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VI: Reflecting, Preparing & Positioning for the Future

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander (British), an amateur freelance writer, and a graduate of Florida A&M University. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

The Sankofa (word from the Akan tribe in Ghana) bird, a mythical African bird, flies forward while looking backward. Visually and symbolically, its posture signifies reflecting and understanding the past and preparing for the present while positioning for the future collectively.

The VI is in crisis, an existential situation, and in the most critical period in its history. Consequently, it requires robust, holistic, and cohesive collective, cooperative and collaborative reflecting, preparing (planning), and positioning as it resets its compass, charts, and plots a new direction by adopting perhaps the posture of the Sankofa bird.


The Virgin Islands (VI),  a close and friendly neighbor of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, is a small chain of islands (59 square miles, 36 islands)  that were neglected and almost forgotten. The colonialists treated it as a little sleepy hollow, and poverty-stricken. In the post-Emancipation era, they bolted from the territory, supposedly quipping that the VI was only useful as a bird sanctuary. During the Age of Discovery and Exploration, the Spanish, French, Dutch, and English battled for supremacy over the VI; the English had had complete control of the VI since 1672. Under the English (UK), the VI cycled through the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, and political status as a colony, dependent territory, and now an overseas territory of the UK with some self-governing autonomy. The lack of and shortage of fundamental human rights, democratic practices, freedoms,  availability of essential services, injustices, inequalities, etc., was commonplace.

Consequently, many warriors, i.e., Christopher Flemings, Theodolph Faulkner, Isacc Glanville "Glanny" Fonseca, Carlton de Castro, and Noel Lloyd/Positive Action Movement, among others, were motivated to advocate and agitate gallantly for and sacrifice much to fight for and improve the lives and livelihoods of Virgin Islanders. Their efforts were fruitful. For example, led by Theodolph Faulkner, The Great March of November 1949 resulted in a) the Legislature, suspended in 1901,  reactivated in 1950, b) instituting a 1950 constitution, c) local Virgin Islanders permitted to vote directly for some representatives to the Legislature for the first time in 1950, d) universal suffrage 1954, etc. Other constitutional changes occurred in 1967, 1976, and 2007. The 1967 constitution ushered in ministerial government, providing a measure of self-governing. After the 1967 General Election, Hamilton Lavity Stout was appointed as the first Chief Minister.

Moreover, post the colonialists' flight out of the territory, leaving it as a bird sanctuary, the slaves and their descendants, lacking other opportunities, employed the land they acquired to develop a peasants' economy. They engage in livestock rearing, growing ground provision, other agricultural items, fishing, trading, and boat building. The local economy was a subsistence agricultural economy.

Ministerial Government and Progress

With the rollout of the ministerial government and a measure of self-governing and under the leadership of the late former Chief Minister H. Lavity Stout and other leaders, the economic, social, cultural, and political institutions improved and expanded. The economy transitioned from subsistence agriculture to a  service-based economy---tourism and financial services, starting in the 1960s. The transition created new jobs, skill sets, and an increasing demand for skilled and unskilled labor;  the shift required imported labor due to labor shortage. Today, it has one of the highest standards of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the Caribbean region.

Struggles & Setbacks

The VI encountered some turbulence along the growth path from a little sleepy hollow and bird sanctuary to having one of the highest standards of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the Caribbean region. It stumbled and tumbled, twisting it sideways. The stumbles and tumbles adversely impact its social, economic, and political institutions. For example, its constitution is within a hair's breadth of being suspended, and direct rule imposed. The stone-cold truth is that the UK employed an order in council process and suspended its constitution. However, the suspended constitution is being held in abeyance like the Sword of Damocles over the head of the VI, pending the implementation of Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom's Commission of Inquiry (CoI)recommendations. The suspended constitution is being used as insurance to implement CoI recommendations. The VI's ship of state ran hard aground. What caused the grounding, and what actions will it take to float and free the ship?

