THE EDITOR: This is in response to a noteworthy Facebook post by Rhona Baptiste of August 5, titled “Best story – a nation’s insensitivity.”
Baptiste has zeroed in on a serious affliction of our nation, more like a sore that has festered from the start of our nation-building project – the absence of national purpose.
In 1962, the year when “our nation is born, leh meh tell yuh,” citizens imbued with he fervency of the moment of our nation’s birth organised and rallied themselves in a broad-based people’s effort to set out a chartered course for our nation-building project. Their principal document was titled Project Independence.
The prospect of taking control of our destiny and forging a nation “from the love of liberty” led professionals in all fields of endeavour, simple community people, to rally around an organisation founded by Geddes Granger (later Makandal Daaga). That organisation was called Pegasus.
In their nation-building document they declared, “National purpose must precede and influence sectional interests...” and “the welfare of all must never be sacrificed on the altar of individualism and sectionalism.”
At that time another organisation seeking hegemony in the nation’s affairs was encouraged by its leader to claim a right to rule (almost divine right) and suppressed the movement of the people to chart the future of the nation.
In the contest between these two streams, the latter, with the apparatus of state power, usurped some of the ideas and plans developed by Pegasus and sought to either make them “government projects” or bury them altogether.
The national purpose was sacrificed for the sectional interests of the new operators of the inherited colonial machinery of governance.
The issues Baptiste points to regarding Carnival and the Tobago Heritage Festival and the alienation of those who can provide them with a different perspective and leadership akin to the national purpose is being once more sacrificed for the narrow self-serving interests of wielders of the power of the State.
Titus, like Granger and the Pegasus pioneers whose first national awards were to our cultural contributors, appreciate the importance of the cultural activity to the fostering of national spirit in service of the national purpose.
What Baptiste’s piece zeroes in on is this central contradiction plaguing our entire attempt to build a nation – national purpose versus individual and sectional interest.
These need not, indeed must not, be in opposition but should each serve to enrich and advance the other.
What must be harmonised are the interests of the society, the collectives within it and the individual if the boundless energy of human development is to be unleashed and our nation to be built and meet the continuously accruing needs of its members.
The lack of respect is but the reflection of the ascendency of sectional interest above and to the detriment of the national purpose.
And Baptiste is entirely correct to conclude “that is what we must change.”
That is precisely the entire purpose and motive of our nation-building project – to ensure the “welfare of all” and to have “...all individuals and groups work for the general welfare, development and happiness of the whole nation of TT,” as Pegasus encouraged in the first years of our independence.
This is a most vital contribution to the national development effort by Pegasus and the necessity of guiding the national purpose I began to explore in my book Project Independence – 56 Years After.
The now popular appeals and claims of putting country first mean nothing unless that latest buzzword has the notion presented by Pegasus as its full and essential content.