In September of 2011, the Kremandala group organized a national conference of Belizean writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals, something we called “WAMI.” We financed the initiative ourselves from within Kremandala, so our logistics were modest. We certainly hoped that we could make it an annual affair, but that was not to be.
WAMI did not receive the support from Belize’s tertiary level educational institutions which the conference should have, but that is easily explained. Belize’s tertiary level institutions are controlled by the ruling political party and by religious organizations. Neither the government or the churches have any interest in exposing the young minds under their jurisdiction to any ideas which have not been processed and approved by the establishment.
The ideas, then, which are presented to our young people in Belize’s tertiary level institutions are only those ideas which are acceptable to the government and the churches. Because Belize is a society where there is freedom of expression, tertiary level young people also have access to ideas which originate with newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, not to mention their own social media. As you can imagine, the processed and approved ideas presented by the government and the churches are often outdated: certainly, they are not cutting edge.
When you are a student, you are trying to get a grade. This is your most important concern. So, you pay attention to your professors. In countries like Belize, the professors, for their part, are generally most concerned about their careers, so they, in turn, pay attention to their administrators, who can make or break them. And the administrators have to make sure they do not offend their employers, who are the government and the churches. Tertiary level education is guided from the top, with a heavy hand, by the aforementioned government and the churches.
Most citizens in parliamentary democracies like Belize feel comfortable with their government and their churches, so Belizeans are content with their control of the tertiary level institutions. What we have seen in Belize, however, is that our two political parties have fallen into the hands of their campaign financiers, some of whom are foreigners, and the churches are organizations with foreign headquarters, hence following foreign orders.
It is in the Belizean newspapers and on the Belizean radio and television stations where the most relevant discussions are taking place. A tertiary level instructor in Belize can’t spend any time in his class talking about rosewood or passport sales or offshore drilling: such an instructor would run into problems with his administrators.
In retrospect, the WAMI conference was an attempt to bring relevant, cutting edge ideas into a formal forum for discussion and exchange. These ideas are not being debated in our tertiary level institutions. Because such debates are not taking place, our tertiary level students will graduate from their schools without being properly educated in a nationalistic sense. That is why so many of them, when they get an opportunity to leave, leave The Jewel for good. All we did was train them for the American market. Our Belizean tax dollars financed our young brains to become selfish and materialistic. At the same time that we lose half of our youth at the base because of the organizational inadequacies of our education system, we also lose the cream at the top because our education is not nationalistic.
Since independence, can we point to any area where Belize’s tertiary level students and graduates have made a societal statement? I think it was in 2007 that some tertiary students began to march in the old capital, and I salute that commitment, as ad hoc and temporary as it was. Apart from that, however, it is as if the tertiary students have not existed in these three plus decades since independence. I am looking for indigenous, authentic statements, not the recitals of outdated political parties.
It is not as if I do not understand how repressive our Belizean situation is. There were brilliant people abroad who spent time figuring out how to reduce us to what we are today – a confused and discouraged people. There was a time back there in the early and middle 1960s when there was a social vibrancy in Belize, a vibrancy which has waned steadily since then. Yes, there was significant opposition to the nationalist government led by Hon. George Price, but that significant opposition was led by a Belizean who was just as nationalist as Mr. Price and who had proven that nationalism – Hon. Philip Goldson.
Today, our political leaders are more citizens of the world than they are Belizeans. This is understandable, you know. The world has changed, and become much smaller. But if we are not focused, in the first instance, or being Belizean, why did we insist on independence? It was because we were refusing to be British, or whatever: we wanted to be we.
I am calling on our writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals. Our Belizean-ness is crying out for definition. The electoral politicians have been bought and paid for. I am crying out to our young, educated Belizeans. This is your time. Seek boldly for your truth. Love Belize, and Belize will love you.
Power to the people.