The purpose of nation-building is to: “inculcate a feeling of belonging and with it, accountability and responsible behaviour.” (National Planning Commission, Republic of South Africa). At the time this statement was fashioned, Nelson Mandela held the reins of government. South Africa was returning from an abyss of deadly strife and everyone had apprehensions about the future.
While none would claim a perfect outcome, there is no denying that the declaration of intent made a positive impact on South Africa and the world. A key point of emphasis is that a nation’s soul and spirit was exposed and in need of healing. Nation-building seeks to get beyond intractability. It must also be done intentionally.
Barbados is in need of nation-building. There is great intractability as competing interests seek advantage in their own self-interest at the expense of accountability. While much of the discussion is centered on economic issues, the interpretive comments and questions give insights about what Barbadians perceive as truly Barbadian.
Since this is a small, island-nation; should political patronage and incestuous business ties be the norm? Since the sugar industry is no longer dominant, how can manufacturing and agro-processing survive? Since our colonial masters established certain systems that were configured for important decisions be determined by a ruling class; how can we transform our leaders’ mind-set to one of transparent accountability? Since there is a general abhorrence of being perceived as servile, how can we transform all persons to a recognition that delivering excellent service, requires skill and dedication which is a valuable asset to the nation?
Somehow, I am reminded of the Biblical story of Jonah. When I was growing up, it was known as “Jonah and the whale” and there was much speculation about how such a thing could occur. Now, a richer, more instructive perspective emerges. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn them that they were destroying themselves by ignoring what God taught them to do. Jonah, who was a prophet with very persuasive powers, had an intense dislike for Nineveh and its people, and sought to run away from God by sailing in the opposite direction.
Those familiar with the story, will know that God caused a frightening storm that imperiled the ship, Jonah was identified as the reason and thrown overboard. It is particularly telling to hear Jonah describe the “waves and billows” passing over him, “the deep closing around” him and “seaweed twining around” his head; as he sank into oblivion. He prayed earnestly and vowed to do as he was told.
Barbados has experienced great prosperity in its relative youth as a nation. During that time, it was known for its Christian values and ethics. This acknowledgement is enshrined in the lyrics of Barbados’ national anthem:” The Lord has been the people’s guide, for past three hundred years”.
Jonah’s story has an ironic twist. His three-day experience in the belly of the big fish made him more aware of the cost of disobeying God. When he warned Nineveh they had 40 days to repent, the general populace felt the urgency and did so. They even caused the king to embrace the transformation (Jonah 3:6-8) and they were saved.
Each person can decide how this story applies to you. A universal commitment to nation-building can be our redeeming act of contrition.