July 31, 2011

Independence, a mis-diagnosis?

This business of independence has never rested entirely well with me. Along with democracy, it seems to be a lofty ideal that works only in countries and societies where there is a level playing field.

A layperson’s broad definition of independence resembles this Wikipedia one: 

Independence is a condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over its territory.

As a result of being or becoming independent, it is plausible for one to expect freedom, happiness and a whole host of other inalienable rights. I suppose in this regard, one might further argue that to fight for its attainment by any means necessary is revolutionarily empowering in principle. The Haitian example however paints another reality. A nation that indeed did fight for its freedom from the shackles of slavery and yet hundreds of years later, still their struggle continues – for daily survival.

South Sudan is born! AP Photo/Andrew Burton

Take for example the most recent example of independence. At midnight on 9 July 2011, the 193rd country in the world, South Sudan was born.

While commendation is due to their standing firm in their beliefs to no longer be suppressed nor oppressed by their former fellow Northerners I wonder and ponder, how does the international community intend to support them in the creation of their independence? Will they just stand aside and look? Or will they continue to apply policies, practices and strategies that have failed around Africa in particular and the developing world in general?

As a general principle, most countries who have gained independence from some former colonial power, at least that power left behind some contradictory legacy from which they could begin to create some semblance of a future. An immediate example that springs to mind is that of establishing a currency. Especially in these precarious economic times, against which world currency will the South Sudanese pound be pegged?  

Sudan has been split into two countries on the basis of a whole host of factors namely ethnicity, natural resources and religion. This short list is by no means exhaustive. With an illiteracy rate beyond 70% and virtually no infrastructure, to describe their newly acquired state as liberating is bizarre.

My issue here isn’t about whether or not the country should have decided to split itself in two. Rather, my concern rests with a bunch of people who have been emotionally and hedonistically seduced into believing that independence will evaporate their dilemma. Independence can only blossom in the face of support from others, not least of all from its former ‘oppressors.’  The leaders from the North have not put forth any clear indication for one to believe that they will play a positive developmental role in this critical stage of South Sudan’s birth. 

The notion of independence is an intoxicant to a large extent, one that has left the vast majority of its off-springs feeling largely abandoned. 

I diverge from the birth of South Sudan now towards Jamaica’s 49th birthday in August. 

On 6 August 1962, the Union Jack was lowered and birth was given to the ‘black, gold and green [flag].’ 

The Jamaican flag is symbolized by the motto: ‘Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth’.


The black triangles represent the adversity Jamaica has overcome and for hardships it may have in the future. The green triangles represent hope and agriculture and the golden saltire (diagonal cross) stands for the mineral wealth of Jamaica and sunlight.

In the grand scheme of independence, as far as a developing country goes, Jamaica has fared reasonably well, even though according to the Foreign Policy’s failed state index for 2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/20/the_brutal_truth?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full,   Jamaica is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

This is deeply disturbing as unlike South Sudan, there is absolutely no reason that this should have happened, given where we stood at the time of our birth. 

So what happened? In a nutshell, we lost the plot. But even beyond this to which many are quick to point fingers towards our government representation or lack thereof, we’ve sadly and simply forgotten who we are. Some patriots reading this will challenge this vociferously. The psychic indicators are abundantly clear:  we’ve now even reverted to be-heading. This is barbarism at its most crass level. Left unchecked, cannibalism may not be far away.

From my present vantage point, the future is bleak for both of these countries. 

I have experienced and witness daily life in failed, flaying, emerging and emerged nations and have come to the general conclusion that the commonalities that make us human are universal – the need to sustain ourselves and our families, access to and provision of healthcare, the ability and willingness to believe in a force greater than ourselves and ultimately being able to have some ‘control’ over our happiness. 

Happiness in its most primal sense is intrinsically linked to one’s independence; i.e., the ability to take care of oneself. While the South Sudanese can absolutely celebrate their release from the proverbial Northern noose from around their necks, independence mis-diagnonizes their present state.

When juxtaposed against each other, Jamaica and South Sudan are at very similar yet different junctures in their life cycles. Both are countries – it takes time and commitment to form nations – are rich in [un-tapped] resources – human as well as natural.

 As one is being born, the other when humanized symbolically is moving into the second half of its life. At this juncture, it is natural to take stock so that one is able to create a vision about how to move forward.

For a country that is surrounded by an entire continent of people who have gained independence from someone else, praying that the African Union and the international  community at large rallies its support towards South Sudan, perhaps this newborn amongst the family of countries will be the true litmus test for defying the failure of independence as a whole.

From an optimistic standpoint it is too soon to tell how things will transpire.  On the darker side are they doomed even before they’ve even left the cradle?

Jamaica too must pause and conduct an honest assessment of where she presently stands. To do this means taking responsibility for the fact that the country has failed its people and broken their hearts. Only then, I believe, can we even begin to attempt to right the woeful wrongs that Jamaica and Jamaicans have suffered. 

To strive for freedom is a natural phenomenon of the human condition. To attain independence is a privilege that can only be exercised by those who are empowered by virtue of their freedom.

And so it is.


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