The 48th anniversary of our independence has prompted quite a few letters in the media, as well as various online comments and blogs about our evolution as a society and a nation and, by extension, the quality of our democracy. The opinions expressed are almost unanimous in their disquiet regarding where we have reached after 48 years of largely unfulfilled self-government.
When we listen to a musical group, from a steelband to a symphony orchestra, we appreciate how different instruments combine to produce a tuneful melody. All we get, however, from the different howls of protest in the various media, each with its own style and mode of expression, is a veritable cacophony of discontent, ranging from the most reasonable argument to the most vitriolic of positions. In the latter respect, some in the chorus might think that they are singing from the same hymn sheet but there are those whose interpretations are irrational, polarising and not helpful at all. One thing is depressingly certain though: the song remains the same and it is one of mind-numbing discordance.
The PPP/C and its adherents like to rail against the “28 years” of PNC rule or “misrule” as they are wont to say. But the PPP/C has now itself been in power for almost 22 years and the tally of citizens’ grievances is mounting. Must we wait another six years before the two parties that have dominated our political landscape consider the scales balanced and we can wipe the slate clean?
Or, if we tinker with the equation and count from 1968, when elections were first rigged under the PNC, by the 50th anniversary of our independence in 2016, the PPP/C, if early elections are not called, will have also been in office for 24 consecutive years. Will we all have decided by then that enough is enough and that it is finally time to achieve true independence and national unity?
We are, of course, assuming that there will be no political epiphany between now and then, especially as the PNC cannot as yet bring itself to apologise for its past excesses and the PPP/C, from the commanding heights of incumbency and with its own issues to answer for, appears incapable of making concessions in the interest of compromise. Unfortunately, with neither side seemingly willing to make the first move to seize the moral high ground, the country will be trapped in this Catch-22 for the foreseeable future.
Continued finger-pointing, inflammatory comments and immature politics can only feed polarisation, keep distrust and hatred alive, and continue the vicious circle in which we have ensnared ourselves for too many decades.
We all – the media, civil society, the private sector, the opposition and the government – have an obligation to encourage processes of dialogue and put an end to the habit of conflict that blights this land and is doing so much harm to our society. We have, thus far, been poor masters of our destiny. It is time to remedy this state of affairs.
Continuing to resuscitate the ghosts of the past can only be viewed as counterproductive for our future as a nation. A way has to be found for a new beginning, a process of reconciliation and reconstruction based on baby steps – small agreements aimed at building a virtuous circle of confidence-building and dialogue. Only then, will we be able to construct the country we dreamed of at Independence.
To reach that promised land, we have to begin, perhaps, by envisioning the change that we want and finding the energy and the will to make it happen. It makes no sense whatsoever to perpetuate myths of divisiveness, distrust and hatred if we are to take our country forward. As we look ahead to our 50th birthday as a nation, it is time for intelligence, tolerance, patience, pragmatism and, above all, dialogue. It is time for good men and women to step forward to help find that elusive harmony for which most of us yearn. It is time to sing a new song.