Fifty years of political independence, and the basic elements of nationhood are in place: the flag, the anthem, the army, public broadcasting facilities and a political system that is democratic in nature. Operationally, parties transit in and out of government in a peaceful manner, through free and fair elections in which the electorate exercises its right to elect and dismiss parties and governments through the ballot box. As has been proven time and again, the judiciary operates in a manner that demonstrates its independence of any government and dispenses justice deemed to be fair. Business enterprise has grown up using the market system. A business sector has emerged and broadened from the traditional elites, with space for those with ambition and drive to do business successfully. The education system has undoubtedly worked as a springboard for social and economic mobility for broad groups of people to advance themselves and their families. Public health facilities exist, even though and like other aspects of life, they are far from the ideal of a nation blessed with as much wealth as this one has. Along the route of the 50-year journey, it was not always assured that this society would successfully navigate the inherent obstacles of being an independent country in an interdependent world. Indeed, there remain today many who doubt the capacity of the post-colonial society ever to successfully take on the responsibility that independence brought with it.
However, the people of Trinidad and Tobago and their leaders have shown their resolve and capacity to grasp the nettle posed by the first Prime Minister and now accepted Father of the Nation, Dr Eric Williams, to work towards achieving a culture of “Discipline, Tolerance and Production.” But as most would readily acknowledge, the journey towards the objective of creating a nation and a civilisation able to cope with the demands of 21st-century living is far from being complete. There remain many stress lines and structural deficiencies in the State and in the relationships amongst the people of T&T. The political analysts and ordinary people expressing common sense know that constitutional reform and the modernisation of the means by which the nation governs itself are long outstanding. So too, is it well appreciated that succeeding governments and the private sector have not been able to transform the old one-horse economy left behind by the British government into a diversified and resilient base able to withstand the economic pressures of the times. That surely requires a shift to reliance on the nation to achieve the outstanding objectives of independence.
Socially and in real human terms, the society has held together, notwithstanding strains and stresses, and what can be considered the natural tendencies of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society to tug at times in different directions. At a human level, people still live side by side with each other in villages, towns and urbanised population centres in peace and harmony. This is an achievement which influenced a celebrated visitor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to refer to T&T as a “rainbow people.” On the eve of independence, August 30, 1962, in his now famous address to the Independence Day Rally at the Queen’s Park Oval, Dr Williams told children: “You in your schools have, like the nation in general, only two alternatives—you can learn to live together in peace; or you fight it out and destroy one another. The second one makes no sense and is sheer barbarism.” Today, that admonition remains relevant and has application even amongst groups of citizens who share basic characteristics of race and class. That is one of the challenges facing Trinidad and Tobago as it embarks on its next 50 years.