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As the country prepares to celebrate its 37th anniversary of Independence, Dominica is undoubtedly enduring its worst crisis since 1978, the year the island became politically independent.

But before Tropical Storm Erika made the situation worse, Dominica had been virtually crippled by a dying economy, sky-scraper-high unemployment figures, human-resources-haemorrhaging migration rates, escalating crime, unproductive agriculture, shrinking exports and ballooning imports, and shamefully high levels of non-communicable diseases that Dr. Carissa Etienne, the Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) described as an impending tsunami.

Tropical Storm Erika has put all Dominica's problems into a large envelope and she has stamped it "CRISIS". But it is up to the citizens and the Government of Dominica to decide whether we will again waste opportunities presented by yet another crisis to repair the economic and social system. "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste", Stanford economist Paul Romer has reminded us. Romer and other management experts describe a crisis as a crucial situation, a turning point that forces a system to make the choice between inertia and innovation.

Nevertheless, despite the mountains of problems that we battle day after day, we have made some positive progress over the last 37 years. This is most evident in areas culture, sports, music and education. Although countries like St. Lucia that attained independence about the same time, seem to be leaving us behind on the path towards economic development, there are some newly independent countries, especially on the African continent, that have been described as "failed states". In these countries the vast majority of their citizens have little or no access to educational opportunities, basic health care, or shelter and where the society is shattered by war, famine and the almost complete absence of the rule of law and human rights.

As we reflect on the past 37 years of being an independent country we need to ask questions like these: What can the reasons for our failures? Why the crisis of governance or the social breakdown which is manifested in violent crime and the delinquency of our youth? Why do many citizens feel that politicians and others in authority have failed to represent them or betrayed them? Why do we not trust the institutions of State such as the police, the courts and the Cabinet? Why is there so much corruption that it is no longer an issue, that it is as normal as the rain? Why is the pace of progress so snail-like?

Unfortunately, we observe Independence in the middle of the toughest economic conditions that this young nation has encountered over the past 37 years. These predicaments have posed severe challenges to our proud and independent people who have witnessed the slow but complete ruin of our economy over the past decade. If we are to progress, Dominicans must confront the nightmare of having to live in an economically devastated county in which thousands find it extremely difficult to earn a decent standard of living.

Additionally, as we quantify our unfinished work we will comprehend that much more has to be done if we are to consider ourselves to be fully independent. Of course, independence celebrations generate a certain level of patriotism but patriotism is much more than raising flags on Independence Day or standing at attention for the national anthem. Patriotism means respect for self and others and for country; it requires an acknowledgement of the current social and economic conditions and a determination to partner with everyone to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Although we obtained political independence from Britain, our former slave masters, on November 3rd 1978, we must understand that the struggle for economic emancipation has just begun. It is a painful fact that it may be much more difficult to obtain the status of economic independence than to break off the chains of colonialism. In fact, many persons are of the view that instead of moving forward on the road to independence we have indeed taken a few steps backward. They recall the period of the Seventies, during the Black Power Movement, when black people worldwide struggled earnestly to become psychologically and economically free. But now black people seem to have retrogressed. That movement backwards is obvious in the way we now dress, the way we wear our hair like Caucasians, the foods that we eat and the cultural norms that we emulate.

Over the past 37 years, we may have built many schools and implemented universal secondary education so that many more children have access to secondary and tertiary education. Nevertheless, the quality of the education that our schools now deliver is questionable. Again, we built roads but maintaining them has been a major budgetary challenge; we built many health centres and clinics, especially in rural Dominica but today basic health care is beyond the reach of many citizens because of raising costs. We trained many teachers, nurses, doctors and other professionals but they continue to migrate in search of greener pastures. In agriculture, the basic industry, we subdivided large estates, such as Geneva and Castle Bruce, so that many more persons could have access to land but agricultural production and productivity have declined in spite of the fact that modern agricultural technology is available to small farmers. Today, agriculture needs major reconstructive surgery if it is to contribute meaningfully to the growth of the economy.

Undoubtedly, we are at an important cross-road on this the thirty-seventh anniversary of our Independence. The point is we can either grasp the opportunity for real change, for economic development, for justice, equity and fairness for all; or we can continue to allow persons to persuade us with tricks of smoke and mirrors that we are indeed better off than we really are. The road we choose will determine how we will celebrate our fiftieth anniversary of independence in just 13 years from today.

Today, post Erika Dominica faces its worst crisis; we should not waste it.


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