By Michael L. Jarvis
Caribbean News Now contributor
BRADES, Montserrat — Amidst the political upheavals of volcanic proportions now gripping Montserrat, a re-energised social activist organisation is positioning itself to play a key role in how the island does politics.
Mobilise for Montserrat describes itself is a non-partisan social movement aimed at shifting the balance of influence away from politicians and back to the people who elect them.
The movement is spearheaded up by Montserrat-born international recording artiste, turned businessman and building contractor, Renford Kulcha Don Gibbons.
Gibbons, who has had successful music collaborations with The Fugees, Beenie Man, Jadine Soca Deva, Nyne and others, and has toured globally, said an agenda of “people-driven development” needs to be at the forefront of politics in Montserrat.
“It’s the politicians who are accountable to the people and not the other way around,” he explained, giving vent to his frustration over what he sees is the prolonged stall that has been stifling the island’s redevelopment.
Now that he is spending more time on the island and less time in studios and doing globe-trotting performances, Gibbons is concerned that there is too much musical-chairs power shifting in Montserrat, which he feels has characterised local politics and is a major reason for stalling the redevelopment of the volcano-stricken island.
Montserrat suffered a series of catastrophic volcanic eruptions between 1995 and 2010.
During that time the island’s picturesque capital was destroyed and more than half its land space was rendered uninhabitable or otherwise unusable – including most of the arable land, commercial and industrial areas.
The British overseas territory’s once-thriving economy was decimated and half of the population fled or were otherwise evacuated by the British government.
Montserrat, which was economically self-supporting pre-eruption, is now heavily reliant on British aid and has been struggling to recover since then.
Sand mining, small scale business activity plus construction and tourism – largely driven by Montserratian diaspora tourists – are presently the main elements keeping the local economy afloat, supported by significant injections of UK aid.
A number of long-delayed British-backed capital projects that have been tied up in bureaucracy are being slowly unblocked, starting with the building of a breakwater.
In a telephone interview this weekend, Gibbons said it is that struggle to recover that has triggered his passionate involvement in social activism.
Although he has been active on the political fringes, Gibbons is adamant that Mobilise for Montserrat is not a foray into elective politics for him.
“This is a people’s movement,” he declared.
“For too long we have had the politicians telling people what they are going to do, then when they get into office and they realise how challenging and demanding the task is, they are just happy to sit back and collect their very good paycheck while the island stagnates,” he said.
Gibbons lamented that the problems preventing Montserrat’s rebuilding are systemic.
He said the best way for Montserrat to see any real growth back to a semblance of the pre-eruption prosperity it enjoyed is for Montserratians themselves at home and in the diaspora to take the lead on investing (inward investment), rather than relying on British aid and hoping for foreign direct investment (FDI).
“The emphasis is to put Montserratians front and centre in the rebuilding of our homeland,” he declared.
“We need a more nationalistic and patriotic approach in a positive sense,” he continued.
The way the popular local star sees it, “It’s time for a radical change to the way we have been doing things. This situation calls for a revolutionary new way of thinking for the new evolution of Montserrat.”
This is where Gibbons sees Mobilise for Montserrat having a crucial role.
“We the people need to give the politicians instructions for what we them to do for us, not for them to make promises which they can’t or won’t fulfil just to get our votes. The people need to know that their votes have value,” he said.
In giving a further insight into the influence he envisages for the Mobilise for Montserrat movement, he stated, “We hire the politicians and we have the right to fire them when they don’t deliver, but waiting for five years to do that might need some rethinking. If we give them a job to do and they don’t perform, then they should be recalled.”
In his view, it’s about demanding a more proactive approach by the people towards the established and aspiring politicians who are already positioning themselves for upcoming elections – possibly snap elections.
Elections are due in Montserrat next year, but growing fractures within the present People’s Democratic Movement – including the recent resignation of a high-profile elected Parliamentary secretary and the sacking last year of a minister – are fuelling speculation about early polls.
A motion of no-confidence against the government is also scheduled to be tabled when the local Legislative Assembly resumes sessions later this month.
The resumption was delayed at the request of the island’s Premier Donaldson Romeo; however, no clear reasons have been given for the delay.
According to Gibbons, with Montserrat already having seven single-term or shorter governments since the volcano crisis, the island needs a new approach to politics if its redevelopment is going to be realised for the benefit of its people.
A very passionate Gibbons emphasises that the new concept of social activism and lobbying planned for Mobilise for Montserrat is intended to bring “a peoples-power movement” to get things happening for the island.