Are we a nation?
Part 2 by Dr William Para Riviere, Historian
As to our own country, Dominica, it is not an exaggeration to say that no administration in the post-colonial period has even remotely pursued the process of nation-building along these lines. In the period covered by the Conversations which embody this publication fourteen administrations have held office. Thirteen have done so by popular vote and one, an interim administration, by popular uprising.
We are reminded that following the unanticipated resignation, as Premier, of Edward Le Blanc and his retirement from public life at the height of his political career, Patrick John, his Deputy, assumed the reins of power on the basis largely of Le Blanc's popularity and support, particularly amongst the rural electorate. John took office in July 1974 and guided the country, first, to constitutional independence in November 1978 and, then, eight months later, into a popular revolt which ousted his Labour Party regime and put in place an interim Government led by Oliver Seraphin, John's Minister of Agriculture and CARICOM Affairs.
The 19-year continuous rule by the Labour Party (D.L.P) was broken in July 1980 when the Dominica Freedom Party (D.F.P) led by Eugenia Charles swept the polls (40). The Party went on to hold political power for three consecutive terms until its defeat in June 1995 by the United Workers Party (U.W.P). The U.W.P. under the leadership of Edison James would earn the distinction of being the only Party in the island's modern political history to serve less than two terms in office. In fact, in January 2000, that is to say, months before the expiration of its mandate the Government called a snap election and lost to a post-poll marriage of convenience between long-standing political foes, the D.L.P. and the D.F.P.
Six Labour Party administrations have since held office: Roosevelt Douglas, February to September 2000; Pierre Charles, September 2000 to January 2004; and Roosevelt Skerrit, January 2004 to May 2005, May 2005 to December 2009, December 2009 to December 2014 and December 2014 to the present time. Prime Ministers, Douglas and Charles, died in office.
Satisfaction of Basic Needs
It is suggested by the facts that these administrations have been driven by the logic of merely winning elections and holding on the power. There has been little or minimal concern for developing the island along lines which provide for the basic needs of all the people while, at the same time, engaging them in the processes of political participation. In the event, governance has translated into the sacrifice of long-term and medium-term strategies promoting growth and development and a preference, instead, for economic activity guided by trial and error and conducted in time and place so as to gain electoral advantage. Little wonder, then, that the provision to the populace of the basic needs of food, health care, shelter and clothing has been left largely unsatisfied from administration to administration. It has remained "a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained."
Earlier, we drew attention to this trend. In November 2002, Conversation No. 8 observed: "this lack of concern for a strategy to guide our country's development has been the single most fundamental cause of our present economic predicament…this is a cardinal sin that has been committed by every Administration that has assumed the reigns of power since our accession to independence in 1978…this approach has avoided any exercise which demands some appreciation of development theory or intellectual thought. And, in the same vein, it has embraced what is considered to require no more than practical common sense… a Party manifesto is held supreme, although it contains no more than empty promises of policies, programmes and projects, plucked from the sky, that either cannot be implemented or, if they can, cannot be sustained." The Conversation concluded: "It should be no surprise, then, that since Independence we have been engaged essentially in nation-building by projects randomly identified to win elections, rather than systematically developed within the framework of a strategy and plan aimed at achieving genuine national development."
The current regime has fitted squarely within this scheme of things. It has merely stepped into shoes formerly worn by predecessor regimes. In 2009, Conversation No. 37 placed Government's capacity to provide basic needs to the population in context: "Our country has hit bottom. Taxes and levies are everywhere. Jobs are scarce. Government is outsourcing. Electricity bills are a nightmare. Cost of living is high. And wages are low. V.A.T. is crippling us. Businesses are downsizing or closing. Poverty is spreading. Our working people are under attack." It went on to identify the social situation caused by the economic downturn: "Youths have no direction and are growing restless. Crime is on the rise. Family values are threatened. Respect and love for one another are disappearing. And we are no longer our brother's keeper. Senior citizens are forgotten. Our people are losing hope and are leaving by the hundreds. The future seems uncertain."
© Copyright, William Riviere, 2016