Go to Timbuktu!!!

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 27, 2017

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeMany Trinidadians and Tobagonians of my generation can remember when, in a rage or disagreement, an antagonist uttered the insult: “Go to Timbuktu!” It was a term that suggested one should be banished into ignominy and sent into the dungeon of stupidity.

Experience and education have taught me that Timbuktu, an important seat of learning between the 12th and 16th centuries, was one of the most important educational and cultural centers in the world. In its Golden age, the town’s numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made possible an important book trade. There were campuses of the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university. At its height, as many as 25,000 students, a quarter of the city’s population, studied there.

From June 16-18 several important scholars from Africa and its diaspora gathered at the University of Johannesburg to discuss the topic “The Pan-African Pantheon.” The conference posed the question: “What if Africa was at the center of knowledge production?” We were mindful that at certain points in human history Africa (Egypt and Timbuktu) was at the center of the world’s knowledge production. This primacy of place abated after the 16th century.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo, the director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation brought together thirty-five of the most exciting scholars from Africa and the diaspora to imagine how the world would look if we placed Africa at the center of our theorizing about the world.

The conference focused on the intellectual work of colossal figures of the Pan-African world among whom were/are Edward Blyden, W. E. B. Du Bois, Pix ka Seme, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Thabo Mbeki, Malcolm X, C. L. R. James, Walter Rodney, Ali Mazrui, Arthur Lewis, Samir Amin, Frantz Fanon, Derek Walcott, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Wole Soyinka, Leopold Senghor, Miriam Makeba, Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and Harry Belafonte.

Several promising major scholars and activists focused on the topic. They included Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor, UWI; Prof. Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor, U of Joburg; Arthur Mutambarara, former Deputy Prime Minister, Zimbabwe; Prof. Abiola Irele, Harvard University; Prof. Willard Johnson, MIT; and Prof. Helmi Sharawy, Acting President of the Arab and African Research Center, Cairo, Egypt.

The Caribbean area was represented by Prof. Hutton, UWI, Mona; Prof. Rhoda Reddock, UWI, Trinidad; Vladimir Lucien, writer, St. Lucia; Prof. Alison Stone Roofe, Jamaica’s ambassador to Brazil; and Prof. Andy Knight, a Barbadian at the University of Alberta, Canada. Lucien stole the show with his insightful presentation on Derek Walcott. An astute thinker and budding philosopher, he possesses an enormous ability to mash up language and to reflect on its possibilities to interpret our world.

Professor Adebajo, a brilliant and enterprising scholar, wishes to initiate what he hopes will be the Johannesburg School of Thought, an intellectual and cultural movement that will be analogous to the Dar es Salaam School of Thought that Walter Rodney and his colleagues initiated at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in the late 1960 and seventies.

In this context, Rodney’s contribution at the Sixth Pan-African Congress at Dar es Salaam in 1974 was instructive. He examined the conflicts that were inherent in the African revolution as reflected in Pan-Africanism and how those contradictions ought to be addressed. He also contrasted the practices of the leaders with the daily lives of the people.

Rodney was both a scholar and an activist. More than most, he recognized that theory without practice is blind and that practice without theory is equally as blind. He used his scholarship to make Africa and the Caribbean a better place. He realized that unless revolutionary scholars used their knowledge in a positive and activist manner, the future of these societies would be bleak indeed.

Trinidad and Tobago’s case is instructive. J. J. Thomas, Sylvester & Eric Williams, Padmore, James, Uriah Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Basdeo Panday, George Weeks, and others have invested tremendous intellectual and physical capital to make T&T a better place in which to live. The present political regime can accomplish little unless it uses the intellectual and cultural capital these giants left behind.

Even as I pen this article, the headline of the Johannesburg Star proclaims: “Guptas: Things Fall Apart.” The by-line states: “President [Jacob Zuma] to face grilling as state capture unravels” (June 21). I think of the hold the T&T Syrians have on our economy and the privileged place the monied interests now enjoy within the PNM. I also reflect on the precarious position in which South Africa finds itself in terms of poverty, unemployment, and crime and feel that our leaders (Zuma and Keith Rowley) are not living up to the promises that independence held out to us.

Even the notion of “state capture” of the economy by privileged families in South Africa echoes just as loudly in T&T.

I don’t know how the centering of Pan-Africanism can assist in helping T&T’s problems. Its philosophical tenets remind us we cannot go very far if we do not draw from the academic and political knowledge they have left us. Ali Mazuri reminded us: “You are not a country, Africa. You are not a concept. You are a glimpse of the infinite.”

