Unlearning Slavery: Gonsalves’ “A Time to Respair:…”

The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer.

By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox 

Having read most of Prime Minister Gonsalves’ written offerings to the public, I can say he has never disappointed me in style nor content. His latest, “A Time to Respair Beyond COVID, Volcanic Eruptions, Hurricane Elsa and Global Turmoil: Fresh Hope for St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” is no different. This six-chapter 286-page -inclusive of bibliography and index- volume is profound in its simplicity. While containing deep thoughts/reflections of a towering intellectual; salient lessons from a life of political activism; and wisdom born of a heart overflowing with genuine patriotism and love for this nation, our Caribbean, and humanity as a whole; it remains accessible to the average teenager. This is no tractatus on philosophical abstractions, but a solid thesis that demystifies challenges, lays bare unpleasant truths, and exalts our nobility as the foundation of eternal hope.

Gonsalves opens with a precis of European settler-colonialism and plunder of our tiny archipelago. The contents of this first chapter are not some mythical or irrelevant historical account, but demonstrates that this people, having been forced into what seemed a hopeless time and space colonial dystopia, damaged by inter alia genocide, slavery, and imperialist capitalist extraction; reclaimed independence, and with it, fresh hope to change the course of history, making us sovereign, rejecting servitude. The reader discerns October 79 was the beginning a long march for people-centred development.

In Chapter two the author compellingly demonstrates if October 79 is to have real meaning, a new economy must be envisaged and constructed. History shows that from Jamaica’s Norman Girvan to Guyana’s Havelock Brewster inter alios, have long exposed the colonial parasitism of plantation economics. Gonsalves’ is more lucid, showing why and how change must be done in this age of severe vulnerability. He implies that the new economy must be supremely democratic, where participation and benefits derived therefrom must be by and for the whole people. His is a thesis of economic social democracy where the working people are not alienated from, or merely incidental to a profit-driven economic process, for they are the source and reason for this economic respairing. 

SVG’s budget 2022 takes centre stage in Chapter three. Gonsalves details in language comprehensible to the layman, what were the guiding philosophies/ideas in the crafting of this list of income and expenditure. The message is one of reassurance: “We got this” economically.  Throughout this discourse it boomerangs again and again: take heart, grasp hope, for your leadership and government are doing what we must for a better and brighter tomorrow. As I read this Chapter the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” became a mental refrain. Roosevelt knew he had to engender fresh hope in an America in the throes of the Great Depression. Gonsalves has no use for despair!

And he is wholly practical in his approach to economic respairing. This is most evident in Chapters four and five. The former gives inter alia a root and branch description of many of the major government/corporate agencies/bodies/enterprises that all form part of the mechanism/machinery that support and help deliver good governance and having key roles in our respairing. He shows how institutions addressing from carnival to education, and from agriculture to intellectual property have been infused with resources and mandates that embrace fresh hope. The latter Chapter discusses among other things the commitment to a mixed economy, and some of the direct actions being taken at the macroeconomic level to assist and inspire the citizen and citizenry.

The concluding chapter is packed with wise guidance, imparting that respiring can only truly take place if we are in communion one with the other at all levels. Gonsalves proffers that he family, church, school and community based/civil society organizations, must be vanguards in embracing this fresh hope. He does not shy away from the menacing threats that political tribalism and “anti-social” social media present to the quest for unity, which is a basic prerequisite if fresh hope is to germinate and ultimately blossom. He however insists that the genius of our people will prevail, nurturing this hope to maturity. This chapter reveals that our Prime Minister has a picture of the future of his nation, where we shall live in even larger freedoms, greater prosperity, never daunted by vicissitudes of life. He convinces that our faith backed up by works will see us through, and thereby banishes despair. This is a text in which hope springs eternal, where a leader seeks to inspire a nation to aspire, and where an echo of Garvey, “Up you mighty nation, accomplish what you will!” rings through loud and clear.

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