Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Reflections on Grenada

E.K.M. Yakpo

The Western world has made the appropriate noises and has thereby washed its conscience clean. But for us in the Third World, the issue of Grenada will remain and so will the questions...
"Visit America before America visits you", used to be a popular anti American slogan at the height of the Vietnam war. Then, it was a widely held view that military intervention was an essential part of American foreign policy. Intervention was not limited to those countries which actually had communist parties on the verge of control but applied just as well to countries without a communist party, such as Lebanon in 1958, and the Dominican Republic in 1965.

With the end of the Vietnam war came changes in American foreign policy. Congress curtailed (or thought it did), the power of the President, to commit US armed forces in a foreign country beyond 60 days without congressional approval. And increasing use was made of the CIA in destabilising unfriendly governments, as was seen in Chile under Allende and Jamaica under Manley. However, a careful look at modern American history shows that nothing has really changed and that Reagan is not a unique phenomenon in American politics.

Going back to the First World War, American conservatism has been divided only on foreign policy. There are the Eastern conservatives, who look towards Europe and are called the "International Lists", and there are the Western and Mid-Western conservatives, who perpetually gaze towards Asia, they are the "Isolationists".

Curiously, it has always been the "Isolationists" who have favoured direct intervention, in the hemisphere, in Mexico, Panama, and the Caribbean. They have supported US presence in the Philippines and diplomatic expansion in Asia. They railed against the "loss" of China and General MacArthur was their hero. They borrowed the vocabulary of the "Manifest Destiny" and waited for a Presidential candidate. At last in 1964, Goldwater appeared but he fizzled out early and they had to accept Nixon, who though a Californian, was an "internationalist" by choice.

One further feature of the "isolationist" xenophobia is what they think of Israel and China. On their mental map, Israel looms larger than Europe, and China looms even larger as a shadowy presence, a temptation and a threat to the safety of the US. Above all else is their picture of the Soviet Union. To them, the Soviet Union is an implacable enemy, dedicated to the overthrow of the United States. The Soviet Union is the source of any, indeed all evil, the country which is intent on frustrating US efforts on the God-decreed march to "Manifest Destiny". As Reagan puts it, the Soviet Union is the source of all radical movements in the world.

Seen against this background, the invasion of Grenada should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Reagan has always been an "isolationist", and he is merely doing his duty in combat- ing the sole evil that plagues the world -communism! His fractured vision of the world may surprise, even appal us, country. but it fits the "isolationist" view of the world.

Lessons from "Grenada"

The invasion of Grenada should not be seen as a result of the internal politics of Grenada. Attempts are being made to suggest that the politics of the New Jewel Movement were alone responsible for the American intervention. If only the Grenadans had not accepted Cuban aid! And if only they had not bought Russian arms, the US would not have invaded. But then such a view would have had to be pressed to its logical conclusion - namely that Grenada had never been a sovereign state! Such a position is untenable.

Small commonwealth countries which still have the Queen as Head of State may have to rewrite their constitutions. The Americans have always insisted that the Governor-General of Grenada had formally invited them to invade the country. Whether or not such a letter of invitation does indeed exist or if it does, whether it is genuine, is another matter. What matters here is whether the constitution of Grenada empowers the Governor-General to invite foreign troops to occupy the country.

Articles 57 and 58 of the constitution describe the functions and powers of the Governor-General but there is no mention of unilateral acts by him. Above all, under Article 62, the Governor-General can exercise all his functions only "in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or Minister acting under the general authority of the cabinet..." The authority to invite foreign troops therefore, cannot derive from the constitution.

It has also been argued that the Governor-General, being the agent of the Queen, can exercise the royal prerogatives which are personal to the Queen.

This may be so, but even then, the Queen cannot in her personal capacity, invite foreign troops to occupy the United Kingdom. Charles I invited French troops to aid him during the civil war and it helped to secure his conviction for treason. He lost his head for it. The Queen cannot delegate powers which she herself does not have. This merely conforms to the basic rule in the law of agency that a principal cannot delegate to his agent, powers that he himself does not have.

The only plausible explanation which can be put forward is that the Queen in the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarch but the Queen acting through her agents, is an absolute monarch and may do as she pleases. The thought is horrifying and commonwealth countries which still have the Queen represented by a Governor-General ought to either abolish the post altogether, or have safeguards written into their constitutions.

Genuine revolutions (and I regard that of the New Jewel Movement as one) must move quickly to secure their gains. Between 1979 and the invasion, there seemed to have been a constitutional vacuum in Grenada. The constitution was suspended but the Governor-General was allowed to stay in office. Just which of his powers under the constitution were still operative, remained unclear.

Instead of introducing a new constitution the Bishop government ruled by decree. Yet there was the example of the Seychelles to follow. Shortly after their revolution, Albert Reine had a new constitution drawn up which retrospectively legalised all the acts of the revolutionaries. Any pretext for invading the Seychelles cannot be based on lack of constitutional rule.

The Western world has made the appropriate noises and has thereby washed its conscience clean. But for us in the Third World, the issue of Grenada will remain, and so will the questions. How far are we protected by the rules of international law? Could we ever hope to be sovereign states? And how far can we prevent some of our own citizens from offering themselves as fig leaves to cover the nakedness of foreign aggression? Hopefully all this may be part of the growing-up pains which states must suffer.

talking drums 1983-12-05 Donor nations to Ghana's rescue