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Are we better off since Independence?

Usually, around this time, the country would be abuzz — as it was last year. People would be hustling and bustling in a flurry of movements to get into the celebration mood. The towns and cities would be intricately and ceremoniously draped in national paraphernalia that would put on display and promulgate our sovereign nationalism.

The various radio stations and media outlets would be engaging the national populace in the usual “Tenth” songs that reverberate deep in our bones. A host of activities would be planned and would be getting underway; but instead, there is simply no feeling of joy or elation that “September is around the corner.”

Is COVID-19 to blame for all this, or have we, as a society, simply lost our vigor for our festivities? Have we lost touch with our independence and our cause to celebrate? The question is: are we as a people better off since independence?

Unfortunately, the only talk around the country is COVID-19 and its crippling effects. But COVID-19 aside, we have been just treading along for some time now. In less than a month, Belize will mark the 39th anniversary of its independence, but to what extent are we free?

It was a fateful night on September 21, 1981 when Belize officially gained its independence. There were feelings of mixed emotions as the Union Jack was lowered and the Belize flag was hoisted. Apart from those who wanted independence, there were people who opposed independence, who felt we simply weren’t ready.

As we prepare to celebrate 39 years of independence, what exactly are we celebrating? Is there even just cause to celebrate, given the dire state we find ourselves in — an economy on the brink of collapse, a country whose GDP has registered a steady and consistent trend of decline, with a most recent quarterly contraction of 23.3%?

We have a massive unemployment rate, coupled by an ever larger underemployment rate, with a very dismal and stagnant minimum wage.

Depending on whom you ask the question, the response will vary. If you ask a “select few”, they will tell a beautiful tale of how far we’ve come and how much we have achieved.

But that response would only come from a select few, who either by name, class or association have benefited and reaped the fruits that the country bore, who, by inheritance or by might, were privileged to pillage the country’s resources and thus transfer our wealth to their family and close friends. To them, this independent Belize is sweet!

But ask the thousands of Belizeans who get up every day and struggle to make ends meet. Ask the once deemed  ”middle class” population of the country how “middle class” status has been to them, and they’ll quickly tell you how the middle class bracket has shrunk and regressed over the years, and now they join the chorus and sing the song of the poor.

Ask the students who lack the opportunities to further their aspirations because there aren’t enough opportunities for them to pursue their dreams.

My people, wake up! Thirty nine years later, and what do we have to show for it? A massive wage bill that our children and children’s children will work to pay for years to come. A land where opportunities are few and far between. A land where we are supposedly free, but still don’t own a piece of this land — our land. A place where the poorer class gets poorer and the middle class finds itself losing its security and slipping into poverty. A nation where there’s a widening gap between the few who have and the thousands who go to bed without.

Do the songs we hear in September still have meaning? As you prepare to celebrate this year’s independence, reflect! Ask yourself this important question: are we better off since independence?

“Hurrah-Hurrah, Hip Hip Hurrah!”

God Bless Belize!

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