TRINIDAD and Tobago is completing six decades of its independence experience.
This is the anniversary of transition from crown colony of a European power to an independent small-island state seeking to advance its nation-building project.
Marking 60 years “affords the opportunity to look back on and evaluate six decades of its journey towards the aspirations that filled the hearts of its citizens that night when the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and a sovereign people took up the challenge of charting their own course.”
This is also the 60th anniversary of a non-governmental, non-partisan organisation called Pegasus which was founded in the very year of independence with the goal of infusing the “inner spirit” in our independence.
The year 1962 marked the beginning of two very different approaches to the defining of the nation-building project as well as its implementation.
One, exemplified by the method of government-decided Five-Year Development Plans spanning either side of independence (1958-62, 1964-68 and 1969-73).
The first and third plans were authored by the solo effort of the head of government. While the second did include a process of consultation, “the overall direction of policy remained with the prime minister.”
After the abandonment of this five-year planning approach, in the much later Vision 2020 plan there was widespread involvement in the initial analysis and planning phases, but implementation remained the province of the prime minister and his Cabinet.
The other approach, exemplified in the work over five years, was that of Pegasus and the development of its Project Independence – a people’s blueprint for the nation-building project.
The Pegasus method was of citizen initiative and participation at all points of the planning, implementation and evaluation processes.
In 1962, Pegasus was created and built by Geddes Granger (later Makandal Daaga) with the assistance of Barbara Blenman (secretary at Queen’s Hall), Winslow Johnson and Donald Mark.
As told by Roy Mitchell who played a leading role in the organisation, “One day after a meeting Granger told me, we all going in different directions. There is a wealth of views and perspectives, etc then nothing. It is time we lift our own thinking beyond this. We are not following up with works. Let us form an organisation doing things to benefit the whole society...
“Granger came up with the name.”
Mitchell describes Pegasus as “an attempt to give direction to nation-building” and “an inspiration, a movement, a spirit from which great things would have been expected for Trinidad and Tobago.”
The vision was that just as the Greeks drew courage, inspiration and strength from the winged horse, Trinidadians/Tobagonians would also be inspired and emboldened by this broad-based organisation bearing its name.
At the same time, another force, claiming the right to rule and occupying positions of power vacated by the colonial operators of crown colony governance, was pursuing its own version of the future of independence as “responsible” government.
The contest between these two opposing tendencies persisted throughout the entire life of Pegasus.
This contest between these different approaches, described by some as top-down vs bottom-up, continues today as we seek to advance our nation-building project in the conditions of the 21st century and beyond this 60th anniversary.
In the difficult circumstances of all manner of challenge to our nation-building project, the words of Pegasus in the introduction of Project Independence remind us of truths and values that are vital if we are to meet the present challenges and guarantee our very future:
“…there must be a deeper understanding by the entire population of the present state of the nation, and a greater interest in its possible future course. No less essential is the inculcation of a sense of urgency, of duty, of service and of sacrifice.
“The welfare of all must never be sacrificed on the altar of individualism and sectionalism. But this is bound to continue as a national problem if the absence of national purpose in the life of the nation is not immediately corrected.
“National purpose must precede and influence sectional interests and this alone will lead to resolute endeavour on the part of all individuals and groups to work for the general welfare, development and happiness of the whole nation of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Perhaps a new citizens initiative, the Pegasus of this time, is once again needed to infuse the “inner spirit” in our independence which the patriots envisioned in the efforts of Pegasus begun in 1962.