Race to Self Determination

by Colin Fergus

Unfortunate is how I would describe the question “Is multicolour Montserrat better than monochrome Montserrat?” posted on the HM Governor’s Office in Montserrat Facebook page. Unfortunate because of the socio-political environment in which it was posted. Unfortunate because it misses the cause of the tension. This question may have been more reasonable in this racially charged environment, such as we have now, if the issues of the day were simply about, out and out racism. What we have is much more nuanced than a simple question of colour. There is the question of the right to self-determination which is underlying the issue here as well.

For sure, racism particularly of the institutional variety exists in Montserrat, normally does not affect us in a way that matters to the citizenry of the island. However, in recent times it has reared its ugly head and has been stoked up in the political discourse. Should racism in Montserrat be tackled? Absolutely! However, it is not the root of the issue in Montserrat today.

There has been much discussion on the recruitment of a new Financial Secretary, the role of Technical Cooperation Officers, the relationship of the Montserrat and United Kingdom governments all against the backdrop of the budget and economic activity and performance. Allegations of corruption along with poor governance arrangements have also tinted the canvas. Not surprisingly, the role of the Governor has come into question as well. These are all contributing factors each requiring exploration on their own.

Writing back in 2003 about Montserrat and the Cayman Islands, Sir Howard Fergus penned the following:

While the citizens of these territories generally desire some devolution of the Governor’s authority on to the elected government (rather more so in Montserrat) consonant with greater democratisation, they are also conscious of the need for checks and balances on the government. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the relative disinterest in independence stems partly from lack of trust in local politicians, which can also be interpreted as a lack of self-confidence. The irony is that this attitude feeds the self-same colonialism which may have fostered the self-doubt in the first place. There is thus an ambivalence about constitutional modernisation in the BOTs in the region.

There is a number of instances where citizens are demanding that the Governor go beyond mere consultation of the CM and involve him more directly as a partner in governance. This would be an increment in greater local autonomy.

One needs to emphasise that constitutional modernisation goes beyond a reduction of the authority of the Governor. It also is about the promulgation of fundamental rights and popular participation in governance.

When we come to internalise the aspiration of our Territorial Song where it speaks of being, “Triumphant masters of our fate” or the Preamble to the Montserrat Constitution Order 2010,

Whereas the people of Montserrat are entitled to preserve for themselves and future generations the fundamental rights and freedoms to which they are entitled by virtue of their inherent dignity as persons and as citizens of a free and democratic society;

Believing in the concept of true democracy with free and fair elections;

Acknowledging that their society is founded on social justice, moral and spiritual principles, democratic values and respect for fundamental human rights and the equitable distribution of resources, the rule of law and the supremacy of God;

Recalling their desire for a Constitution which reflects these values and their aspirations for social justice, economic empowerment and political advancement;

Recognising their inherent right to pursue their hopes, visions, aspirations and their right to self determination;

We may then be on our way to looking pass the business of who we like or not, who did us wrong and realising that it is together we rise or fall.

It is for us as a people to insist that the application of powers granted by laws and constitutional provisions be considered in the light of the United Kingdom Parliaments Statutory Instrument 2010 No. 2474 Caribbean and North Atlantic Territories, The Montserrat Constitution Order 2010, Section 2. “Whereas the realisation of the right to self-determination must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations; …” Until then we will remain an enslaved and colonised people mentally, socially and economically. We must cast off self-doubt and become “A people striving under God, Their spirits free forevermore.”

So, where we are now, is not about colour (race), it is about our aspirations as a people. We’ve come a long way since, The Most Excellent William Henry Bramble, ONH, called on to us saying, “Listen to me, you landless people, you people, the industrial machinery of this country, arise, and throw off the yoke that binds you like slaves to the Wade Plantation.” Yet, we seem today to be more bound to the plantation than back then.


Recommended Reading

Constitutional Modernisation in Montserrat and the Cayman Islands: Taking the British Seriously? Howard A. Fergus

Factors Which Should Be Taken into Account in Deciding Whether a Territory Is or Is Not a Territory Whose People Not Yet Attained a Full Measure of Self-Government Resolution 742 (VIII)

Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples
General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV)

General Assembly Resolution defining the three options for self-determination
General Assembly Resolution 1541 (XV)

Declaration on Principles of international Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations Resolution 2625 (XXV)

Montserrat Constitution Order 2010 (SI 2010 No 2474)