1814 and 2014

Two hundred years ago, our country was said to be the richest British possession in the Caribbean per capita, operating as a sugar cane plantation economy.

In this sense, we can regard “per capita” as the total output of the economy divided by the number of people in the country. So, for example, if in the year 1814 the total economic output was $10 million and the population was 40,000 people, then the per capita (per person) income would’ve been $250.

But in a population of 40,000 there would’ve been maybe 35,000 slaves. And while their labor contributed indispensably to the total output and to the relatively high per capita income, they were not considered worthy of enjoying the fruits of their own labor. In fact, I don’t know whether they were even counted in the population back then for the purposes of calculating the per capita income.

After all, they were classified as chattel property under the law, bought and sold, often in Pall Mall Square, now Independence Square, and sometimes hanged there too.

They were deprived of rights to property, marriage, education, health care, vacations, voting, etc.

One of the most cruel strategies of the day was to break up couples and families, and to frustrate and disrupt kinship and unity among the masses.

And the security forces were used as protectors and enforcers of a manifestly brutal, repressive, unjust and inhumane status quo.

So being the richest British possession in the Caribbean per capita meant nothing but grief and misery for nearly 90% of the population back then.

I’m using 1814 as a reference point because its realities bear a disturbing resemblance to the realities of today.

Let’s start with the recent World Bank Report stating that St. Kitts & Nevis is the richest country per capita in the OECS and the third or fourth richest in CARICOM. The World Bank says that the average Kittivisian earns about EC$38,000 a year, or $3,200 a month, or $800 a week, or $200 a day. How many of us earn that, or more, every day, every week, every month, every year? Are you one who does? If so, congratulations. I bet you’re in the minority.

But you can’t look at per capita income by itself in order to come to a sensible conclusion as to the conditions and quality of life in a country. You also need to consider expenditure and the cost of living, among other things.

So what good is that nice sounding statistic to you when you can’t keep up with your rent, your electricity bills, your mortgage at NHC, your loan payments at National Bank (where debts that are past due have skyrocketed  from $17 million in 2011 to $175 million in 2012 and now to $561 million in 2013), or when you have to leave back groceries regularly at the supermarket checkout counter  because you don’t have enough money to get the staples for your children, or when you have to pay VAT on food, medicine and funerals, or when you can’t get basic testing done at the hospital because equipment has broken down, or they’ve run out of medication, or you have to send around a contribution sheet for your mother or sister who has breast cancer, and so on?

What good is that statistic to people whose country has plunged in the United Nations Human Development rankings from 36th spot in 1995 to 72nd in 2012?  

What comfort do ordinary folks in this country get by being told about the high per capita income, while you’re becoming poorer and worse off, and you have to beg and depend on politicians for so much, and be regarded as ungrateful when you get a piece of land or a job, but choose speak out against wrong, or you’re simply ruled out from getting anything of substance if you openly choose not to tow the line?

What comfort can you get from any statistic, or from anything else, when you feel forced to bury your conscience for fear that you would suffer grave consequences if you stood up and spoke out? In 2014? Are you kidding me?

Let me end this point by referring to Equatorial Guinea, where the per capita income is about EC$65,000 a year—nearly twice as high as ours. Yet half of its people don’t have access to proper drinking water and sewage, and the poverty rate is over 60%.

And note this: wherever there’s a high per capita income and so much poverty and suffering, you’ll see grave injustices being perpetrated against the people, and you’ll see a lot of corruption.

Next point. Back in 1814, workers had no rights.

Now the lady to whom I’m dedicating this article was employed, sometimes working seven days a week (though still be paid for 40 hours, no overtime), and was not given holidays, far less pay in lieu, for five years. Her cries for redress fell on deaf ears, because her boss has the tug where the tug is needed, while she has none. But the poor woman persevered, she ate bitter bush, because in her desire to adequately provide for her children, she felt that little money and ill-treatment and abuse were better than no money at all. And in between, she would do things on her own to bring more food to the table, and pay the bills.

