A friend from Montserrat recently posted a comment on his Facebook page which said: Newsflash: Census shows that the island on which I live has about 4,500 people of which only 1,800 are nationals....mmmmm we're out numbered
In response, a fellow countryman presented a measured approach to the population imbalance on the Island, in stating:
Don't worry my friend, in 20 years time the numbers will say something different because all the children through those years will be born Montserratians. Just like how your children don't know anything about Plymouth, St. Patricks, Harris etc. So will their children also know nothing of Jamaica, Guyana, India etc. All things will be equal then, time, in time and with time. You'll see.
According to the Montserrat Statistics Department, initial results from the 2011 Census, conducted in May, shows a de facto population for the island of 4, 882 persons. The follow up comments around the announcement were fairly muted. I suppose this was so because the census data did not yield any great surprises.
So, Montserratians are outnumbered, more non-nationals than nationals. Reflecting, as I was today on the census numbers, it brought to my mind some familiar themes as it concerns the future and the redevelopment of the land of my birth.
Many persons have written and spoken with eloquence over the years about the redevelopment of Montserrat. I too, in my practice of the Fourth Estate have dished my views on the same subject, as my passion and belief in the potential brilliance of Montserrat's future is relentless. However, I found there was a dilemma.
4, 882 persons is essentially a fully-fledged company. Yet, on Montserrat, 16 years on from the start of the volcanic crisis the course of the island's progress, has often to me, seemed dimmed and repressed. I was once occupied trying to understand exactly why? There is that emotive side of me that bleeds with despair for the opportunities that abound on the island but yet still the stagnation that seems to seep through appears so well entrenched. I am somewhat ashamed, not of my country, as patriotism swells through my bones but ashamed of some of the figure heads who have been charged over the last 16 years to set Montserrat right, and have failed in that task.
Excuses will surface for sure; it is the nature of politics. In the hunt for votes and popularity, no one wants to take the blame. So what we have heard is blame casted towards The Department for International Development (DFID), the FCO and the British Government. The list can be enlarged but for me, it is not about blame, it is about accountability.
Why, with just under 5000 people, it is taking so long for Montserrat to be set on a course due for progress? External forces do play a part, I do not deny that, but I would suggest that their roles are a fraction of the whole when weighed against the input of Montserrat's own people. I have been churning it in my mind and my frightening conclusion seems to be pointing towards Montserratians working as a collective unit have not championed effectively, our own progress.
I believe in people power' and its impact on the political process. I support the ideology that development is about people. Politicians will clamour for the spotlight during the big moments to trump what they have achieved. Who cares and who should, if these achievements have not benefitted the greater population? Where is the growth coming from, top down or bottom up? Where Montserrat is now in our redevelopment is still far behind where the island should have been, say ten years ago.
Looking towards politicians as the saving grace is not the answer. Frankly, I am more inclined that Montserratians should demand that elected officials be better facilitators to empower the people whom they serve, to deliver the change and progress that Montserrat needs, and not be entrapped by politics, bureaucracy, personalities and process.
I have been accused in the past of being anti-government. Far from it. I only believe that in the practice of The Fourth Estate, Journalists must be free to express dissent if there be a need for it. It becomes very unfortunate for the checks and balances on any government to be effective when opposition to policy is deemed to be anti-government. That speaks to a totalitarian style of governance. With 4, 882 persons, Montserrat's future has no place for it. To paraphrase calypsonian, David Rudder, in his classic hit, 'One More Officer', "This isn't Cuba! This is Montserrat!"
I once wrote about the need for what I termed A BIG THINK. The idea being that a programme of engagement, utilising all available media and communication mediums should be enacted to engage Montserratians, both at home and abroad towards determining what is required to move Montserrat forward. It will take planning and dedicated enthusiasm in its execution for it to be successful but I still feel it has merit and may yet be a useful exercise.
I struggle to see the long-term sustainability that can be achieved with the population remaining below five thousand with 4,882 persons. Population growth should be pushed further to the top of the re-development strategy. However, the imbalance that exists now, with Montserratians being outnumbered, must not be overlooked and politicians should not be left to solely determine the future make-up of Montserrat's population to their own designs. Nationals, especially those abroad should not be sidelined because of an unwritten policy of exclusion. Montserrat needs population but also there is a need to engage the pool of talent and skilled Montserratians who live abroad, towards igniting growth, development and change, to light a brighter path for future generations.
Photo Credit To Montserrat Volcano