The New Today

Commentary

Grenada on turning 50 years now

Grenada and its Grenadines/dependencies is one of the smallest sovereign states in the world, with a population of around 120,000 people, celebrating 50 years of independence, having achieved independence from Britain in 1974. For a country, it is sometimes asked – what does it mean to come of age, or to turn 50?

In most countries, if not all, to gain full independence means gaining full democratic freedom. It is not unknown that countries that celebrate its independence every year and Grenada is one of them, it usually means, it was a colony of another country. It generally means that prior to independence, another country in our case, The Great Britain; Britain ruled the waves, whether we like it or not.

Unfortunately for us as members of the Commonwealth, we bear the background and linkage to colonial rule for several centuries. Indeed, the French colonised us between 1650-1655.

In 1783, the British won it by conquest and Grenada became a British Crown Colony ruled by a Governor General responsible to the Colonial Office in London and we remained a Crown Colony until it was absorbed into and became part of that Independent political entity called the West Indies Federation, whose life was short lived.

The grant of full independence and the new constitution owes its origin to the Grenada Court Order of 1973. And it remained in operation until February 7, 1974 when Sir Eric Gairy, amidst a certain level of disquiet and turbulence in the streets of Grenada, obtained its independence.

Lest we forget, it was exactly five (5) years and one month that the New Jewel Movement (NJM) led by Maurice Bishop overthrew the (Gairy’s Regime) in a Revolution on March 13th 1979.

Like the West Indies Federation, the Revolution was short lived. The tragic assassination of Maurice Bishop and his associates in our view, brought about the demise of the PRG and the Revolution.

The subsequent U.S Invasion of Grenada brought in its wake an extensive body of new perspectives, papers, and communiques on the Grenada Revolution and its eventual demise.

Following the Invasion, the Governor General, Sir Paul Scoon reinstated 1974 Constitution which was suspended under the PRG. The past nine (9) General Elections since Independence, have taken place relatively peacefully and Parliament in its new home, is now functioning once again as an institution where dialogue and the rule of law prevails.

Of the nine general elections, the New National Party (NNP) won 6 elections – one under H.A Blaize and five under the guidance of Dr. Keith Mitchell who emerged three clean sweeps 15-Nil namely; 1999, 2013 and 2018.

The National Democratic Congress on the other hand enjoying success at the polls to form the government on three occasions – 1990,2008 and 2022.

As we join other nations that turned 50 already, such as India, Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria, and some of our other Caribbean brothers and sisters, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and so on, citizens of our former colonial masters carry very negative and painful psychological scars as life goes on.

No doubt, the scars are more profound in black Africans, their ancestors having suffered the untold physical mental and degrading human pain of the African slave trade for centuries. No one can seriously deny that Grenada has had a relatively uneventful 50-year reign.

Some have argued, with the exception of revolutionary rule – when on March 13, 1979 the New Jewel Movement (NJM) overthrew the (Gairy’s Regime) in a Revolution, followed by the American invasion (1983 October).

The good news is that Grenada has recovered from the ravages of the turbulent period, to enjoy the fruits of a democracy that is maturing out of its 50 years of independence.

We have had bumps and hurdles on this journey thus far, however there is a certain level of maturity that is associated with the 50-year milestone. Now that we have turned 50, it is undeniable that there have been many fruits of independence, which should not be taken for granted.

Nevertheless, it is to be observed that in our search for economic development within the political, socio-economic paradigm, we have made minimal progress, some say no progress any way.

It is submitted that the steps outlined below is the only way out of this seeming impasse if, economic and general betterment of our citizens are to come as we embark on the next 50 years.

Focus on national unity
At 50, we should be more focused. Our leaders are called upon to lead from the front and promoting and striving for national unity should be one for its fundamental objective. This can be achieved through educating our people at all levels including our youth.

Some have expressed reservations on our failure on constitutional reform because of lack of national unity. Whatever the reasons for the failure to change our constitution should not be construed to mean that the conversation on constitutional reform should not be pursued.

