Independence: A 32 Year Old Journey

It is defined as the state of being free; exemption from the reliance of or control by others; It is the direction of one’s own affairs without interference; the time when a country or region gains political freedom from outside control.

The time for the people of the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis came on the 19th day of September 1983 when together, proud citizens of our nation ushered in a glorious celebration of severed ties from our British colonizers. A brand new flag was hoisted, and a moving national anthem symbolized the birth of our new nation.

The journey to Independence began long before September 19, 1983.

It was a journey filled with great anticipation and much apprehension, preceded by decades of political upheaval and social challenges.

The journey continues today with extremely high expectations of those who assume leadership as our people are no longer willing to tolerate the abuse of power by leaders they entrust to conduct the affairs of our nation.

Throughout the course of the federation’s history, our people have boldly and sometimes violently raised their collective voices to advance a cause in which their beliefs are deeply vested.

The Buckleys riots of January 1935 were no random display of civil unrest but rather a result of mounting displeasure for working conditions and unfair pay, long decried by sugar factory workers. Three lives were lost as a result of the riots but their sacrifice spurred the creation of representative bodies who acted on behalf of the long disenfranchised working class.

Decades later in 1993, led by then opposition Labour Party leader Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, civilians launched riots through the streets of Basseterre in protest to the installation of the Dr. Kennedy A. Simmonds government, which had won four electoral seats in the general elections but failed to secure an alliance with any of the Nevisian based political parties.

By the summer of 1995, political

change had come to the federation and power would remain in the hands of Dr. Denzil L. Douglas and his Labour Party, until February of 2015 when Team Unity, a tripartite alliance led by Dr. Timothy Harris, formed a new government.

These historic facts have been part of our journey to Independence, shaping the nation we have come to love and preparing us for the challenges that lie ahead.

Not long ago, freedom was but a fleeting wish of our African ancestors. They soon learned that despite the decree that officially ended slavery in 1834, mental shackles still bound many of them. Freedom put into perspective how socially and economically handicap former slaves really were.

Years of dependence on overzealous plantation owners who reaped the spoils of our fertile lands and took pleasure in devaluing the worth of our men, women and children threatened the psyche of the black race. The will to survive in a post-slavery age required great courage.  It took visionary men and women to impart their gift of courage to others, building hope in life after slavery.

The art of cultivating relationships and uniting people propelled humble men like our nation’s first Premier Robert Bradshaw, Thomas Manchester, Paul Southwell, Dr. Simeon Daniel,Joseph N. France, Dr. Kennedy A. Simmonds our federation’s first Prime Minister to great heights. 

St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla once co-existed as a three island alliance until 1971 when Anguilla, having championed its departure from the alliance, successfully relinquished all ties to the union. Many Nevisians found their way to St. Kitts and have helped to significantly transform the federation through their social, economic and political contributions.

The attainment of Independence on September 19, 1983, is a testimony of our freedom to choose how we want to run our own affairs. Thirty-two years of severed ties from Mother England has taught us great lessons. Thirty-two years later, we have discovered how strong we are as a nation united and know too well how divisiveness and tribalism threaten to destroy the fabric of our nation we vowed collectively to guard against.

Many still ask the question, “Are we truly free?”  We exist amidst the relics of our federation’s ancient past, which remind us that we were once bound against our will; enslaved by our captors to satisfy their sometimes unimaginable human needs. Our birth names, various aspects of our culture, the vast span of sugar cane lands throughout our islands, the estates and remnants of plantation life all paint a picture of the life that existed before modern day St. Kitts and Nevis.

Yes we were once slaves! But are we willing to allow our past to enslave us or do we rise above the circumstances over which we had no control to direct the course our nation should take?

With freedom comes great responsibility. The freedoms we take for granted today came at the expense of those before us. While we pay homage to the Kunta Kinte’s who endured the crack of “massa’s” whip on their backs, the Olive Allens who slept in unthinkable discomfort on cold, dirty floors, constantly calculating a way out, and the Joseph Samuels who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives, we ought to offer more than lip service to our ancestors by rolling up our sleeves and continuing the grueling work they spearheaded.

We begin in our homes by teaching our children the responsibilities they have to themselves, to their families and to their country. We must find our way into our schools, churches and community groups to advance the cause of civic pride and nation building, challenging government and those with the resources to invest in our people, just as the great minds of old invested in us.

Today, we stand as a resilient people who have endured one crisis after another, seeking ever so diligently not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our stewardship in service of country over self will ensure that generations to come inherit a better St. Kitts and Nevis than the one our ancestors left us.

Happy Independence 32.

 

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