By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 24, 2018
When a government cannot even buy a boat to convey its citizens from point A to point B; select a commissioner of police as its murder rate soars; or be up front enough to tell its citizens the cost of building a hotel it says is in their best interest, then that government has lost its raison d’etre to lead.
Any party that says it represents the interest of a particular group but which, after sixty-two years in existence, that group is relatively worse off than before, then that party needs to question its performance? That party may even need to reinvent itself to accommodate the wishes of that group.
Over the past eight weeks I have sketched a trajectory of the economic positions of various ethnic groups in the society, trying to understand where Afro-Trinbagonians stand, and where they are likely to be in the next decade. Every conscientious citizen knows that if things continue as they are the position of Afro-Trinbagonians will continue to decline, leaving them at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Since independence Afro-Trinbagonians have been voting for the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the belief it would look after their interest. That has not occurred. Every other major group (the Syrians/Lebanese, Indians, and the mixed population) has benefited tremendously from the state, regardless of whatever party has been in power. PNM has not looked out for Afro-Trinbagonians.
Even non-Africans within the PNM have benefited enormously from the generosity of the party. Bolt Limited, a company owned by Susan Imbert, wife of Colm Imbert, and Vidara Enterprise and Laukan, Limited, two companies owned by Laura Siewdass Khan, the wife of Franklyn Khan, have received lucrative contracts from the state. The present government even rented a building owned by Laura Khan to operate a family court.
Mona Nahous Al Wari, a lawyer and wife of Faris Al Wari, both own law chambers. They have benefited from state briefs. Currently, the state rents property at No. 1 Alexandria Street from Mona’s family at exorbitant rates. Rohan Sinanan, the owner of private lands earmarked for acquisition by government to construct the Curepe interchange, stands to reap a fortune although he tells us he recused himself from Cabinet decisions over the matter.
Can anyone point to any African member within the PNM or their wives who have been as fortunate as the aforementioned in terms of getting such substantial contracts from the state? In fact, things have gotten so bad that black people are forced to echo the lament of our foremothers: “Every bitch an’ he brother take a piece of ma’ soul an’ he gone.”
Afro-Trinbagonians should not accept such discriminatory practices any longer. They must remove their racial blinders and act in their own best economic self-interest. As we go into the next general elections, Afro-Trinbagonians must demand that PNM and United National Congress (UNC) provide us with specific proposals to enhance our economic position before we commit ourselves to support any of these parties.
This is why I was elated when Kamla defied Sat Maraj on the issue of a young woman wearing her hijab in a Hindu school. When Sat withdrew his invitation to Kamla to address his group, she observed correctly: “I do not lead a religious flock. I am a woman who has endured and continues to endure the most vile and misogynistic abuse.” Religious affiliations, she seems to suggest, should not coerce her political judgment.
Kamla’s political darts were aimed at two targets: the women’s and interreligious populations. In doing so, Kamla located her political project in the future and disconnected it from a narrow racial narrative of the past. Although Kamla has a lot of work to do to free her party from the religious and racial imperatives that have always prevented it from looking upon black people as equals, she made a brave start.
The challenge that Kamla has set herself is analogous to the bold move that Dr. Williams made in 1960 when, at the insistence of the Democratic Labor Party, he included the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to protect minority rights. Today, Kamla is faced with a comparable situation: elevating the economic status of Afro-Trinbagonians, the minority group within the society.
This new political moment offers each party a new opportunity to tackle the deteriorating economic conditions of Afro-Trinidadians. Neither PNM nor UNC should take their voters for granted. Afro-Trinbagonians must also assume a major responsibility to change their conditions and work more assiduously to make a better future for themselves.
The economic deterioration of Afro-Trinbagonians is a challenge to the entire society. Each group has its role to play in working to solve this existential threat to the well-being of the nation. It is the challenge to which Williams and Winston Mahabir alerted us in 1954.
Afro-Trinbagonians must discard their ethnic sensibilities in favor of a more conscious, coldly calculating, and analytical approach to our socioeconomic situation. Raskolnikov, the major protagonist in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, provided a guide to action when he reminded us that most people “fear taking a new step [and] uttering a new word of their own.”
This is a time when Trinbagonians should utter new words: “We live together as brothers [and sisters], or perish as fools.”