Eric Williams and celebrating Independence
ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, August 12 2012
EVERY year there is a perennial outcry over the neglect of the legacy of Dr Eric Williams, the country’s first Prime Minister and a key architect of our Constitution. Schoolchildren do not know about Dr Williams, we hear. Why are we not honouring him more? Why is he being marginalised in this our 50th Anniversary of Independence year?
I’d just like to point out a few things by asking some questions of my own. Firstly, which past prime ministers are we celebrating? Should Williams be singled out for commemoration any more so than other prime ministers? For me the deeper question is this: should we really celebrate our politicians? Don’t they celebrate themselves enough while they are in power?
I disagree with those who say Williams is not known to schoolchildren today. As a schoolchild you are, understandably, taught a highly sanitized history of the country and Williams, you are told, was the “Father of the Nation”. You are made to marvel at his disability, as evidenced by his hearing aid, and how he came to achieve so much.
When you grow up you discover other things. Such as Williams’ clear dictatorial bent (“when I speak no damn dog bark”) his habit of liming in Cuba; his tolerance of the corruption of O’Halloran and Prevatt and his suspected suicide – not mere death – in 1981. Anybody who reads the Constitution also comes away with the feeling that it was one elaborate hoodwink: it is a document which says something on the surface, but in its details gives the prime minister too much power (incidentally, Williams was the first prime minister). Honour this we may, but certainly should not.
In any event, Williams is the only Prime Minister, as far as I am aware, who has a musical named after him. The Ministry of Arts and Multi-Culturalism is going to put it on at NAPA for several days starting on August 18. Additionally, despite his clear wishes, so many things are named after Williams: the Eric Williams Financial Complex, the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. But I have another question which will shock many.
Why are we celebrating Independence in the first place on August 31? Wasn’t the date August 31, 1962 chosen for us by the former colonial motherland? Remember, our Independence was actually effected by an act of the UK Parliament – passed on August 1, 1962, and to date still on the books at Westminster – which declared our date of independence to be August 31, 1962. So every year we slavishly commemorate the date that was set by the colonial motherland. It’s not logical. What would be more appropriate is for our Parliament to come together and, on its own terms, choose a date to commemorate Independence. (December 25 is not regarded as the real date of Jesus’ birth but it is agreed to be the day on which we celebrate the birth.) Then again, should we even bother to celebrate Independence pure and simple? Does the state of our society today inspire you to do this?
It was Eric Williams who had a great historical theory that slavery ended not for idealistic reasons but for reasons of economics. Would it be much of a stretch to suggest that colonialism ended not for idealistic reasons but rather for economic reasons and that after our societies in the Caribbean were ruled under divide and conquer tactics for centuries, we were merely disposed of, left with societies riven by divisions, when the economic gains no longer outweighed the bother? Should we celebrate this? But let’s not be too pessimistic. In the wake of the Olympics, let us wave a flag and celebrate our potential, as we aspire, each of us, to right the wrongs of history by aiming at excellence. Focus on this and not on whether the musical is enough for Eric.