17 Responses to “Go to Timbuktu!!!”


  • Dr C,the more i delve into knowing who you really are,the vastness of your intellectualism which is second to none comes into play, at times very GRIOTIC.In 1997,i turned on my tv, the PBS program being shown practically blew me away, the moderator an Englishman, the most honest i’ve ever heard said that when the English came to TIMBUKTU, they met a nation years advanced to where he was coming from, he went on to say, the people were living in air condition houses with sewers in the homes, while we in England were stooling human waste on paper and throwing it through the window. He continued, we ravished the place took the books that we wanted , then burnt the rest.Just recently, Timbuktu was in the news, with the JIHADIST wanting to destroy our past permanently.One never knows what could be unleashed seeking change, never in my wildest dreams did i expect to see what is presently happening in SOUTH AFRICA, the leaders of the FREEDOM movement practically COMPROMISED their people, putting them back in APARTHEID,its like if you can’t change the system, the system will change you.Our great writers of yesteryear, were also vast readers willing to seek the knowledge needed to educate their people, quite different from what we are experiencing, with the exception of a few, you Dr C and Dr Beckles as an example, we are left lacking. The prime minister Dr ROWLEY in lieu of what one want to believe, doesn’t have any power, his backers just like ZUMA of SOUTH AFRICA call the shots.The whites in TRINIDAD will continue to support the PNM ,seeing that the black face is easily manipulated, while the INDIANS cannot be trusted, you look at the people comprising ROWLEY’cabinet, the blacks are outside looking in, in SOUTH AFRICA, the whites continue to control the commanding heights of the economy, while SOUTH AFRICANS kill and blame other Africans for taking their jobs, the greatest of all paradoxes.Basdeo Panday, has to be ruing his chance in truly uniting TRINIDAD, he had all the pieces in his hand when he left the OWTU to form the cane farmers union, with great support from the black leaders, PG WEEKS, JOE YOUNG and many more Trinidad was on the verge of true change, history has, and continue to comdemd BASDEO PANDAY for his misguided leadership, hope he reveals all in his memoir.A new nationalism is needed moving forward, education that is anti materialism,knowledge seeking within and wisdom to be able to differentiate. Hotep.

  • * I also reflect on the precarious position in which South Africa finds itself in terms of poverty, unemployment, and crime and feel that our leaders (Zuma and Keith Rowley) are not living up to the promises that independence held out to us.*

    Isn’t The Zumas one of Africa’s wealthiest families, Professor? Surely Pres. Zuma is not swayed by money…
    I think many ‘Afrocentrics’ seem to forget is the ‘Supernatural’ that is so much a part of our hi-story.

    I think we need to question Dr. Rowley’s spiritual health.

    Anyway, The Honorable Malema told us so eloquently…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2MrJfIFSnk

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2MrJfIFSnk

  • My South African friend said Zuma is the worst leader in the history of South Africa. He said his wives control him and he spends public money on them. Zuma did not have a grade 5 education and as such cannot rule South Africa. Under his leadership crime is rampant, murders are very high and government corruption rule the day.

    I don’t know if his descriptive of Zuma is accurate but one can only go by information received until it is updated.

    Africa will one day emerge as a powerful force if it can find a place of unity. My friend from the Congo said there are over 200 tribes in his nation and they are all for themselves. The Kabila clan controls the nation and all major companies are beholding to them or headed by close family and friends. Joseph Kabila is too young a person to lead the nation. But that is not new power in the African mindset is tribal control. Whilst at Disney world I met a young Nigeria Muslim with his family. We got to talking and he looked at me with eyes of incredulity. He said look at this place why can’t my country have something like this, we are the size of Texas and the fifth largest oil producer in the world. He said no one knows where the money goes but poverty and corruption is rampant.

    The key that the Syrians and their friends have mastered is to stay invisible and be high on messaging. We have seen it in parliament where the chief taxman presented his budget and then engaged in mass hysteria of hand waving accusing Kamla of tiefin out the treasury. It sold well with the PNM supporters and is now their “Mantra”. In true Goebbels style he repeated the tief statement over and over again knowing it will be sung across the balisier patches whilst he tax their wallet empty. It worked well. But the record books show that Kamla left $32 billion extra in the HSF and in foreign exchange. So where the tiefin? Strange he had a first budget of $63 billion and no one can say where the money went. .??? The psychology of this taxman became clear cry foul whilst you fool the masses.

