Grenada’s revolution and what Africa can learn from it


By Yahaya Ba

Netflix is in many ways like, and  It can be a useful tool, or a big distraction. You have the choice of watching mundane entertainment which can bring about a couple of chuckles, and a few other emotions. Or you have the choice of searching for content that may very well shake your very core.  When I stumbled upon one called The House on Coco Road,I did not expect that it would start a researching journey that is still occurring to this very day.  The film is about an African descendant born in America who happened to be an activist.  She had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with Angela Davis.  She was fortunate enough to travel to places where reform was underway. The place that left the most impact on her being was a then insignificant Caribbean backwater known as Grenada.  She was so compelled by the physical changes occurring there that she decided to move to Grenada.  She was eager to assist in the revolutionary process. Unfortunately, her objectives were short lived due to the incursions of imperialism, capitalist propaganda, and a coupe de etat,which returned Grenada to the colonial mold. This aside, I feel that I am obligated to tell the story of how a small Caribbean Island had the guts to face off against the big bad United States, and Great Britain.

Grenada like other Caribbean, and Latin American places, is an island that is the adoptive homeland of many of our long-lost African brothers and sisters separated from us through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. As an English Colony, it was just a cash crop supplier to Great Britain.  In the year of 1974, Grenada gained its independence. As usual though, imperialism was not done with the island. The first Prime Minister Eric Gairy was nothing more than a member of the petit bourgeoisie who would spread the crumbs around to only those in his inner circle. When it came to the needs of his citizens he was eyes shut. Anybody who opposed the status quo was basically the walking dead.  In 1979, this order of the day would be turned upside down.

Maurice Rupert Bishop was a Grenadian revolutionary and the leader of New Jewel Movement.

The orchestrator of this was a London trained lawyer named Maurice Bishop.  With a couple of like-minded cadres, he overthrew Eric Gairy and put Grenada on a new path. The once small insignificant island now had a big target on its head.  This target became magnified more as the colonial yoke started shrinking.

Many activists, both in Grenada and worldwide, were inspired by the movement’s call for a populist socialism.

Maurice Bishop was a charismatic, forward thinking, creative, modest, and practical thinking leader. His desire was to provide his subjects with services, and solutions that would give them a life of dignity, freedom, and prosperity.  He was people’s needs first, his needs last.  His revolutionary objectives were those things looked at as necessities in more developed countries. Health care, education, housing, modes of production, and even private enterprise all received his Midas touch.  As a result of this, unemployment dropped from 50% to 14%, food imports dropped for 28% to 14%, and literacy went up from 85% to 98%.  The most impressive thing in all this, was the fact that common people actually had a say in what they wanted to see done. They were able to participate in the building of their nation literally.  People were actually now proud of their small island, proud of participation, proud that they were taking part in the change they wanted to see. As it usually goes, Maurice Bishops’ allies were imperialism’s sworn enemies. He built alliances with Libya, Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Mozambique, and the eastern countries.  These relationships provided him with the necessary help to continue the momentum of building his country.  Sound in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and tradition, he took the parts of those theories that would benefit his people’s plight.  Fearing that other surrounding Caribbean island’s would follow this route, Britain and the United States began a destabilization campaign.   President Regan even went as far as to call Grenada “a soviet outpost, a Marxist virus, and a global base for communism.” Using some disenfranchised elements of the revolution, the imperialist extinguished the revolutionary fire in Grenada.  In 1983, Maurice Bishop and others loyal to him were executed by firing squad.  A United States invasion followed.  The pre-revolutionary order of the day was now re-established.

Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Maurice Bishop (Grenada) and Fidel Castro (Cuba)

Africa can learn many lessons from the Grenadian revolution. One of those lessons is size does not matter.   You can be as small as Gambia and can still make a big difference in building a developed, progressive country.  The second lesson is self-sufficiency. China is bombarding the continent with food imports, of the lowest cheapest quality. This undermines Africa’s very foundation. Agriculture is basically synonymous with being an African. If Africa does not produce more of what Africans consume, the continent will only be cutting the head off of one its economic sources.  The third lesson is make friends with whoever you want to. These days African leaders seem to feel obligated to align themselves with former colonizers who have no interest in seeing an African country develop.  African leaders should ask themselves “what if a place that is not necessarily a friend of the west can be an ally to me?”  They should do this without the slightest hint of fear of reactions from imperialist countries.  The most important lesson I would say is people’s power. Empowering people will lead to love from your people. If African people are empowered, there will be no need for Africans to risk their lives going elsewhere in search of greener pastures. During Maurice Bishop’s rule, the only time Grenadians would go abroad would be for study, or holidays. They did not choose to be indebted to a smuggler who may very well harm your close ones if the payments are not made. It would take me a whole entire book to write down what Africa can learn from the episode of Grenada’s revolution. If Africa looked across the Atlantic to this previous example, the plight of African people may be a bit different than it is now.

Yahaya Ba is a freelance writer based in the United States. He writes on self-determination and community development for Africa and African communities around the world.

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