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Raffique Shah


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What price, national pride?

By Raffique Shah
November 08, 2009

Sport Minister Gary Hunt is convinced that the $2 million national flag that flutters over the Hasely Crawford Stadium would instil national pride in the populace. From the flak he has been subjected to ever since the issue first surfaced-the cost, that is, not the flag-he must be wondering what sin he has committed. In time, he argues, people would come around to understanding why his ministry opted for a 2,000 square feet flag hoisted on a 150-foot pole.

Sadly, neither the minister nor his boss, Prime Minister Manning, or any other minister (as far as I know) was schooled in history. Which is a pity, given that the country’s first Prime Minister, Dr Williams, was a renowned historian. It is often said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat often-fatal mistakes of the past.

Had they studied landmark events in history like the fall of the Roman Empire or the French Revolution, they would understand why the majority among the population are angry that a government agency would spend that much on erecting a national flag. It is not because people do not care for the flag or they don’t take pride in our nation. It is simply outrage over misplaced priorities and mindless spending of public funds, something the Manning Government seems to have mastered.

They don’t give a damn about what the masses think. Let me take them back in history, to 1789 when the French Revolution started. France was a relatively prosperous country by world standards. But King Louis XV had brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy through a series of wars that were unnecessary, serving only to boost or bruise his ego.

By the time Louis XVI ascended the throne with Marie-Antoinette as Queen, the country had suffered famine and was stricken with severe poverty among its predominantly peasant population. The nobility prospered, as they always do. In the face of mounting discontent, the King’s financial adviser recommended that the royal family and nobility curb their conspicuous consumption. He was fired.

A bloody revolution followed, with the storming of the Bastille, the trial and execution by guillotine of the king in 1793, followed months later by that of Marie-Antoinette. Among the nobility, many heads rolled-some historians say 17,000-plus-into the basket as the guillotine separated them from their bodies. Out of that people’s revolution a new republic was born, and the tri-colour, the national flag, became a symbol of the new order.

Here again, a national flag played an important role in rallying the masses, just as historically, the flag (or colours) was used to rally troops on ancient battlefields. So the national flag does instil pride in people, but it could also spark anger when it seems to have been sullied by extravagance among the ruling elite. And that is precisely what is happening in this instance.

National pride, Minister, is walking through a capital city where the sidewalks are in near-perfect order, not ravaged by time and strewn with death-traps. Pride in one’s country is not having a virtual army of assorted vagrants to negotiate past, trying to avoid contact, possibly disease.

Sometime last year Minister Hazel Manning swore she’d rid the streets of these unfortunate souls. I warned her that I’d heard better cocks crow. Now she knows. They will still be around when she sits in her sky-high new office, staring at squalor not only in Sea Lots, but also at the ’slumdogs’ on the sidewalks and almost anywhere else she turns.

You cannot have a country that has earned around $200 billion in revenue over the past five years, but still cannot provide basic standards of living for its population of 1.3 million. If we exclude the ten, twenty thousand ‘lochos’ who are content to live in squalor, what of those brimming with national pride who have no hope of having decent roofs over their heads?

The HDC, as I commented recently, seems to have a strange selection process in which deserving cases for national housing die before they see a key. Yet known criminals hold priority over hard working young families: how in Jah’s name could that be just?

Minister Hunt, in reflecting on the anger that flag has provoked should scan the increasing number of street children who stalk the nation’s highways and byways. How can a giant flag, sited at a venue they know nothing of and will never have the money to enter, engender pride in them?

How can Hunt or any of his Cabinet colleagues justify their smugness at weekly Cabinet-defensive-talk-diatribes, knowing that thousands of children go to sleep on makeshift ‘beds’, not to add empty stomachs? What would one or two or ten million-dollar flags do for their national pride?I’ll tell him what. They will harbour intense hatred for those who squander their patronage on endless metres of cloth, while they suffer for lack of clothes. And they will come after us, matters not whether we care about them or we ignore them. Watch out for the wrath of those children. They will take pride in snuffing out lives of the innocent and the guilty.

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