On the contrary, the ground for having it is perfected in this period. This example will have demonstrated the need to continue this discussion full speed. Sadly, our last 50 years have been characterised by some political commentators, as divide and rule, by others, as the hero and the crowd.

Still others, as the Chief and Indians – where the Prime Minister has become the focal point of authority. It is inconceivable that anyone should oppose him. It is to be observed that the NNP was at the helm of Grenada’s politics for 24 of the 50-year cycle. And if the voice of the people is the voice of God, then we get the government we deserve.

Strive to be economically independent
We ought to strive to be economically independent; that is, we should be less reliant as individuals on relatives and friends for economic survival. There is nothing wrong with foreign aid, but governments should aim to minimise it, if not cut it off entirely.

Frequent recurrent budget subsidies should be an exception rather than the rule. Essentially, our governments should seriously seek to fight off corruption, ease and enforce tax compliance and teach the population to go back to production and save. In short, wealth creation.

It is mindboggling that most of the foodstuff in the supermarkets come from outside Grenada. By one estimate, this country imports almost 90% of its food. By the same estimate, it produces very few commodities for export.

It is precisely for this reason that it is argued that Grenada, whether in the short term or the long term, is unlikely to make significant economic progress.

Examine the educational curricular for the society.

It has increasingly been argued that education is the highest common denominator to fully liberate our people who were colonised for centuries.

Equally noteworthy is the fact that a good educational curriculum is designed to liberate the mind, give oxygen to the scientific benefits and bring alive the ruptured cultural and moral pillars of society. To these must also be added that the educational curricular has to factor in the high need for technical skills to sustain every day human needs.

Change is inevitable
It is sometimes said that a good leader cannot but govern well, but that we are 50 years old, we should accept that change is inevitable. Whereas, it has been said and well said, our immediate leaders spend all their time seeking to appeal to a less informed population and the PM is the focal point of authority.

The situation today is very different. Let us reflect on the fact that in the 1960s, even radio waves did not reach out to many of our villagers. Today, it is without doubt, that a substantial percentage of the same villages are receiving telephony connectivity.

Development of our nation for the next 50 years continues to remain elusive
Since the achievement of political independence from Britain under Sir Eric, in 1974, Grenada has struggled with the concept of democracy and development. The argument runs, there can be “no democracy without development and vice versa.

After 50 years, in Grenada, there has been marginal economic and general betterment of society. With the exception of the PRG under Maurice Bishop (1979-1983) and to a lesser extent, the NDC under Sir Nick Brathwaite (1990-1995) Tillman Thomas (2008-2013) and now under Dickon Mitchell (2023 -) the Grenada political landscape was dominated by the NNP under Dr. Keith Mitchell for well over 30 of the 50-year cycle.

We have also struggled and embraced the ideological ‘ism’. It is undeniably that under Prime Ministers Sir Eric Gairy and Herbert Blaize, capitalism was the economic order. Under Maurice Bishop’s People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG), it embraced democratic socialism. Now since the reintroduction of the 1974 Constitution which was suspended under the PRG, capitalism was readopted.

It is quite clear that, which of the ‘isms’ is pursued, the record seems to suggest that we as a people have made very little progress. Where then, do we go as a nation; as a region from here?

This is the million-dollar question which must occupy all of us, our business community, our trade unions, our political parties and other entity of civil society as we embark on the next fifty (50) years.

I truly do not have the answers, but what is indisputable is that whatever economic model is selected, in our search for development lies in the creative skills and talents of our people, our endowments, be it sun, sea water and sand.

What we cannot control in spite of our other positive characteristics is the severely dislocating boom and burst cycles that stultify national plans and programs.

The demands we have seen in countries now turning 50 years is that we need a new economic model and strong, purposeful and courageous leadership – which essentially is ‘the power of the one made many and the many made one’ to move the country forward.

While the pursuit of development is likely to remain elusive, NDC’s victory under the guidance of Hon. Dickon Mitchell in the 2022 general elections have created new hopes but overwhelming challenges which are by no means insurmountable.

George Prime is an attorney-at-law and former government minister in the 2008-13 Congress government of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas