Joshua, Ebenezer

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Joshua, Ebenezer

May 23, 1908
March 14, 1991

The prominent Caribbean political leader Ebenezer Theodore Joshua was born in Kingstown, the capital city of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He received an elementary school education, participated in overseas matriculation exercises, and worked as a primary school teacher, then as a lawyer's clerk, before migrating to other parts of the Caribbean. He ended up in Trinidad, where he became enamored of the politics of Tubal Uriah Butler, a charismatic Caribbean leader for whose party Joshua performed creditably in the national elections of 1950.

Returning to Saint Vincent in 1951, Joshua was invited to join the United Workers and Rate Payers Union, which was about to launch a political assault on colonial Saint Vincent using the leverage that adult suffrage offered. He became part of the union's Eighth Army of Liberation, a political party that captured all eight seats in the first elections held under universal adult suffrage in 1951. Joshua won a seat for the North Windward constituency.

Joshua broke away from the Eighth Army in 1952 and formed the People's Political Party (PPP), which included a trade-union wing, the Federated Industrial and Agricultural Workers Union (FIAWU). Using the vehicle of the PPP-FIAWU, Joshua emerged as a powerful figure who bestrode the political stage during a critical time in the development of the country. His contributions to the shaping and molding of modern Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are incalculable. "Papa Josh," as he was known, was active in political service from 1951 to 1979, a period that began with the establishment of adult suffrage and ended with independence.

Joshua's political career can be neatly divided into three periods: 1951 to 1960, 1961 to 1970, and 1971 to 1979. His greatest achievement occurred during the first period, when he lifted the level of political awareness of the person-in-the-street, raising social consciousness to new heights. But when confronted by stark choices, the second phase saw Joshua reneging on his early promise, seeking out the lines of weakest resistance, and setting himself on a course leading to decline, which accelerated in the third period of his career, as the integrity and fortunes of the PPP took a turn for the worst and the leadership finally lost all credibility.

During the 1950s Joshua was in his element. He acted as the tribune of the people, championing their every cause. Living the simplest of lives, he rode his bicycle and, with his wife Ivy, walked from village to village preaching the gospel of anticolonial politics and spreading the word of militant trade unionism. Joshua held regular Wednesday night meetings in Kingstown, hammering home his message by constant repetition. For their part, the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines enjoyed Joshua's style, as on their behalf he stood up to the colonial authorities and defiantly twisted the tail of the establishment. Joshua remained in constant touch with the grassroots, taking the pulse of the people and keeping his ear to the ground. One afternoon he would be at Mount Bentick pleading the cause of sugar workers; the next morning he would be at Richmond, "opening" an arrowroot field.

From 1957 to 1961, Joshua concentrated on infrastructural development. A road and school building program, together with the Arnos Vale Airport, bear eloquent testimony to his efforts. After 1960, Joshua denounced socialism and became more business-oriented, self-centered, and even corrupt, as evidenced by the public works scandal, the waiving of ministers' income tax, and the issues surrounding the deep water pier.

The PPP-FIAWU became riddled with internal strife, and Joshua became more conservative and repressive. Among other things, Joshua made a mockery of the affairs of the Kingstown Town Board and resorted to unfair control of the streets in order to hold demonstrations to camouflage from the public his reversal of fortunes. He helped to create an unsavory political climate during the country's approach to independence.

After statehood was achieved in 1979, the PPP's fortunes dipped more sharply as Joshua struggled for political survival. He began to fear the influence of communists, and he cast aspersions on the burgeoning black consciousness movement of the early 1970s. Finally, in desperation, he began to cast about indiscriminately for allies to his cause.

First, in 1972, he joined with James F. Mitchell, who would later organize the New Democratic Party and serve four terms as prime minister, purely as a tactic to buy time and keep the Labour Party at bay. Then, in 1974 Joshua caused consternation among his political associates and panic in his rank-and-file supporters when, without consulting them, he abandoned Mitchell and jettisoned some of his most loyal and devoted followers to enter the PPP into an alliance with the Labour Party, which for the previous twenty-five years he had represented as a malevolent adversary. Three years later, Joshua, who had stood foremost in the vanguard of the movement for self-determination, broke with Labour on the pretext that the country was not yet ready for independence.

In the 1979 elections, held three months after independence was granted, the PPP failed to win a seat, with Joshua himself suffering ignominious defeat in the former PPP bastion of South Central Windward. Six months later, drained and battle-weary, he threw in his political towel.

The story of Joshua represents a classic case of a populist leader whose hold over his people loosened as his charisma waned and his gift of grace wore thin. Joshua left behind few concrete structures, and he did not even leave a functioning political party, for the PPP was but an extension of his own personality and could not survive him.

But for all his weaknesses and shortcomings, Joshua, during the final stage of colonialism, bestirred the ordinary person out of his lethargy, making him alive to his dignity as a worker and assertive of his rights as a person. Joshua, in effect, awoke a slumbering giant who would not go back to sleep. For that, he is assured a place in the pantheon of Vincentian heroes.

See also Butler, Uriah; Politics and Politicians in the Caribbean

kenneth john(2005)