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Self-determination and colonial induced ignorance

EditorialSelf-determination and colonial induced ignorance

Monday, March 4, 2024

To the generation of Belizeans who came of age in the late 1960s and 70s, the term “self-determination” has some meaning, because we heard those words on many occasions when our leaders were talking about the Guatemala problem and our people’s struggle to gain our independence from Great Britain. All we had ever known was about being a colony from the day we were born, and the backwardness of our living conditions, as well as the scarcity of good job opportunities for young graduates from high schools (tertiary education was a prize for only the few who had gained a number of GCE passes and could receive a government scholarship).

Self-determination and independence meant that things would be better for us; our lives would be more comfortable and happier in the Jewel, because our government would be fully in control, rather than being held by a string from the “mother country”.

The idea of independence conjured up big dreams in aspiring young people. For example, it was often said that “with independence” would come “more development”; and we could all relate to that. The idea of independence seemed to mean that as a nation in control of its own affairs, local and foreign, our government could then negotiate loans to do infrastructure works that would benefit the people and make our lives better and more productive.

We never gave much thought to the educational system, except when UBAD came and talked about the teaching of African and “Indian” (Mayan) history in our schools. Jobs were always a main concern, and there could be more industries, if government could secure loans from foreign agencies to on-lend to Belizean entrepreneurs for development of farms and industries for processing of our many raw materials, like the lots of fruits that spoil and go to waste during the rainy season every year.

So, yes, independence was a dream, although the dread of the Guatemalan threat remained hanging over our heads. We knew the threat was there, and we got nervous whenever there was talk of the Guats building up forces near our borders; but in the back of our minds there was always the thought that the British would “deal with them”. Surely, they wouldn’t let the big bully neighbor just come right in and take over Belize. Everything would be alright.

There was a sense among some of the more adventurous and bold young people at that time, that once we had gotten our independence and were a member of the United Nations, Guatemala, which had been trying to stop our drive to independence with her “ridiculous” claim, would be in a very weak position in the eyes of the world, to just use her military might and march in for the takeover after the British were gone. However, our leaders were concerned about exactly that, and so they insisted that the former colonial masters, once Belize got its independence, should either give us a “defense guarantee” or keep their military regiment in Belize “for an appropriate period of time,” which they did until 1993. Perhaps, in light of what we have seen occurring in Gaza, with the world still looking on, our old timers were right – “Tek no chance!”.

Nevertheless, we have, indeed, come a long way as a nation. The infrastructure, for one, is much improved in many areas. There is material progress; and there are success stories among the higher educated sectors of our population. But with the material progress has come serious social problems. There remains in too many parts of our communities, a simmering and depressing level of poverty, ignorance and despair, and an inclination to violence and crime among members of our population, especially in poorer areas, that is worrying and reflects negatively on our society and raises questions about our educational system.

So, yes, the pre-independence generation had high hopes for the possibilities with our independence. But, where our knowledge of the political realities and historical context was concerned, we were, and still are to a large extent, still lacking. A lot was kept from us, by our leaders, and in our school system. We became independent in 1981, but our colonial mindset and ignorance was/is still a hurdle to overcome. For example, our leaders championed the concept of one Belize, the Belizean identity, superseding all the color, racial and ethnic diversities in our people. But it was a “cover Benjamin” approach. The prejudices and hang-ups and complexes – inferiority for some and superiority for others – remained. UBAD gave a strong infusion of black pride – “Black is beautiful” – in our African based Belizeans then; but at the grassroots level today, the negativity and self-hatred manifested in the violence within our poor communities suggests that the “crab in the barrel” mentality is still very much in force. “Would you let the system make you kill your brother man?” The answer has unfortunately been “Yes” on too many occasions. Where is the love? When did life become so cheap, and persons be so quick to anger and violence? Are our young people lost? And if they are lost, how come? Didn’t our educational system teach them to love themselves, to cherish life, and to see themselves in others? You can’t love what you don’t know. Do they know themselves? Who they are? Where their fore-parents and ancestors came from? Are their young minds filled with, stimulated and inspired by “useful knowledge”, or is it “garbage in, garbage out”? Has our educational system failed us?

So much has been said about the glory of our so-called “church-state” educational system. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and what we have in Belize right now is not nice. True, there are some bright young minds coming out of the top schools, and many success stories, that soon disappear into the diaspora where opportunities await them; and there are many who remain in the Jewel with some skills to build on, and try to make do of our situation in the jobs that are available. (Thank heavens for the call centers, or what would our employment situation look like?) But why are our streets and neighborhoods not safe? Why so many of our people “noh happy”?

How about this perspective? Whatever talent we have in Belize among our young minds that are determined to stay and work here, the important thing is for us to work together, work hard, and we will improve. But we won’t if we keep “fussing and fighting” and “killing one another.” We need to start where any good team will start, with discipline. With discipline comes honesty, because you can’t bluff hard work and expect good results. So, this greed and selfishness mentality which seems to be the fruits of this current educational system, must be exposed and condemned for what it is: the seed to our suffering and violence as a society. Corruption is the common enemy of all Belizeans, from top to bottom, because it leads to wastefulness, backwardness, mediocrity and failure for all. Out with corruption; away with selfishness and greed; all able bodies must work, and everybody must eat. Each one teach one, and be proud a yoself, because you are the image of our Creator. Teach the children the truth, and watch them grow in love and understanding.

This madness has to stop. How the hell can we have lazy men ruling our communities and extorting hard working people in so-called “gang neighborhoods”? Are they in collusion with police officers who have gone rogue? Children and even grown men can’t walk certain streets. Madness!

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