By Tye Salandy
August 18, 2018
Poor people fed up to how yuh system set up
Well, everyday the ghetto youths dead up
Mi ask the leader, him a di arranger
Fi mek poor people surround by danger
Fly and the roach and giant mosquito
Sewage water whey fill with bacteria
Unno ever take a look down inna di Riverton area
Bactu, and Seaview, Waterhouse, Kentire
Long time the MP him nuh come near yah
And the other one whho claims sey she a counsellor
—Bounty Killa: Poor People Fed Up
The words by Bounty Killa, also known as the ‘poor people’s governor’ is relevant to every single Caribbean country, where the type of leadership after independence has failed to be sensitive to the experiences of those who have most been disadvantaged by social structures. So when I saw Beetham residents dousing MP Fitzgerald Hinds and councillor Akil Audain with dirty flood water and chasing them from the area, this was the first song that came to mind.
Now, in no way do I support water being thrown on Minister Hinds or any politician of the PNM or any other party. That constitutes assault and is not a good precedent to set. However, the reaction by the residents is reflective of the neglect and poor governance by successive political parties. The PNM has especially to take responsibility for the state of affairs within these east Port of Spain communities because they have been in power the longest, over 45 years since independence. Additionally, it is PNM members of parliament who have represented these communities since independence.
Some persons will criticize the actions of the residents, and they may be quite right in finding the water dousing problematic. But there are bigger issues to be addressed. If people find that the actions of a few residents were not the best, then they also have to consider that it is decades of leaders and institutions not being receptive to the experiences of residents that boiled over in the aftermath of the flood.
Political leaders have never shown any serious interest in equipping residents with the tools they need to navigate their space. The issues that these communities face go far beyond providing them with drains, Christmas hampers and a few jobs. I am talking about addressing systemic exclusions and barriers to opportunities that most other citizens take for granted.
There are far too little moves to include residents in decision making, or open up spaces for African history to be dialogued in schools and state media. Are leaders willing and able to engage with residents as citizens and not as deficient persons who are in need of some esteemed intervention? There has been a high degree of arrogance and condescension around the treatment of residents from these and similar communities. Addressing this, is the difference between charity and handouts AND justice and inclusion.
Our institutions are failing our young people, but this is most felt in certain communities. Despite the efforts of some teachers who go beyond the boundary, children from east Port of Spain communities are undertaught and have to navigate the systematic racism and class/geographical biases that are present in the education system. Ramesh Deosaran’s book ‘Inequality, Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Removing the Mask’ gives some important insights into the ways that Africans from poorer communities are disadvantaged within the mainstream education system.
The Beetham area is heavily polluted by the nearby Beetham Landfill and from waste from nearby industrial plants. These residents literally directly bear the brunt of the crap of the country, that is stockpiled in the landfill. It is well documented that lead toxicity and other forms of pollution lead to serious health problems, especially in terms of the developmental stages of young children. Where are the long-term plans by leaders to address or at least mitigate the many issues in these communities?
Is it that politicians think that keeping people poor and underdeveloped will allow for them to be easily manipulated and mobilized for votes during election time? Consider that these communities have been controlled by the PNM since 1956, and yet have seen so much neglect. In the national discourse there are regular descriptions of Beetham residents as cockroaches and even calls for them to be bombed or exterminated. Sectors of the society see these residents as the problem. If citizens find that some residents are prone to violence, they should consider that leaders do not take them seriously, there are little avenues for their issues to be addressed seriously, and worst of all, politicians themselves have never set any better examples, or made moves to cultivate a culture of understanding and knowledge.
In 1970 as part of the Black Power movement, mainly young persons, disillusioned with the continuities of coloniality, sought to address social inequality, the foreign domination of the economy, racism and poor political representation. They sought to explore history towards a better understanding and appreciation of ourselves. Instead of the state listening to them, and using the best of their ideas to chart a new development paradigm, leaders were imprisoned, adherents were hunted and killed (see the history of NUFF) and the movement repressed. Today, the chickens have returned home to roost, and the society is reaping the outcomes of not listening to people who wanted change and improvement for their communities and country.
Gangsterism and violence should not be encouraged or supported in any community. Yet the violence and criminality that some residents from East Port of Spain communities engage in, pales in comparison to the everyday violence that these communities face, in terms of the social biases, police brutality, racism, and pollution. Poor choices in those communities also pale in comparison to the poor examples and misdevelopment of the local elite, the miseducation perpetuated by our school system and the inadequacies of our local media to stimulate dialogue on the range of issues important for national development.
Too many politicians and politically aligned persons are more interested in defending their party, and toeing the party line than defending the people, and principles of truth and justice. This is the reason why politicians often find themselves on the wrong side of history. If PNM and UNC politicians had an inkling of integrity, they would acknowledge that their parties have mismanaged the country, that billions have been stolen and squandered under their watch, and seek forgiveness. They would humble down and admit that they do not have all the understandings and answers. This would then set them on the path to listen and engage in people-based governance.
So while the water dousing of Minister Hinds and the Councillor was not the best way for the residents to deal with their issues, it is interesting when the condemnation of such is far greater than attempts to highlight and address the issues that Beetham residents face. Apart from that, if Beetham residents are unhappy with how their issues are being addressed, then now is the time to explore solutions other than that which has not been working for the past 50 and more years.