Our 60th dependence

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -


IT'S THAT time of year again – time to drape government buildings and roundabouts few Trinis understand how to use with tacky independence decorations.

It's time again to further enrich already obscenely wealthy fireworks importers by spending lavishly on ephemeral, meaningless delights that leave pets everywhere seizing with PCSD (post chupidness stress disorder).

Sixty years ago TT “gained” independence from a dismantled empire feverishly shedding colonies. On this anniversary it's good to have a sobering look at how far we haven't come, even as we raise our glasses and bare our as--s in a lukewarm celebration of not very much.

Just in case this column is interpreted as a paean to British rule, it is not. The redeeming qualities of colonial administration and development are diluted beyond recognition by a legacy of oppression, exploitation and enduring schisms of race and class.

TT, with its complex mix of ethnicities, religions and disparate cultures, had all the social accelerants for post-independence anarchy. Navigating the independence of a nation is an extraordinarily complex affair. Handing over the reins of nationhood to civilisations robbed of identity for centuries is no afternoon tea.

In contrast to what happened, say, in India and on the African continent, TT had a comparatively painless breakup. We didn't suffer post-colonial convulsions of violence that sprang from tribal and religious divisions. That has been a blessing, or at least a mercy.

Are we, though, living the promise of independence sold by the architects of our alleged liberation? Or have we simply swapped the oppressors? Have we become, for the most part, comfortable with persecution and stagnation merely because the people responsible look more like us?

We bred a class of politicians wearing the suits and airs of our former masters, in blazing heat, no less. There's a bitter irony, if you care to look, in politicians germinated during the independence era obsessed with Savile Row suits. These politicians are puppeteered from behind the curtain of the moneyed classes. Together they conspire, together they deceive to pick the carcass of the independence dream clean.

TT society is more dependent than ever on failed governance and politics – mechanisms designed to keep people beholden to political parties.

Many of our people are defined by a reliance on state contracts and manna from the Government. The majority of economic activity in TT continues to be driven by state spending.

In this way, the party in power influences behaviour, purchases unflinching support, and ensures silence. Critics whose quiet can't be negotiated are destroyed by character assassins both within the Government and those who nestle at its bosom.

Our entire system of governance and administration is an apparatus designed to perpetuate dependency on the new colonial masters. In what Selwyn Ryan called the contactocracy, government and satellite agencies are made to malfunction. In this way, citizens are perpetually reliant on contacts and insiders to “get tru.”

It's an ecosystem ably supported by the people who've come to believe, for example, the way to get a wuk for a child is to go to the constituency office; scraps from the high table as politicians and their private-sector puppeteers gorge themselves, even as the pickings diminish.

If you're among the few wondering why this country clings so tenaciously to a dying oil and gas sector, examine those who have truly benefited from the extractive industries. Nothing changes here because powerful interests have a stake in ensuring TT stays exactly the way it is. Many unmoneyed, unconnected citizens' lives are frozen in the amber of hopelessness. Meanwhile, politicians and their coven of interest groups, along with their friends and families keep moving forward.

The Government has little interest in creating an environment in which small businesses and entrepreneurs can flourish. Trinis who become independent of the State for their welfare are a liability to the cult of the Trini politician. Like the old gods, if you stop praying to them, they cease to exist.

Those who live beyond the fringes of the “system” create their own extractive industry – bloodthirsty criminality to take from others what they believe to be denied them by the rest of society.

We boast of having unshackled ourselves from the British. However, we are more beholden to them and others than in the past. Whatever oil wealth this nation once had fuelled insatiable appetites for imported goods and services. We eschewed colonialism in favour of neocolonialism, falling over ourselves to buy everything the former oppressor is selling us.

If the dream of post-independence isn't quite what we expected, say what – we can always pin it on “de whiteman.”


"Our 60th dependence"

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