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We the people

The period of the 1940s through to the early 1960s saw tremendous movements in Africa inspired by many new activists such as Kwame Nkrumah, of Ghana, Patrice Lamumba, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Jomo Kenyatta, of Kenya, to name a few.

Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of an independent Democratic Republic of Congo

They were neither alone nor inspired by an inner voice; there was, as it were, a “laboratory of thought” filled by a host of individuals and efforts as far a field as Garveyism, Marxism, Leninism, W.E.B Du Bois, James Podmore, the voices of the American Revolution and French philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These all combined to formulate what a new post-colonial Africa should look like.

No, there was no I Have A Dream moment; rather, it was a search to find a way to transform a subjugated Africa into a free and self-sustaining jurisdiction borrowing from modern political ideas with an end to tribalism. Socialism was perhaps the easiest of economic modes to develop a nationalism that would incorporate the masses. Given also the reality that industry all over Africa was owned by large foreign corporations, many of whom were resistant to change. However, the idea that began to gain traction was that of the “United States of Africa” with some thought of federalism. The road towards that aim of federalism meant, first, independence to be gained by each nation state or former colonised territory.

The Caribbean in that regard was not too different from Africa, but not as subjugated. However, that which could be seen and said of Africa could be similarly said of many aspects of the Caribbean. The collusion was inevitable and the need for change and liberation from vaults of racial oppression was a manifest reality of the mid-20th century for both.

On the global stage, whether it was Stokely Carmichael, of the US, or Patrice Lumumba, of Africa, there was a wave of justified Pan-African sentiment that called for relief globally. In fact, Africa and the Caribbean were not alone; there was India and much of Asia and the Pacific Islands — all of whom were looking for freedom from subjugation.

So with fits and starts in both Africa and the Caribbean, change took place in the form of nations waving the flags of new independence. It was not a “one size fits all”. If subjugation was the disease, they cured that disease. The next question becomes, did the patient regain health? It happens that the perennial disease was and continues to be self-sufficiency and sustainability, both reliant on education and technological development.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but if my little thoughts would have anything to do with it, I would have sacrificed a little pride for a little more industry. Of course, that’s easy to say in a free world but when under the boots of tyranny, intellectual movements may be a luxury. Notwithstanding that — picking up my Booker T. Washington hat — somewhere in the mix there should have been included an industrial-type revolution, which in essence is an intellectual revolution that generates skill, tradesmanship and industry.

Looking at some 1960 conference materials, most of the thought was centred around social and national development, and freedoms — not enough on the skill and industrial development of people. That revolution would take place in recent times in places such as Indonesia and Malaysia for examples.

The battle for rights is important and never should be abandoned; however, the lone pursuit of rights leads to lone and often narrow results provided by protest. One could end up with all the desired rights, but no power. The industry of people is as important and, arguably, more important for their ultimate quality of life. This is where Bermuda and its unique situation in the early 1960s was not the typical Pan-African model.

True, Bermuda was a British colonial country, but that was its DNA from inception. Britain was not an occupying force in Bermuda, as in Africa. Yes, the Black people and others were subjected to bigotry and racism, and that needed to be addressed aggressively — and was. However, the industry of the people was for the most part intact.

The Bermudians had the means to thrive and not just survive. The remedies for a country such as Bermuda needed its own self-styled attention. It is understandable that we were in the midst of a global wave where the intellectual current for change was in the thinking of all the activists globally; hence, solutions meant for the broader nations would migrate to our shores as though a panacea for our problems also.

We had already embarked on the broadening of the franchise and that’s precisely what we called it. The term universal adult suffrage meant no more to the extension of the voter base than six does to half a dozen. Yes, Pauulu Kamarakafego (Roosevelt Brown) should be credited with the use of the term, but his effort did not replace, obfuscate or lessen the work of W.L Tucker, Arnold Francis and many others who fought for decades to extend the franchise.

So with all due respect, and not to confuse legend — as much as we love to create heroes — Dr Kamarakafego neither led nor began the adult suffrage movement; he inherited it at a very advanced stage. The tide of progress could not be reversed, and it was only a matter of when.

Bermuda needed to democratise its political status and invariably with the idea of democracy comes the right of assembly; hence, the right to have parties. However, the idea of the democracy is about "we the people" and must precede any other consideration because it is on the basis of equality and the right of every individual’s participation that even the notion of party should be formed.

In other words: individual rights and democracy for everyone first; party second.

We created parties and replaced the rights of individuals and democracy. We gave what was an individual responsibility over to a party, rather than assume those rights. Now we are trying to see how people can have a say or just fit in with any level of respect. If you start wrong you end up wrong.

We fail to admit we got caught in a tide, the current of which was not of our making, and that tide of influence coalesced, infiltrated, then ultimately took over local politics and was out of sync with the nature of Bermuda’s sociopolitical situation of the time. We want to celebrate the achievement of gaining political power and forget the destruction caused in its wake as a necessary evil, as though the ends justify the means.

The reason any of this conversation is important is because if we want a better tomorrow, we need to know where we went off track yesterday. If you want to harvest vegetables, it means putting your hands in soil. Digging mud is messy work, but necessary when you want food.

That aside, regaining the fellowship that is so essential to Bermudian society requires humility. If our present leadership globally truly understood whence they came, and the weight of responsibility they carry, they would appreciate that there is no room or justification for roles that ignorance and arrogance played at the base of our disunity. Humility is the attitude needed to be travelled.

I adhere to the oft-repeated statement ’Bermuda is too small to solve its own problems, but just the right size to solve the problems of the world“.

The only thing needing to be added is, if we are to be any example, why not be an example to the world? Let’s rediscover what was lost 60-odd years ago, the forgotten simple words “We the people”.

We the people is not an office on Chancery Lane or Reid Street, nor is it an office on Court Street. We the people is everyone, all of us inclusive.

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Published May 12, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated May 11, 2021 at 7:39 pm)

We the people

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