And she is one of many who suffer the same injustice and abuse. So what rights, in very real terms, do workers in our Federation have in 2014?

Again in 1814, people were bought and sold, and hanged, in the Square. Today,  in a nation that has become independent largely as a result of the blood, sweat, tears, determination and vision of those victims and martyrs, and others also of generations past, the leader of this country refers to citizens as his subjects, as hogs; he says he might have  to sell one of  them; he’s in situations where he’s alleged to have kicked or threatened to kick or otherwise rough up others( ask Mercyer Gumbs,  Glenroy Blanchette and Clecton Phillip); he  boasts of having incited in 1993, and of being bad since he was born, etc..

What has changed?

Meanwhile, the passports of the descendants of the victims and martyrs of 1814, and of the past in general, are being bought and sold in the same Square for 30 pieces of silver. What a racket, and what utter desecration and disrespect for the ancestors, the Square and this nation! But nobody is brought to justice.

And as the people’s passports are sold officially, the funds go into a non-governmental entity that is controlled by the ruler, to be used as he directs. And one thing that has not happened with that money is that it has not been used to pay down the Government’s debt to the Bank and save massive tracts of the people’s land from being swapped out to foreigners. Back to 1814.

Today, international bandits like Arthur Porter, Rustem Tursumbayev and others carry our diplomatic passports, and the Governor of a Nigerian State can pay for a ‘choir’, made up largely of well-known Labour activists and ‘full confidence’ opportunists, to visit his country, and give each choir member between US$3,000 and $5,000 as parting gifts, plus US$100,000 to bring back to St. Kitts (distributed around strategically for safe carriage back home), all in crisp, new US bills.

Curiously, after the last elections, Douglas himself went to Libya inter alia to collect money, and a ‘choir’ now goes to Nigeria before the next election to sing; and while there, they collect some change.

Khaddafi is dead; long live the new benefactor on the African continent, who seems to have fallen in love with the people of St. Kitts & Nevis. Or is there more to it? Is he in the passport story too? Might this have local electoral and other implications, or even international implications? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, money generated from the plunder of poor Equatorial Guineans (remember Teodorin?) and Nigerians is being used to prop up a toxic status quo here in St. Kitts. But it’s not only the money,  the people are being used too, because hundreds of Nigerian students in St. Kitts are being encouraged to break our law, and test people’s faith, by being registered to vote.

How many of these students do you believe even know where the Electoral Office is? And if they don’t, then how are they being registered? Stay tuned.

So in 1814, over 80% of the people couldn’t vote in an election, while in 2014, we can’t seem to have a clean election, and in the process, our people are being brutishly and viciously denied their precious human right to elect the administration of their choice, fairly and squarely, and to engage in a civil, discussion-driven election. What has changed?

In this regard I mention Mr. Laughlin Tatem, the former Registration Officer for Central Basseterre. They didn’t want him to remove names of persons who were illegally registered in the Constituency. And he refused to condone wrong, so he resigned Let us hold him in our prayers and our praise.

In 1814, the masses weren’t allowed to own land, while today they are, but they have to beg, or ingratiate themselves with, some politician, or fool a politician, while people fly in here with big money and bigger promises, some don’t even have to come, and they end up with acres upon acres. Back to 1814.

And just as the English rulers of the day back then were bent on  fomenting conflict, controversy and disunity among the masses, the Kittitian rulers of 2014 (or should I refer to them as the puppets of certain unsavory foreign interests) are doing the same thing. They’re against the masses uniting.

Similarly, in 1814, citizens looking to speak out and act out their human rights were subjected to threats, intimidation, abuse, violence, arrest, imprisonment, and even death. And nothing for it. Today, it’s the same. There’s an effort to use the security forces as instruments of repression.

1814, 2014……much of a muchness in so many hurtful and bad ways.

Yet, we pray and we stand for what is right and we keep hope alive.

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