Trapped in the Political Jungle

Historian and retired head of the University of the West Indies Open Campus, Dr. Adrian Fraser, Dr. Adrian Fraser
Historian and retired head of the University of the West Indies Open Campus, Dr. Adrian Fraser, Dr. Adrian Fraser

Historian and retired head of the University of the West Indies Open Campus, Dr. Adrian Fraser, Dr. Adrian Fraser

The St.Kitts/Nevis political fiasco has set many in the region talking and writing about their new found wisdom. I am interested in comments made recently by Peter Wickham. He spoke about the polarisation in St.Kitts /Nevis that ‘has effectively deprived 30 percent of the population access to political power and substantial government resources which cannot be good for any nation’; he also argued that the Douglas administration was ‘more consumed with self-preservation than development.’

Wickham is a consultant and pollster. I am not sure which governments he has been serving as a consultant but I often wonder if there might not possibly be a conflict of interest here. One hopes that if he does a poll for a government for which he acts as a consultant that it will be a private one.

If it is ever made public then he has to declare his relationship with that government. Additionally, the issues which manifest themselves in St.Kitts/Nevis also exist in other Caribbean countries.

I hope he writes about them.

With reference to the Vote of No Confidence he argued rightly that the constitution ‘assumed a standard of political behaviour consistent with the Westminster tradition.’ This of course, not only applies to matters of votes of no confidence but to a number of other things in a society that we continue to call democratic. In the fall-out from SKN I have surprisingly or not so surprisingly heard little questioning of our notion of democracy.

Interestingly all of this has led him to suggest that there might be a case for an Hobbesian approach to law making in the region so as to eliminate all areas of doubt. Wow! He did not elaborate so I am not sure to what these words of wisdom apply.

Thomas Hobbes, as revealed in his Leviathan, was an exponent of absolutism and of ‘unlimited sovereignty’. True enough he argued that absolutism was to produce civil peace, individual security and rule of law. Perhaps we already live under an Hobbesian system where individuals are expected to surrender some of their freedoms to the authority of the ruler in exchange for protection of their remaining rights, the rulers of course, defining those rights. Maybe Douglas felt that way.

Another revelation made by Wickham is that he supports term limits since the Douglas administration had been at the helm for too long.

Maybe this sounds logical when you look at particular issues like votes of no confidence but I am not sure it solves the major problems with which we have to battle. I have to admit that I have not been reading Wickham’s columns so I am not sure about the extent to which these matters had previously been discussed.

Politics in our region is screwed up and columnists and commentators pay a lot more attention to what our leaders say than to what they do.

Of course our politicians love to talk and what they say depends on their audience. There are a number of other Hobbesian things that are played out. Hobbes, although fond of quoting from the bible was hardly influenced by it. Sounds familiar!

Our approach and understanding of politics and accepted political behaviour is what is crippling us. Politics is seen as a ‘necessary evil’. It is about nasty games about which we applaud and cheer for it means one side outsmarting the other(s) by despicable political behaviour, in fact by any means necessary.

A central point in all of this is how we interpret leadership. Our concept of a leader is that of a ‘plantation owner’; some of us seeing ourselves as house slaves, with others delegated to the rank of field slaves. In this scenario, values, conflicts of interest, honesty and principles mean little. But we also judge them on the extent to which they are good at begging.

We surrender to the political leadership with our apathy and applause. Our leaders, of course, do only what they think they can get away with. I am not sure what the recent elections in St.Kitts/Nevis have added to our understanding of politics. Certainly it has heightened concerns about democracy but this is based on our widely held belief that we live in a democracy, which we equate with the holding of regular elections.

But as our friend Peter might say, when we go to the polls we surrender some of our rights to the winner. Apparently we have then to accept what they do in our name. And to certify and justify and sell to the world the fairness of our elections we invite observers. They come in immediately before the elections when the dice has already been cast and they declare the elections free and fair, obviously because the charade has taken place before.

CARICOM is happy with this because the political gerrymandering is played out in all our countries. So we continue to live a lie.

Meanwhile our leaders only surrender when circumstances force them to.

Because of the circumstances out of which the victory of the people of St. Kitts/Nevis emerged, we can only hope that what happened there will echo throughout the length and breadth of the region.

Our region is a political jungle where anything goes. Those whom we educate with the belief that they will make a contribution to the advancement of our society and ‘civilisation’ are among the biggest cheer leaders since they cherish their role as house slaves. After all, the crumbs from the masters’ tables mean a lot to them and, in their view, single them out as privileged.

It’s time we plot our escape from the political jungle and expose the hypocrisies and nastiness that have for so long engulfed us.

Dr. Adrian Fraser

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