For quite a few years now, the ladies of the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) on Partridge Street have organized the celebration of the Kwanzaa ceremonies around Christmas time. Kwanzaa, which features some beautiful, traditional African concepts, was introduced by Dr. Ron Maulana Karenga in 1966, which was, incidentally, the year when the black power phenomenon first swept across the United States. So then, Kwanzaa will be 46 years old this Christmas.
One of the UEF ladies asked us to provide some editorial ideas on the concept of unity (umoja), which is the very first concept of Kwanzaa. Umoja calls for unity in the family, the community, the race, and the nation. It sounds really good, but life is really real. Sounds are one thing: life is something else.
The most important thing to understand about unity in any group is that those who are enemies of that group will make it their priority to divide the said group. If the enemies of your group are more powerful than your group is, then you will have a difficult time achieving unity.
During the processes of slavery and colonialism, those who were opposed to unity amongst us Belizeans were basically white men from Great Britain. But, even if there had been only black and brown people in this territory, without the dominant British, unity would still have been a difficult goal to achieve. Why is that?
Unity in a group is a difficult goal to achieve because unity requires, it presupposes leadership. The absolute importance of leadership has to do with decision making. There are occasions when critical decisions have to be made. There are times when decisions have to be made quickly, under substantial pressure. These are the occasions and these are the times when good leadership, honest leadership, tried and proven leadership, strong leadership, is at a premium.
A complicating factor is that there are privileges that usually go along with leadership, so that there will be always a number of people who desire leadership positions. There have to be mechanisms for competitions which will eliminate inadequate leadership prospects and elevate the candidates best equipped and suited for the positions. During the course of competitions, which we call “elections” in societies which are parliamentary democracies, division is the order of the day. Unfortunately, you cannot have competition without division. After the leadership choices are made, it can sometimes be very hard to heal the rifts which have developed during the competitions.
So then, unity is a concept which is somewhat idealistic. Life is not a tea party. Unity, moreover, is dynamic. If you manage to achieve it today, there is no guarantee that it will remain tomorrow. Some days good, some days not so good. One day high, the next day low. Life is a struggle, Jack, and then you die.
Life can be such a struggle that some people decide to bury their heads in the sand in different ways. They get hooked on alcohol, or drugs, or even religion, and then nothing else matters except that addiction. Of these addictions, the worst of them is religion, the reason being that religion offers solutions to problems of the state. The clerics of any given religion claim to have a direct connection to God, so they claim the prescriptions which they offer are divine in origin. When religion takes control of the state, the result is usually intolerance. Religions which rule states become fanatic, in that they demand absolute unity, and they do so in the name of God.
Unity would be a beautiful thing to achieve, but, it appears to us, it is never anything more than a work in progress. Because life itself is such a diverse proposition, we always begin from what can be considered a state of disunity. On proper analysis, communities and societies see where unity would be a good quality to have governing our affairs as human beings. But, making the transition from disunity to unity is a rough road to trod. Nevertheless, we have no choice but to tread that road.
On that journey, one of our greatest enemies is always ignorance. Our most important ally is knowledge – knowledge of self and kind, to begin with. Above all, the journey demands patience, and love for one another.
Christian religions say that, in the beginning, we human beings committed original sin, and that only Christ Crucified can redeem us. Belizeans are basically a Christian people, which is to say, we acknowledge our sinful, flawed nature. Our Christianity should be unifying us, but Christianity is divided into denominations, which compete, sometimes bitterly, with each other.
In Belize, our experience is that party politics and denominational religions appear designed specifically to divide us. On the community and society level, we, then, have to fight past party politics and denominational religions to find those common grounds on which we can establish community and societal unity.
One of the things which should unite us is when we have to compete with groups outside of our own groups. In sports, there are regional and international competitions which involve the national teams of different countries. When Belize chooses national selections to send to these regional and international games, this should be an occasion for unconditional, unencumbered unity. Our local competitions should be the tests by which we select Belize’s best players, coaches, and managers to send to the regional and international competitions.
But, injustice kills the seeds of unity. In 1994, there was a basketball tournament for Caribbean countries being held in the Bahamas. The highest level of basketball at that time in Belize was the semi-professional tournament held annually. Of the three semi-pro tournaments which had been held since semi-pro began in 1992, the Kremandala Raiders had been the sub-champions in 1992, and then won the tournament back-to-back in 1993 and 1994. It would have been a just thing to appoint the Raiders’ head coach, Marshall Nunez, as head coach of the Belize national selection.
The ruling UDP politicians, in their arrogance and their malice, decided that this could not be. An injustice was committed. A national coach was appointed who had never even reached the semi-pro finals in any of its three years. This is an example of how party politicians send the message to Belizean citizens that it really doesn’t matter how good you are in your field. We politicians have the power, and our party politics is more important than national justice. No justice, no unity. This is our way of life in Belize.
Thus endeth the lesson.