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October 19: inappropriate date to launch 50th anniversary commemorations/celebrations

Why would we want to begin the process of re-imagining the next 50 years on the day that represents the most gruesome historical moment since Grenada’s independence on February 07, 1974?  Why would we want to continue to pour fuel on the ambers of history to rekindle pain and trauma and further polarize a divided society? Why are we not sufficiently sensitive to a bruised Grenadian psyche and the inter-generational pain that sadly still lingers since October 1983? Why would we want to begin the fiftieth anniversary commemorations by showcasing the worst of our Grenadian selves?  These questions keep reverberating in my mind as I follow the debates since the announcement that the launch of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations would be on October 19, 2023.

Given Grenada’s colourful history, commemorating, celebrating and re-imagining independence must include a nuanced understanding of Grenada’s journey that, on the one hand, embraces all of our history, yet on the other hand, is sensitive to those, on all sides of the conflict, who still experience pain associated with the events of October 1983. I must say upfront that I commend the current administration for declaring October 19 as a public holiday. This was long overdue, and it is an opportunity for sober reflection, introspection and healing.

However, if independence symbolizes freedom, light and hope, then twinning the dreadful events of October 19, 1983 to independence, symbolically defeats the spirit and intent of independence. Why do I say so? It is a historic reality that Grenada embarked on its journey as a sovereign, independent state on February 07, 1974 in literal and figurative darkness as a result of economic and socio-political forces. The 1973 energy crisis was an oil shock that caused global energy prices to increase exponentially. The Grenadian economy was not spared from the crisis which limited access to fuel and compromised access to electricity. At the same time, the country was politically polarized between supporters of Eric Gairy and anti-Gairy forces, which saw increasing demonstrations, strikes and lockdowns to include closure of the port.  This means, therefore, that when the Grenadian flag was hoist for the first time – Grenada was engulfed in darkness. As such, the independence journey was, and continues to be the search for “brighter out of darkness.” And we cannot deny that there is a whole lot to celebrate even as we must admit that we have had to navigate the best and worst of times. How then do we confront all of our history – as we must – without creating further social antagonisms, unnecessary controversy and discontent in the country? This calls for soberness, good judgment and mindfulness among our leaders.

The fiftieth anniversary commemorations are not only to reflect on the past 50 years but moreso to imagine the kind of Grenadian society we envision for the next fifty years and beyond.  It is a moment to pause and ask, what was the independence promise of 1974 and have we lived up to it? What have been our major successes? What were some of the missteps along the way? What are some of the unfinished business with freedom? I wish to propose that this is an opportunity for Grenadians to commit to a new independence compact with Grenada going forward. There should be a new social contract that seeks to intentionally create a new democratic society. This society should include, among other things: genuine access to opportunity for all; inclusiveness despite partisan and other differences; people’s participation and voice; gender justice; environmental sustainability, equity and inter-generational governance that combines wisdom and youthful ingenuity.  Importantly, the new society must revisit the process of truth and reconciliation to promote societal healing.

I join with other commentators who call on the Government of Grenada to re-think its decision to launch the fiftieth anniversary of independence on October 19, 2023 as this is an inappropriate date to do so. There is still time for the organizers to reconsider their position and in so doing they would show that they are listening to the people whom they serve.

By Wendy C Grenade, Grenadian political scientist and social commentator

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