On September 19, 1983, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis took a leap of faith. Together, we embarked on an unknown yet exciting path on which we would evolve from a state of infancy, rife with inevitable hurdles, to become a ripened model for the region and the world.
On that historic September night, girded by throngs of supporters and well- wishers, the first Prime Minister of the brand spanking new independent nation, Dr. The Right Honourable Sir Kennedy A. Simmonds beamed with pride. After years of dependence on Mother England, the tiny former British colony ushered in a truly new dispensation in its history and citizens took to the streets in jubilation. An ocean of pride swelled across the nation as the two islands commenced a transition that required patriotic, committed, emboldened men and women who would work tirelessly to ensure that the state of independence encapsulated a feasible arrangement for the most important stakeholders involved: the people!
Although historians regard the actual celebration of our independence as a memorable and euphoric moment for our people, the jury is still out on how successful our people have been at embracing the tenets of democracy that generations to come can themselves appreciate. What type of value system and culture are we passing on to our future leaders?
Former Governor General of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, Author, Social Commentator, Lay Preacher, Community Activist and notable Historian Sir Probyn Inniss, recently shared his views on the decadence he has observed in our society. This breakdown has given way to a culture where leaders openly commit wrong. This new culture has pervaded our society so deeply that “wrong” has become acceptable as “right.” He pointed not to any one political side but chided ALL politicians who in any way aid in the spread of such a destructive culture.
“If we keep on doing wrong things for a long time we come to believe we have some divine right to continue doing them. What is disconcerting is that our children and young people follow our leaders,” Sir Probyn remarked, “We have to work diligently to safeguard our independence as it is not a done deal just because the Union Jack was pulled down and our national flag was hoisted. There are too many challenges that face us as a nation for us to regard it as business as usual.”
Part of the journey to independence included crafting a body of specific and fundamental principles that determine how the newly independent federation should be governed. The Constitution, the highest law of the land would dictate the manner in which the independent federation would be governed. As was common with many former British colonies, the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis adapted the Westminster model of government. After 31 years, the tenets by which leaders should be guided per the Constitution have in many instances been blatantly ignored. Sadly, when laws enshrined in a nation’s Constitution are trampled upon, that nation suffers.
Every year around this time is a most appropriate opportunity to engage in fruitful discussions about the successes of the past, the current state of affairs in the federation and the way forward for our 31-year old independent nation. Part of this process warrants an honest assessment by ordinary citizens whose forefathers’ blood, sweat and tears helped to build our nation. In the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, we have truly attained successes in almost every sphere of our existence as a people once enslaved. The hallmark of that success ought to be rooted in transparency and integrity, not in falsehoods that merely help to prop up a government, encircled by a wall of blind supporters.
In 1995, the Right Honourable Denzil L. Douglas was called upon to lead a nation that had been fast evolving and was the envy of many island nations. Despite its shortcomings then, he was charged to raise the bar, not debase the office of the Prime Minister and the tenets on which the nation was built. History will judge how he governed when that baton was passed to him.
As we celebrate our nation, we ought to be sober and honest enough to address those errors of the past that have eroded our culture, polarized our people and hastened our ability to be a united nation. Introspection allows us to take deliberate action to ensure that our missteps of the past are not recycled from one generation to the next.
American statesman, political leader and 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up-or else all go down- as one people.” As we reflect on our attainment of sovereignty, may the spirit of truly unifying our nation prevail over all else.
By T. C. Phipps-Benjamin