Thursday, 9 June 2011
Last week we lost another one of our centenarians in the person of the late Mrs. Arina Melvina Webster. At the celebration of her life at the Mount Fortune Seventh Day Adventist Church on Sunday, a distinction was made that at 104 years of age she was the oldest Anguillian living in Anguilla --- a distinction which highlighted the fact that there is another Anguillian centenarian in the person of Mrs. Elma “Mealy” Gumbs who will celebrate her 106th Birthday on June 29th, God willing. “Mealy” Gumbs now lives in St Thomas with her daughter, Mrs. Edna Gumbs and I am sure that the more senior among us will remember her late famous husband the “Prophet”, Mr. George “Judge” Gumbs. We thank God for the lives of all of our senior citizens. With them resides the “institutional memory” of our Anguillian heritage, culture and traditions. Their lives have shaped our own. Hopefully, their families, friends and associates would have had the opportunity to avail themselves of information that can someday comprise our national treasure. May her soul rest in peace and may the other centenarians of our nation rally on with God’s grace and providence.
But as we look back to the past --- so too must we look forward to the future! The struggles which those centenarians faced in Anguilla at the turn of the twentieth century while different, still required the same excellences of character which must now support us in these the dawning years of the twenty-first century. Those centenarians experienced an Anguilla where the preoccupation was not with the complex issues of sovereignty but with the basic issues of survival. Not with utilities but with facilities. Not with luxuries but with necessities. Not only with family but also with community. These are some of the contradistinctions that aptly illustrate the changes that have taken place over one hundred years of Anguilla’s development not only economically and socially but politically as well. And as we reflect on what the Hon. Evans McNiel Rogers, in his Anguilla Day Address, refers to as a “punctuation mark” in our history, namely, the Anguilla Revolution --- we must feel a sense of destiny and responsibility to complete the vision of our forebears. In this context, the issue of self-determination becomes a haunting one.
The Anguilla National Youth Council’s (ANYC) forum on the topic: “Independence: Wha dah is?” provided an opportunity for a number of Anguillian personalities to speak to the important topic of “Self- Determination”. And having been honoured as one of the panelists on what was perhaps the beginning of a non-partisan process of education and discussion on Independence --- I felt extremely gratified. Despite the sparseness of the attendees in the auditorium I know that there was a considerable radio audience. The panel comprised of Mr. Don Mitchell, Mrs. Joyce Kentish-Egan, Mr. Iwandai Gumbs, Hon. Haydn Hughes and myself. In my view it was very close to what a balanced panel should be. There were clear differences of position by all concerned regarding the timetable and approach for Independence --- but there was common agreement that for Anguilla like every other state, Independence must be the ultimate goal. The views that I heard after the forum, however, brought home to me, even more forcefully, the fact that the majority of our people do not understand the issues related to an Independent Anguilla. If for no reason other than that lack of general information on the subject --- it is clear that Independence for Anguilla should not be pursued at the rapid pace being proposed by a number of the panelists and other persons in the community. In fact, in one of the editorials I saw after the forum it was reported that I was a proponent for Independence for Anguilla now! This along with an article by a well known commentator on regional issues, Sir Ronald Sanders, have prompted me to address the issue once again.
In my article of January 14th, 2011, “Lord have mercy! Send down Percy!” and again in my article of February 4th, 2011 “Lets hasten slowly!” I said: “People need to know what going into Independence will mean for the average Anguillian. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? Therefore in essence what the Chief Minister and his team should be doing is educating Anguillians rather than leading them into a fight literally blindfolded. Not knowing who they are fighting or what they are fighting for.” My position has not changed. Independence is a choice that we either have to make voluntarily or be forced to make because of circumstances we may not anticipate today. In any eventuality it is critical that such choices be made nationwide from a position of knowledge. While the path to Independence may be relatively clear it is a choice that, once taken, is not as easily reversed. Again this is a factor that demands that the process for choosing should be both painstaking and deliberate.
Over the last ten months the topic of Independence has taken centre stage perhaps for the wrong reasons. But whatever those reasons may be, it is a discussion that should never be avoided in a colonial arrangement. The expression of the people’s right of self-determination must never be fettered by even the most comfortable circumstances. However, that right should not be evoked on the basis of reaction to singular issues --- but to the wider concerns of national development and a clear understanding of where we are headed. I believe that Mr. Ashton Bradley put it in clear perspective when he said: “The road to Independence is not an ego trip nor is it a vendetta between one man and Her Majesty’s Government.” The pride associated with the achievement of independence is not sufficient a reason to commit our people to that choice --- they must have accurate information and knowledge of what they are embarking on. It is more than simply having the right to borrow or the ability to get handouts --- there must be a level of self-sufficiency and dignity associated with that status.