Causes & Actions

`Seemingly, some causes that may have contributed to the VI ship running aground were a) lack of structured goals and objectives setting, b) less than robust planning, organising, and directing, c) inadequate  procedures and policies development, implementation, and execution, d)inadequate oversight, e) prioritisation (David Allen: "You can do anything but not everything."), f) bureaucratic inertia and civil service management, g)elected officials' adherence to "collective responsibility," h) ineffective prioritisation of budget resources to attain maximum efficiency, i) pollical patronage and clientelism, j) low civic engagement, k) lack of a systematic creative destruction process, l) Westminster system flaws(separation of powers doctrine) and unique governing practices, m) too little engagement by the crown representative (referee), etc. The following statement may be a hash take for some voters, but voters must shoulder some of the blame for the ship running aground; voters must take a peek in the mirror. Eligible/registered voters vote to send representatives to the House of Assembly to represent them and have the responsibility to hold them accountable. It has the responsibility to hold them responsible not just for the few minutes it takes to vote every four years but also for the length of the term. The people, not others, must coalesce to float and free the ship. However, there is apparent division among the populace on the way forward. The people must avoid falling prey to the old, tried, and successful colonial strategies and tactics of divide and rule. Without unity, the ship will stay grounded. Too much is at stake to get riveted in playing the blame game- the territory's direction is at stake. It is time to set aside differences, get hitched to the wagon, and start pulling together with a common purpose.

Unity is strength. Kenyan Proverb: "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable." Unknown:" Teamwork is the ability to work towards a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organisational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to obtain uncommon results." Every group needs a leader(s), and it is time for a leader to emerge to lead the charge. The VI is in a renewal mode; it is a new day, a renaissance, etc., so the new leader must bring a new mission, vision, value, and virtues;  new approaches, ideas, tools, plans, etc., to build a sustainable, resilient path forward. Floating and freeing the ship of state will entail some creative destruction actions that may make some unhappy but are needed. Any new leader must get the buy-in of a majority of the PEOPLE, the key stakeholders, on their plan of action and milestones.

Moreover, like the Sankofa bird, the VI people must plan for the future while reflecting on the past. The VI stumbles and tumbles, incurring some failures, but it must lean forward and fail forward, learn from its failures, and capitalise on them. The VI recovering and getting back on track for a brighter tomorrow will require all its residents to work collectively, cooperatively, and collaboratively to steady the grounded ship. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: "If you don't change direction, you might end up where you are going."

