BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – TODAY, Monday, September 19, 2016, nationals and residents of the twin-island Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis will be celebrating 33 years of political independence from Britain, and this historic milestone certainly calls for a period of retrospection.
It is a time for the nation to reflect from whence it came, what it has achieved and where it is heading. It is time for the nation to ask: “Are we really an emancipated and independent people after our ancestors became free men and women on August 1, 1834 and achieved Independence in 1983?”
This writer does not believe so; for a relatively large number of people in the Federation, like many of their Caribbean counterparts, are still ‘mentally enslaved’. And as for Independence, the nation is definitely interdependent because of still being under colonial rule. That is to say all the powers of state are constitutionally reposed in Queen Elizabeth ll, who is being represented by the Governor-General.
The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen upon advice of the Prime Minister of the day, and most of her domestic duties are performed by the Governor-General, including ceremonies such as the Opening of Parliament, Presentation of Hours and Military Parades as seen on the recently held Heroes Day.
Constitutionally, the Governor-General is also authorised to act on behalf of the Queen in proroguing Parliament and appointing as well as disciplining officers of the Civil Service. Additionally, upon being appointed Ministers of Government, those elected and selected individuals have to take the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll.
This therefore means that unlike many member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, including India, Pakistan, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis is still under colonial rule.
Divide & Rule
Prior to Emancipation and also during the pre-independence era, most, if not all the wealth of British colonies were controlled by Britain and plantation owners from that country.
This writer, like many other people, is of the view that in order to maintain dominance of its colonies and control of the inhabitants during the days of slavery up to the time of independence, Britain had employed the system of divide and rule.
Firstly, there was division between planters and slaves; the former, who, according to Sebastian Foltz, “ruled omnipotently over their slave subjects as men who raised themselves from poverty to affluence and who reclined in the lap of luxury in tropical ease”.
Secondly, there was division between the planter class and the working class.
Following Emancipation in 1834, in order to appease the planters who cried out for loss of revenue, the British Government gave them £20M as compensation and initiated the Apprenticeship Period within a number of colonies, including Guyana, Barbados, St. Vincent and Jamaica. This period was aimed at providing a transition from slave to wage labour and tie the ex-slaves to their owners for a further six years.
The Apprenticeship Period dictated that total freedom would have been achieved in 1840, but it came to an end in 1838 as reports of excessive cruelty convinced the British Government that there was no improvement in the working relationship between the planter class and the apprentices.
This fallout gave birth to the Indentureship Period, where many labourers were brought to the Caribbean region from the populous Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Madras. Historically, the divide and rule system was also implemented during that period and it continued into modern day.
Evidence of this system lies among racial/ethnic groups within the Caribbean region, especially in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, where those countries’ voting pattern is primarily based on ethnic referendum.
Currently, the system of divide and rule also exists in St. Kitts and Nevis and it has led to political and public polarisation.
Political & Public Polarisation
According to Dictionary.com, Polarisation is be defined as “a sharp division, as of a population or group, into opposing factions”, while Dave Manuel posited that “polarisation in the world of politics occurs when public opinion goes to two extremes, and there is no real middle ground or moderates”. And Wikipedia claims: “Political polarization refers to cases in which an individual’s stance on a given issue, policy, or person is more likely to be strictly defined by their identification with a particular political party”.
The Free Encyclopaedia also notes: “Political scientists typically distinguish between two types of political polarization: elite polarization and popular polarization. ‘Elite polarization’ refers to the polarization of political elites, like party organizers and elected officials, while ‘popular polarization’ (or mass polarization) refers to polarization in the electorate and general public. In either context, opinions and policy positions are characterized by strict adherence to party lines. Elite polarization and popular polarization can occur at the same time or independently of each other.”
The Local Perspective
Historically, from the 17th Century until 1967 St. Kitts was governed by England as part of the colony of the Leeward Islands, and later the West Indies Federation. In 1967, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla became a governing state with Great Britain, and in that same year Anguilla seceded from the state.
St. Kitts and Nevis achieved political independence from Britain on September 19, 1983 and the two islands ceased being an Associated State and attained the status of Sovereign and Democratic Federal State within the Commonwealth of Nations. Consequently, under this sovereign status, St. Kitts and Nevis has adopted the British Parliamentary System of Government, but Nevis has its own unicameral legislature and government that has the authority to formulate its own economic decisions.
This writer spoke with Dwyer Astaphan, a former Minister of Labour and National Security under the Douglas-led Labour Party Administration, who agreed that polarisation does exist in the Federation.
“I think polarisation always existed in the country, and it was accentuated by the political/social/economic arrangements revolving around the sugar industry – plantation owners and workers.”
He claimed that St. Kitts and Nevis was in that industry longer than most countries in the Caribbean region, pointing out that “we were a small country with that single large industry that really dictated the whole dynamic for centuries. So the polarisation was related to that and it was deeply embedded in the history and psyche of the people”.
Astaphan cited a situation that occurred some eight decades ago, which involved a member of the Workers League and members of the planter class.
“In the 30s, when you had a planter named Thomas Manchester taking the lead in the Workers League, he was wrongly ridiculed by his peers in the planter class. The leader was a man called G.T. Boone, who told Manchester that they would destroy him. In those days there were only two banks – Barclay’s Bank and Royal Bank - which financed the planters during the off-season. The venom of the planters was felt by Manchester because he died in financial ruin.”
“That,” he added, “served, in my view, to exacerbate the polarisation between planters and workers and later on when the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Union was allowed to operate under the law. It then continued through the politics and all of the major relationships in the country.”