    When the Syrians told Bourdain that they control the TNT economy they were not kidding. They also control the drug trade with a few major drug bust on the Mona islands but no one jailed. They also control the PNM. The PNM gave them several contracts and they rack up over a billion dollars just in cost over run. Their billion dollar empire will not be used to help black people or Indian people or flood victims. It is to their advantage to keep Indians and Africans divided so that they can continue to pillage the treasury. In saying all of that I must say they are also very hard working people who started out as “patik” selling cloth material for pants moving from house to house being chased by dogs but always managing to make a deal. It is the work ethic along with their close affiliation to the PNM and their messaging that turn them into multi billionaires. Not bad for a group of 5,000 with the Chinese closely following them.

  • First let me thank you Professor Cudjoe for using this medium to impart information and knowledge thats so vitally import to our survival as a people. Intellectual pursuit and are recording of our progress (and regress) is of interest for those who come after us because this world is a changing place. It is my hope that you (collectively) will produce a working paper on the Johannesburg conference, so that future gatherings can enhance the work that you are doing. A few things struck me as I read through your wonderful report on the conference. (1) Such gatherings should be periodical, maybe every five years.
    (2) Publication of achievements should be made public.
    (3) Produce a scholarly paper on African (diaspora) leaders.
    (4) Form an architecture for a permanent institute of Africana Studies (maybe in Timbuktu, Nigeria or Ghana).

    All things being local, we too have our work cut out for us. In Trinidad today, the Indian assault is real and relentless on an administration (PNM) that they see and has labelled vulnerable.
    The structure of the PNM is not sound. As much as it is labelled an ‘African Party’, that is a false notion, because factually the party is a one-man construction of Keith Rowley.
    The other part of that construction is the still-remaining historian Ferdie Ferriera. Delete those two bulwarks of the PNM
    and the party is dead and might as well be considered history, if something is not done about a new construction of the PNM. The UNC is trying every single day to tie a noose around the neck of the party and Keith Rowley in particular. He needs to know it and we need to know it. If Keith Rowley looses sight of this attack mentality, he will be history as leader of the party and the electorate that put so much confidence in him.

    When the PNM was formed, it had a phenomenal construction of individuals. Dr. Eric Williams, Dr. Patrick Solomon, Gerard Montano, Dr. Winston Mahabir (although he later turned his back on the party), John O’Halloran and many many more. Any of these men in their own rights would have been able to carry the mantle of party leadership. Looking at the PNM today, can we say the same? NO! Without Keith Rowley the PNM will crumble in a week. AND THAT IS WHAT KAMLA PERSAD BISSESSAR IS WORKING ON – the dismantling of the PNM. She does it with cunning and strategy. Just think of it, a disaster struck that unleashes water and flooding all over the country. Without allowing the Prime Minister to assess the destruction caused by its passing, the Opposition Leader determines for herself and criticizes him for not visiting her constituencies in the wake of the disaster.
    This is huge electoral politics. This is using the disaster to determine how she is going to fear at the ballot box. This is also dangerous because people’s minds are fragile in the aftermath of theses disasters and she is using the opening to berate Keith Rowley for not acting.

    • It is interesting that you did not mention Kamaludin Mohammed who was the natural successor after Eric Williams but was denied the leadership because he was an Indian

      • This is where you are wrong TMan, and just like Kamla you are jumping the gun. Kamal, a great muslim, was indeed loyal until the all-inclusive Indian story pushed by the UNC caused hime to be a sympathizer. In earlier times he could have been the party leader. Tell you this though, I bet you, that the UNC WOULD NEVER ELEVATE A MUSLIM TO THE LEADERSHIP OF THE UNC.

        • I want to add this story to my prediction, because the hindu (even in this day) will NOT be subservient to the muslim:
          http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/cursor/fighting-the-politics-that-spawns-lynch-mobs-is-a-fight-for-indias-soul/

          • Irrelevant in the context of T&T.
            The Christian/ Muslim / Hindu relationship in T&T is unique and does not fit international norms. I thought you would know that, my friend , Kian.

        • He became a UNC sympathizer long after he was summarily rejected by the PNM racist establishment. I recall that the PNM women’s league was his most adamant objectors.

          • If I were a Roman Catholic and the subject of abortion came up, where I subscribed to every facet of Roman Catholicism, does it matter what part of the world my creed is practiced? Anyway you are still evading my proposition –

          • Due to a computer glitch I could not complete my sentence. The point I was making is that when you subscribe to religious customs and beliefs, it does not matter where it is practiced. The hindu/muslim conflict is not confined to just the Indian peninsula. That is what influenced Kamla being part of the PNM in the first place. The fact that the UNC has convinced the muslim that ‘they are all in it together’ does not settle the basic mistrust that belies the hindu/muslim conflicts. The Anglican does not look for a holiday because the Catholics got one! The Pentecostal does not look for a holiday because the baptist got one. The Seventh Day Adventist does not look for a holiday because the Moravians got one. NO! There is a clear and historical unresolved conflict between the hindu and the muslim and the political reality of Indians is what emerged in Trinidad to gain and maintain power for the hindu because they maintain a numerical advantage. That is the reality TMan.

