Fellow citizens, residents and visitors,
I greet you once again as we celebrate 39 years of nationhood. On this day of jubilation, we thank God for the bountiful mercies that He has bestowed upon us since we embarked on this journey on the 19th of September, 1983. His matchless love, guidance and direction have been a beacon and inspiration to us over the 39 years.
For every citizen of St. Christopher and Nevis, at home and abroad, today is a very special day and, for some, even sacred. It is a day of introspection, when we reflect with great delight and satisfaction on what we have been able to accomplish with hard work, self-belief and self-reliance. It is a time when we celebrate the accomplishment of our citizens in all of their human endeavours. It is a very special day when our patriotism soars and we adorn our workplaces, schools, neighbourhoods and homes with the colours of the flag with great pride and enthusiasm.
Independence, however, is a much broader concept. It is neither fixed nor finite- it is a constant and dynamic journey. For us, it is the culmination of centuries of struggle from slavery to emancipation, from emancipation to nationhood. On this day, we honour our ancestors, who displayed uncommon valor and who sacrificed greatly in their noble quest for liberty and self-determination. They refused to compromise or settle for personal gain; they were committed to a free and sovereign St. Kitts and Nevis. Our celebration today is a tribute to all those who fought for our freedom and may the fruits of their labour never be taken for granted.
Our independence this year is being celebrated under the theme ‘Refocus, Re-create, Redesign: Independence 39′. This theme is quite appropriate since it reflects the realities of our time. We are living in a world which is changing at a neck-breaking and dizzying pace. We are forced to constantly adjust our approach and response to challenges and adversities. For the past three years almost, we have been stymied by a pandemic that wreaked havoc globally. It is now time for us to refocus, re-create and redesign if we are to rebound and move beyond this dreaded scourge.
As a nation, we have made tremendous strides over our 39 years of nationhood. Prior to our independence, our economy was largely agrarian. Today, not only are we promoting food security through increased food production but we have diversified our economy through tourism, financial services, and now a movie industry. We are now on the cusp of realizing our aspiration of a renewable energy sector, which will become a reliable pillar of our local economy.
Before independence, our social sector was haphazard and, at times, even comatose. Thirty-nine years on, we have a vibrant and nimble social safety net that responds to the needs of our elderly, poor, indigent, marginalized and at-risk. We have earned respect and admiration for the progress that we have made in health and education.
As a colony, our infrastructure was fragmented and solely facilitated the economic and political ambitions of our colonizers. Today, our development is people-centered. The services of our roads, water and electricity reflect the needs and aspirations of our people. Prior to nationhood, our ambition of home ownership went largely unfulfilled. Thirty-nine years later, home ownership, for many of us, is no longer an unfulfilled dream- it is a reality.
Our 39 years of nationhood have not always been filled with roses and rainbows, but rather, our journey, at times, has been mired with challenges. Like our ancestors, we have never allowed our challenges to define or overwhelm us. On the contrary, with a strong and abiding faith in God, we have confronted our challenges with courage and confidence, knowing that our resilience, resourcefulness and resolve will see us through.
Today we are still plagued by many of these challenges or the threat of them. These include crime, natural disasters, debt and diseases. In confronting these challenges, we must exploit the vast resource of our inner being that we possess. I speak of that resolve and tenacity that has defined us over the years. Our self-confidence and our robust determination to excel and succeed.
It is these resources of inner wealth that have made a difference over the years. These resources have ensured that we triumph and overcome all adversities. It is these resources that have kept alive our hope for a better today and a greater tomorrow.
Fellow citizens, the 19th of September, 1983, was a watershed moment in our nation’s history. It meant that we now had our own national anthem and flag, the title of our head of state was changed from Governor to Governor General and the title of our head of Government was changed from Premier to Prime Minister. Nevertheless, our independence is much more than the changing of titles, symbols, emblems or passports. The true essence of our independence is the liberation of our consciousness, the decolonization of our minds or, as Bob Marley puts it, the ’emancipation of ourselves from mental slavery’. It requires that we shape our own future and craft our own destiny. The essence of our independence means that, as a proud and strong people, we accept and respect our own – our local products, our food, our clothing, our entertainment, our way of life. It means that we disregard the notion that anything foreign is better than what we produce. True independence means that we remain faithful to the pursuit of excellence in all of our endeavours and, as our motto admonishes, we must put our country above ourselves.
Let us therefore resolve to create a shared prosperity for all who call Nevis their home; et us resolve to turn our challenges into opportunities; let us resolve to create a more peaceful, equal and just society. Let us resolve to play our part in writing a new and inspiring history of hope and optimism for St. Kitts and Nevis.
I close by asking God to give us the foresight and fortitude needed to continue our national odyssey. I have a deep abiding faith in the ability of all Nevisians to contribute to the success and prosperity of our island and our nation. I do believe that greatness is ours and our best days are yet ahead.
Happy Independence all and may God continue to be our mainstay and our guide as we navigate the journey ahead together as a people.