As the nation of Saint Lucia celebrates today, hopefully many of us are taking a moment for some introspection. What does it really mean to be “independent” and can we in Saint Lucia claim it in more than just name?
Cambridge Dictionary says Independence is “Freedom from being governed or ruled by any other country”. But we still recognise HRH as our Head of State, and as we have recently been forced to realise, our laws apparently may still be overthrown by those of our old Colonial masters. These two technicalities aside, do we not need to consider Independence in a wider context?
We rely -heavily- for our above-board economy, on aid and foreign direct investment. For the aid, we more often than not are required to adhere to goals and restrictions that suit the donor, not necessarily our need. And in order to attract that FDI, it would seem that we have, time and again, to give up our regulations, our rules, our laws, our environmental stability, our protected areas, our assets that locals use to conduct business and to recreate, our water, our coastal areas, our biodiversity and habitats…the list goes on.
Some ask, “So, what? What use are these things to us when I can’t pay my bills, can’t send my child to school with a decent lunch, can’t pay for medicine? We need jobs!” It’s a valid question. All questions are valid, and in fact, one of our biggest problems is that we neither ask not entertain enough questions about what we are doing and why. We fail to undertake the most basic steps to build a solid foundation for Independence: to examine ourselves thoroughly; diagnose our illnesses; identify our needs; poll our people for their priorities; quantify our assets INCLUDING the knowledge of people on the ground in the field, at the heart of the need. Instead we don the stained and worn-out, ill-fitting clothes of external solutions, external indicators, external demands.
We fail to even en-passant, ask these most basic of questions, far less embark on a rigourous and determined journey and brave finding out that the answers are not ones that will sound good on the market steps or the Boulevard but are ones that will most often require commitments that span several political terms in office. That these questions and answers will require actual cooperation between parties, and demand that the old Victorian methods of “divide and rule” -that we seem to not just live by, but be prepared for Fair Helen to die by- are once and for all laid to rest, never to be mourned as we step forward, step up and invest in our genuine road to Independence.
We we need to find our courage to break away from the debt-development cycle, from the 15-25 year tax holidays for foreign profit and low-paid, poor conditions jobs, from the ‘development’ that sees the negative face of gentrification where our supermarket prices rise beyond local means, where land prices bar all but the wealthy from ownership and encourage those in need to give up their piece of the rock.
We need to balance immediate needs with leaving a proud legacy and a resilient independent nation for the children. We need to accept it won’t be easy, but it must be done. We need to re-found our laws, our constitution, our regulations, on our real needs and goals and then to respect and uphold them fiercely. We need to recognize that our dull apathy and our fear if victimisation, the “that’s how it is”, and our willingness to be active participants in the war of political colours is a heavy chain with a deadly weight that will drown us.
We need to stand up together and demand our governments govern FOR the people of Fair Helen by governing with the people of Fair Helen. That justice, truth and charity is not just a jingle, but the way we do things, the values we live by. And that “unity” never means saying “yes sir” and keeping silent, but that we are strong enough -together- to be independent.
Annou alé Sent Lisi!