11 Responses to “VI: Reflecting, Preparing & Positioning for the Future”

  • @ mr E ???? (03/11/2022, 18:47) Like (1) Dislike (2) Reply
    YEAH , HIP HIP HOOOORAY / another canary , who has a problem with the truth / stop playing withh the people's mind . are you and his holiness ( csc ) related ??? ????
    • Troll (04/11/2022, 20:58) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
      It seems as if you get a high trolling people with your finger scrolling off a blackboard with your annoying ALL CAPS rant. Write a commentary of your own on whatever you rant about.
  • RealPol (03/11/2022, 21:30) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    Indeed, the BVI is in crisis, an existential situation . Nevertheless, the territory is deeply divided and polarized, showing indifference to the exigency of the situation and the urgency needed to address the problem. National unity and strong leadership are needed to lead the territory out of the current hole it is in. The politics as usual, of yesterday, is a non-starter. A new plan is needed.
  • Mustang (04/11/2022, 04:13) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Good read with an informative historical recap, progress, struggles and tumbles, and the challenge of charting a new path forward. Agree that the country is divided, handicapping its ability to smoothly and progressively move forward.
  • Real Sambo (04/11/2022, 14:12) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    The English/British/UK during slavery and colonialism in the colonies of its vast Empire mastered the art of divide and rule. In the slave era, they played the house negroes against the yard negroes and field negroes, and the yard negroes against the field negroes. Whenever a freedom plot was plot, a Sambo would always snitch to massa. Politically, colonialism was a politics of exclusion, a zero sum game. The Brits masterfully pitted groups against each other. It would support one group over the others on the condition it remained beholden to them (Brits). The divide and rule poisoned and infected many in the BVI community. Many in the community bring cum carry, ie, they were news carriers and carried news to Mount Olympus on fellow Virgin Islanders. A typical example is the egregious behavior of some among the religious group that met with UK reps after the release of the CoI and the arrest of the former Premier. The people and politicians are not getting a free pass on their behavior and they deserve some blows (not physically). They played a role in driving the BVI into the quagmire that it is in. Who is the Joseph, the Mandela, Noel, Lavity, Mia, Angela, etc, who will emerge to lead the BVI out of the quagmire?????
    • Norris Turnbull (05/11/2022, 08:21) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
      It would be great to see a person you wish for appear, but the behaviour of a lot in these Virgin Islands makes it seem like a fleeting illusion to be pursued. It's worth the try with serious minded, committed and patriotic individuals who's integrity cannot be negotiated with the highest bidder.
      • @Norris Turnbull (05/11/2022, 16:41) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
        @Nortis Turnbull, the person you wish for will eventually emerge. He/she must emerge. One ram goat cannot stop the show, the show must keep on rolling, rolling…. The BVI is operating like a plane in distress and in a holding pattern, trying to find a soft landing when a soft landing is not a highly probable action. There is a void of leadership void and potential leaders are fearful and uncertain of stepping forward. They are cowards and are sunny leaders, not inclement weather leaders. Where are the political parties, ie, Progressive United, PVIM, UP, NDP, and VIP? Political parties are a farce. The system structure set things up so that there is a rotation between two parties. The people are to blame for the BVI situation, for they sit back and see wrong and turn a blind eye, fearing that they lose the scraps falling from the table. In the meantime, the territory crash and burn. But one ram goat cannot stop the show, for the show must continue to roll, roll…
  • Eagle & Buffalo (05/11/2022, 03:29) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, you mentioned the Sankofa bird whose posture demonstrated the unique ability of flying forward while looking backwards. Symbolically, this means focusing on the past to plan for the future. This is an ideal posture for an effective leader. Talking about leadership, another bird comes to mind—the Eagle. The Eagle is strong and not afraid to lead. In a flock of eagles, different eagles are constantly assuming the leadership position. Though the eagle is a solitary bird;it is also familial; they stick together in unity as a family. Unity is another great posture as a leader. The BVI political tectonic plates have collided exposing numerous fault lines, especially the unilateral power of the UK. Another fault line exposed is the deep division and polarization among the BVI people. Yet another fault line is the structural weakness of political parties and the paucity of strong political leaders. It has been months since the earth shattering revelations of the one-sided Commission of Inquiry which exposed the structural weaknesses of the local government while hiding or downplaying the structural failures of the UK representatives, ie, successive Governors, CoPs, Civil Service, Internal Security, etc. It has also been months since the arrest of the former Premier and former Managing Director of the Port. Yet to date no strong, formidable leader has emerge to grasp the leadership helm. Further, the two major political parties—-NDP & VIP—are in shambles. A constitutionally due election should occur within a few short months yet except for a few candidates announcing their intent to run the political campaign is DEAD. Silence is the word. No manifestos. No slate of party district and at large candidates. Though it has been an open secret, one reality resulting from the Commission of Inquiry revelations (though one-sided) and the arrests is the unilateral power of the Governor and the continual existence of colonialism; the politics of colonialism has always been exclusion. The UK is using its divide and rule strategy, an effective tool, play, it has used for centuries in its vast Empire/colonies. But the BVI people division are blinding them to the reality. The BVI people better awake from their slumber, unite, ditch the self-hatred, engaged in self-help, ditch the dependency, regain the rugged individualism, and chart a new path forward. No one can protect Virgin Islanders’ interest better than Virgin Islanders.

    Good proactive read as always

    [Let’ s lead like eagles, not careen off the cliff like buffaloes.
  • Ne Timeas (06/11/2022, 08:33) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    The governing foundation was under design and the users, the government, crown, and the people failed to provide adequate vigilant maintenance. The designers failed to account for increasing demand loading of political, economic, environmental, social and cultural stressors. And as a result, the governing foundation fractured and collapsed under its own dead weight and beyond repair and must be reconstructed. The architect and engineers must have the requisite knowledge, skill, ability and experience. It is critical in the new design that the new architects and engineers, consultants, and advisors consult with the major shareholders, customers, PEOPLE. The governing foundation/structure constructed and in addition to the built in checks and balances, the PEOPLE must get civically engaged in monitoring and holding the hired operators responsible and accountable. The old governing foundation collapsed and a new, stronger, more durable and flexible foundation is urgently constructed. Wanted: New engineers and architects. The PROPLE are waiting anxiously to interview qualified applicants.
  • @Ne Timeas (06/11/2022, 12:07) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply

    The fractured and collapsed foundation, and architects and engineers analogy is way over the head of most of us. It is over mind. I think I got. Bring it down to the street. The damn government needs to do the job it was elected to, the people needs to get off their lazy, handout begging @&&& and get engaged in holding government responsible and accountable.. To the Crown, it is 2022 and slavery, colonialism, racial prejudice and discrimination, are history or so we taught. Take that attitude back to your cold flat in the UK. Stop the hating and thinking that whatever Black people is too good for them, even their hope and dreams and they are so ‘chupid’ and always brown nosing and kissing massa’s @*s. Stop it for is unhealthy.

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