On the ANYC forum the statement was constantly made about having a seat at the table of decision-making. To at least two of the panelist this seemed to sum up a compelling argument for moving into independence immediately. Obviously, this approach slights the educational process and undermines the importance of having in place, at an early stage, a constitution with the appropriate checks and balances required to ensure the protection of all citizens. These panelists seemed to adopt Kwame Nkrumah’s philosophy: “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you.” However, it is worthy of note, that history reveals that Nkrumah was successful in propagating the seeds of independence and nationalism throughout the African Continent, but the absence of constitutional democracy with its appropriate checks and balances, lured him towards dictatorship, caused his overthrow, drove him to paranoia and eventually a lonely death in exile. The lesson here is that an independent state requires the same oversight, regulation and monitoring as any other colonial territory --- these provisions must be established and enshrined in the constitution on day one. It is that component of the process that will build a sense of confidence in the citizenry so that all our rights would be safeguarded after independence. There is little wonder then that the young people raised this question frequently at the forum.
I have dealt with this issue of independence time and time again in my column and along with my colleagues from the AUF we have made the important points repeatedly on several media. It was however most interesting that a spectator of the Anguillian experience, in the person of Sir Ronald Sanders, would have taken the time to speak to the issue of an Independent Anguilla within the CARICOM region. Sir Ronald is eminently qualified to comment on the call by the Chief Minister to become independent from Britain because of his long and distinguished career as a consultant, a writer, lecturer and diplomat in the Caribbean. His article makes a number of important points that support many of our views on the subject. I therefore feel that it would be instructive from the vantage point outside of Anguilla to get another opinion of what Independence at this juncture could mean for us.
The first point that Sir Ronald makes is that the Chief Minister’s timing for such a call is questionable. He says: “He is doing so in the worst economic times for Caribbean countries and during a period of great uncertainty in the world generally.”
As we continue to say, why are we talking about independence at a time when we are in the midst of a worldwide recession? How will this help us to create jobs and business opportunities in the short term?
The second point he makes is that Anguilla’s small size is a delimiting factor to begin with. He says: "if a tiny country like Anguilla is to seek independence, with all the costly requirements that come with such a bold step, it would have been better-off doing so within the framework of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy where it would benefit from economic integration, sharing in arrangements such as the Regional Security System operated by Barbados and the seven countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, joint regional trade negotiations as exists in CARICOM, and joint diplomatic representation with one or more CARICOM countries. Within a CARICOM framework, Anguilla’s independence from Britain would not leave it swimming alone in the ocean of international relations without even a meagre life belt.” During the ANYC forum, the question was raised as to how independent we can really be, given our small size and limited resources? Sir Ronald’s point addresses this concern, but it also raises another issue in the matter of an Independent Anguilla, that is, with whom should we align ourselves?
Sir Ronald makes the fourth point that deals with the idea of Anguilla “sitting at the table of decision-making.” He says: “Many independent Caribbean countries, much larger and better resourced than Anguilla, are finding it very difficult to survive as sovereign states. The cost of overseas representation, even if this were to be kept to the barest minimum, will add to Anguilla’s recurrent expenditure. …. There is also not much elasticity in the island’s capacity to increase its revenues.” Sir Ronald then goes on to elaborate on the vulnerability of our two main economic drivers, tourism and financial services. This is an important consideration because if the sources of our self-sufficiency are fragile how can we create a robust and sustainable economy as an independent nation.
The fifth point which Sir Ronald makes strikes at the very heart of the argument that many AUM supporters put up as the reason for going into independence, namely, so that we can borrow without requiring permission from the British. He says: “Borrowing on commercial terms will not be an easy option for a sovereign Anguilla government if it wishes to maintain existing physical infrastructure or build new capacity. Burnt by poor investment decisions that created the global financial crisis that began in 2008, financial institutions are now far more cautious than they were even in lending to governments. And, an independent Anguilla will not have the back-stop support of the British government that, in the past, gave comfort to institutions that lent money to governments of British colonies.” This is the exact opposite to what many “independence now” advocates purport. They seem to believe that once you go into independence you can borrow freely from anywhere. They do not understand that the same benchmarks and standards being imposed on us as a British Overseas Territory may be higher as an independent nation and lending institutions may become even more reluctant.
Sir Ronald makes a number of consequential points regarding losing British assistance for disease pandemics, disaster mitigation; drug trafficking; security and so on as well as the loss of British citizenship along which the concomitant privileges to live, study and work in Britain and the European Union. He then concludes that at this time the Chief Minister’s call to independence requires informed public consultation. He says: “Independence for Anguilla is, therefore, a tough call. It is one that the majority of the people of Anguilla must be free to determine once all the advantages and disadvantages are placed before them and they fully understand the choice they will have to make.” This point reinforces the importance of the education process that is central to ensuring that the right to self-determination is exercised through knowledge rather than ignorance.
Finally, Sir Ronald makes a suggestion that in these circumstances it is more pragmatic that we engage the British Government to negotiate a more improved system of governance that involves more say in matters that affect us as well as direct representation in the British Parliament.
But my presentation of Sir Ronald’s views is not intended to postpone the process of education on the issue of self-determination and independence --- rather it is to advance it. Our people must be exposed to all sides of this issue because in the final analysis it is for the people themselves to decide in a referendum, not the British Government, not the United Nations, not Ministers of Government or other Parliamentarians. The power of the people is enhanced by knowledge. And according to Sir Francis Bacon: Knowledge is power!
Victor F. Banks
June 7th, 2011
Posted by Realist Spikenice at 19:36