  • “I think of the hold the T&T Syrians have on our economy and the privileged place the monied interests now enjoy within the PNM”
    (CUDJOE)

    A significant and timely comment in relation to the recent boastful statements made by the Syrian/Lebanese representatives on the Anthony Bourdain show, describing themselves as the most powerful group in T&T. The protests and outrage against these remarks seem naïve. Did this powerful and privileged group have to spell it out to us?
    The PNM has always been financed and favoured by the Syrian/Lebanese community, so it’s pay back time as evidenced by the awarding of multiple state contracts. This is in sharp contrast to the UNC government which was soundly criticized for awarding state contracts to their own supporters, creating millionaires in the process. A much more serious threat to the country; however, is the gross incompetence of Rowley and his government and it is very discouraging to note that there is no talent within his stable of elected legislators to draw from. His present Cabinet is failing miserably. There are many competent PNM stalwarts on the outside who are capable of replacing them; however, what do we do about Rowley himself?

  • Last week in his column Michael Harris wrote that the current PNM Government was the most incompetent government we have ever had. He sought to demonstrate that proposition with reference to the Government’s utterly inept handling of two major issues — the reintroduction process for the property tax and the Tobago seabridge problem.
    Then came Tropical Storm Bret and it not only left significant flood damage throughout large areas of the country, particularly in Central and the deep South, but it also left us clear lessons about the meaning of governmental incompetence that Harris claims are too valuable to ignore. 

    • TMan! TMan! there you go again, it is always somebody who is trying to do something to the Indian. Oh the poor Indian! Everybody is always taking advantage of the poor Indian! It is this story story that is getting to old and too repetitive to stomach. When Kamla was spending billions in these same flood areas, putting concrete drains, you guys were in your glee, saying how bad the PNM was and Kamla was the great Savior! Have you guys no shame? Everybody MUST HELP THE INDIAN ONLY THE INDIAN THAT ARE LEFT BEHIND!!!!
      Don’t you find that monotonous? Please! Please! find another excuse!!!!!

    • It is Michael Harris who wrote the column not TMan. There are still some objective journalists in T&T. It seems that Harris is one of them. I predict a massive campaign to discredit him by the PNM establishment.

  • Tremendous comment MAMOO, this is the message needed for the fight against the Syrians/Lebanese Creoles and Chinese. Lets look back at the part played by our Indian brothers and sisters in the SOUTH African struggle, there is a great lesson to be learnt. Truth be told, the Syrian/Lebanese community in Trinidad, have historically controlled the drug trade, and in the process corrupting black policemen from the flying squad to the present, the miseducated blacks are paying enmasse by their incarcerated numbers.We know who the true enemies are, well rooted and working in the shadows, committing crimes and spreading division. The African in Trinidad is the face of crime, while the true criminal have divest the drug transactions into legal business entities. I grew up at a time when the Mantra was African and Indian unite, it has and it will continue to happen, why not now? you are as strong as the people you surround your self with, should be message sent to Dr ROWLEY, we are not eyes wide shut, you don’t have to jump to every tune that play. You shouldn’t have to stack your cabinet with only PNM members, SHOCK the UNC and offer their best with positions in your government, unite the twin island state.Going forward,you can build bridges or stay on the divisional tract. The ball is in your court Dr ROWLEY.Hotep.

  • Cooper… Still harping that ‘NJAC’ Africans and Indians unite thing… Bro?
    Lets not forget Randolph Burroughs was down with the Indian Cartel..
    When I read that Dr. Rowley was in the company of Ishwar Galbaransingh at a party hosted at the home of now Min of Works Rohan Sinanan… http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20151212/news/rohans-big-people-party

    It makes me wonder about the seriousness of T&T being a Narco State…

    *Ish, Ferguson to face fraud charges in US *LINK*
    By:News
    Date: 11/30/2005, 6:36 am
    Darryl Heeralal and Darren Bahaw
    Wednesday, November 30th 2005

    The indictment also charges that a series of complex financial transactions were used to hide the origin of fraudulently obtained money paid to Calmaquip by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.

    US investigators allegedly made the discoveries during a counter-narcotics investigation involving a Colombian drug cartel headed by the Dillevgas family.

    There has since been a supervening indictment dealing with the charges arising out of the drug investigation, the Express was told.*

    http://www.trinidadandtobagonews.com/forum/webbbs_config.pl?md=read;id=3363

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