ralph Brown (Ret) that police must accompany soldiers on beats (b) insistence by the former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, that we must follow the letter of the Constitution in determining qualifications for the Police Service Commission, (c) inability to hire a head of Police.

It should be obvious that to have a standing army here for war–fighting purposes only is farfetched. Beyond a flying fish spat, we have had no foreign threat since Independence. The attacks on the state have come from within our borders.

The soldiers can be better used by multi-tasking. What we need is a national security entity that embodies features of police, army, air force, and coast guard. The model is the Defence Force football team. Long ago we used to have a police team and an army and coast guard team. They now all play together. We should have a single common call-up for the Defence Force, transcending the disciplines, including policing, and then members could be deployed according to propensities displayed in training.  

All members of the composite force should have a common core of training before specialising in their disciplines. We need people in the national Defence Force who can interdict narco-smugglers on the sea, on our beaches and estuaries, in the forests, on the mountains, and in their homes, whether in the ghetto, or in the quiet suburbs. All should be able to arrest a wrong-doer, or enter a home or office if that is where a perpetrator is hiding out.

 In the case of a 1990-type event, police and army should fight for our sovereignty side by side, and possessing equivalent skills.

Having soldiers perform civic crime fighting functions is one of the smartest things we have done with the army. When Obama came here I saw soldiers on the highway. They come out at Carnival time. Whenever they come out, the place is safer. 

Ralph Brown is saying soldiers must not walk the beat alone. They need a police chaperon. No. We have to move on from that. 

 Mr Dumas challenged President Carmona in court and lost.  The issue was whether a school principal and a citizen with a doctorate in urban planning meet the qualifications prescribed for membership of the Police Service Commission. No matter that this body has been moribund and toothless.  Checking the contents and not noticing that it is the wheel barrow that is at issue. 

Why could we not just allow the new President’s substantial legal insight to prevail here without having this go to court?  

Decades after Independence and our instinct has been that the Police Commissioner should be a white man. We have a black national in place and we pappyshow him, giving him CEPEP-structured work, a few months at a time, and bringing him in for periodic “evaluation” giving him a score out of ten like they do in gymnastics. We have never treated a white man in the position this shabbily. Colonials to de bone? Or maybe we like it so. But massa day done.

Democracy is something always in the making. The country has to be willing to question continually, and to reshape those things of the past that are no longer suited to us. We have to learn that Independence is not inherited—not given to us—it has to be constructed, over and over.


Theodore Lewis is professor emeritus, University of Minnesota. He has since returned home and is mostly retired now.

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