The former politician turned social commentator, emphatically declared that in more recent times, polarisation had shifted from the planter class/employer class and working class when political parties became active in the Federation.
“It [polarisation] was then taken over into the political arena between the two main political parties in the country – the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party and the People’s Action Movement. However, polarisation in Nevis came after. The venom that we are seeing now, I think those things came in the Douglas years. Remember, there was always this Nevis cessation of and distrust of St. Kitts because Nevis had always felt that, with some degree of justification, it was short-changed in the relationship which was established by the British. But in terms of party politics in Nevis, the level of polarisation on that island would have exacerbated since Denzil Douglas came into politics.”
He is of the firm view that individuals who would foster polarisation in order to have control are those who mastered the modus operandi of the colonisers of divide and rule.
“That is a function of the insecurity of the leaders,” he added. “Leaders are afraid of a unified body politik. So leaders of today, regardless of being in or out of office, they encourage polarisation.”
Astaphan inferred that the problem with polarisation is that the only chance small countries like St. Kitts and Nevis have for survival, success and dignity is through unity of the people. “It does not mean that you can’t have differences of opinion and major differences of opinion, but it calls for unity on the common causes that the people have to serve. The big picture is unity!”
He likened political polarisation to that of a six cylinder car operating on three cylinders, lamenting that “when my government is in, I am very enthusiastic about things. But when it is out I am like a lost sheep, because I feel like I am in the wilderness and I will get nothing”.
“Another thing that political polarisation does is that it fetters free thinking, because we can all too often agree with what the party we support does or says. And by the same argument, to disagree or oppose what the other party does or says,” he added.
Some Effects of Polarisation
This writer believes that political polarisation has given rise to public polarisation and it has seriously imperilled relationships and the rapid upward economic mobility of the Federation.
To this end, Astaphan had voiced his agreement.
“Political polarisation is a fetter to independent thinking, which means that it is a fetter to people achieving their full potential and the country achieving its full potential. It is a fetter to productivity and progress. Political polarisation is one of the major constraints on this country fulfilling its potential. Leaders have been afraid of the people because an alert united body politik would not tolerate the type of politicians we been having through the years.”
Because of the rising levels of polarisation and gridlock, negotiations, compromise and good governance have been impeded in the Federation.
Because of political polarisation, governments were reportedly accused of victimisation and the firing of people who they perceived belong to another political party and were not in support of theirs.
Because of political polarisation, animosity had emerged among political parties, families were disrupted, coarse relationship among friends emerged, and the breeding of envy, among other negative factors.
Over the years, it was revealed that whenever political parties are in election mode, problems surface within some homes where husbands and wives support different parties. It was also revealed that during that period those particular wives would no longer prepare their husbands’ meals and they either sleep in separate rooms, or on different beds, or have their backs turned to each other on the same bed.
Politicians are dependent on families to achieve their goals during an election, and because the family is considered the most important unit of a community, any breakdown of this unit could result in a breakdown of togetherness and eventually lead to the breakdown of a country.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon politicians to set good examples and dissuade families from having the presence of polarisation within their homes.
Currently, there are five political parties in St. Kitts and Nevis and each of them is identified by a colour. The St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party is headed by the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas and the party colour is ‘Red’; the People’s Action Movement is headed by the Hon. Shawn Richards and the colour is ‘Gold/Yellow’; the People’s Labour Party is ‘Orange’ and it is headed by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris; the Concerned Citizens Movement is headed by the Hon. Vance Amory and the colour is ‘Blue’; and Nevis Reformation Party’s colour is ‘Green’ and it is headed by the Hon. Joseph Parry.
This writer is unaware of any publication that explained the symbolism of these colours.
However, a very important point to note is that while one can identify the party to which an individual is affiliated during election campaigns by the colour he or she sports, the same can also be done in identifying members of various gangs in the Federation.
Indeed polarisation exists in St. Kitts and Nevis, which commenced during the Colonial era and was accentuated by the political, social and economic arrangements revolving around the now defunct sugar industry.
So dominant is polarisation that it had and still adversely affects relationships, both politically and socially, in the Federation. It has affected families so much so that this particular unit is divided whenever it is known that political parties are in election mode.
According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson, “The family is the most important social unit of society. This is a fact that everyone must learn. The family is not only the basic societal unit. It is also the basic sexual unit, the basic child-raising unit, the basic communication unit, and the basic all-round fun and friendship unit.”
From the preceding facts outlined in this article, the writer has decided to proffer the following suggestions:
1. In addition to bringing to light the truth whenever governments violate the Constitution, opposition parties must seek to have dialogue with those in office and compromise on policies and issues related to nation building.
2. While in government, no party should have its colour emblazoned upon projects of national economic and other developments.
3. Despite constituents’ dislike for some representatives of their constituencies because they belong to opposing parties, they should not support representatives whose egotistic and self-aggrandisement ambitions precede them.
4. It is said that good leadership is characterised by Honesty, Empathy, Direction, Communication, Consistency, Flexibility and Conviction. Therefore, it is imperative that politicians publicly demonstrate these qualities prior to and during their term in office.
5. Politicians from all parties must be exemplary in their decorum in Parliament as it would be emulated not only by the voting population, which could minimise polarisation, but also by the younger generation.
6. Remember the Federation’s Motto – “Country Above Self”.
7. The discipline and resolve to rise above centuries of abusive and manipulative behaviour to effectively become Self-Determined is nothing less than a spiritual practice. It literally removes the emotional chains and restrictions on the path to freedom and independence; of mind, body and spirit to achieve a level of brotherly love and unified (collective) appreciation for personal and national success and advancement of our union under one Flag.