By Oliver Mills
Independence for Caribbean states brought to its citizens a sense of liberation, feelings of self-regard and self-worth, and of being somebody in a world previously dominated politically by great power groups, some of which were the previous colonial powers. We envisioned independence as meaning we would be the equal of others, and highly respected internationally. Everything therefore that was previously said to be negative about us would disappear and be replaced by what was positive.
Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
But independence as a goal, and the reality and fact of independence proved quite puzzling, and the dignity we thought it would bring, seems to have been replaced by dependence on others, and skirmishes among ourselves.
One Far Eastern country has entered our political and economic space, bringing gifts, which many of our countries have embraced. We seem to have accepted these gifts without fully examining the second shelf under the packaging. What are the implications for our dignity? Could we not do for ourselves what we have outsourced to others? Wasn’t independence supposed to mean not subservience to another power, or adopting another ‘mother,’ but fending for ourselves, to show we could ‘handle it?’ When others do for us what we should be doing for ourselves, does this not mean our self-image would be compromised? Where is Caribbean self-respect, and does anyone care about it again?
In one Caribbean country that is still being “mothered,” we read of indictments being handed down for money-laundering activities. What has happened to the rule of law? And where is the respect for our institutions and the purposes for which they were established? And even some prominent personalities are sometimes the ones who have showed little regard for them.
In another “mothered” country, we read about some who came to tutor us into appropriate behaviours and attitudes are themselves, some say, behaving without adherence to, or respect for their own scripts. What is it about the Caribbean that dignity and integrity are flouted by indigenous persons, and some outside others alike, in many instances, without having anyone being called to full account? Are piracy and buccaneering making a comeback? When we elected for independence, did we really elect a new set of buccaneers and planters?
In other sister Caribbean countries, we hear and read about the granting of passports to outside others, these being obtained through particular programmes, in return for investment, which some say is a refined form of booty. When will national dignity take precedence over everything else, instead of politics being in command? Does a country and its people have a price? Is the receipt of thirty pieces of silver equivalent to the dignity of a people and its government?
We also see where in another country, there are calls for the resignation of the head of the security forces and the government, new elections, and a referendum on payroll taxes. Does this smell of anarchy to anyone? Where in all this is the dignity of dialogue? In a democracy, dialogue is the key. It shows the maturity and soberness of the system. But the craving for power and influence could lead to undignified thinking, resulting in undignified actions. At some point, we need to stop at the precipice, and allow reason and logic to prevail.
With respect to yet another Caribbean country, there have been issues of conduct concerning two ministers of government occurring within short periods of each other. This has prompted a letter writer to say that there has developed a culture of resignations and dismissals. But should not people who represent the face of the public be more responsible? Is it not so that the way they conduct themselves should reflect the level of dignity of the people they serve? Or is it that power causes intellectual dizziness, resulting in the inability to govern and police one’s thoughts? But isn’t education about transformation and the triumph of human thinking over rash behaviour? Is education not about dignity, how to acquire it, and live it?
We as Caribbean people need to become advocates for dignity in our individual and public lives. Dignity is the soul of any country. It shapes our behaviour and personalities. It is the brake that holds us back from taking extreme actions. Dignity is what brings a country honour, trustworthiness and respect. We should therefore cherish and uphold it, so that our culture becomes further enriched. A dignified people can be a model for others. Dignity brings greater recognition and appreciation. It fosters national strength, and is a cardinal virtue in human intercourse.
We the people of the Caribbean are the real power. We should therefore cultivate in those we entrust with the management of our societies, a sense of ethics, of doing the decent thing, and doing it with dignity. And we should always treasure those things that uplift us further, and add to our sense of who we are, and what we could become.