Acting in Our Self-Interest

By Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 31, 2007

ParliamentI suppose I can say publicly what Selwyn Ryan (See Express, December 23) can say privately and obliquely when he speaks about the specter of the non-representation of twenty five percent of the population and the impending disenfranchisement of Africans in the political process that is likely to happen here eventually if we do not attend to this situation. Forbes Burnham and the PNC ruled Guyana by fair means and foul although they were fewer in numbers than the PPP until the PPP booted them out never to see power again in the foreseeable future.

Accordingly to Professor Ryan, or at least that is how his thinking goes, it behooves Africans-i.e., the member of the PNM-to find a way to accommodate the thousands of persons who did not receive any seats in our Legislature through our first-past the post system. Therefore, it is in our own best self-interest (and I speak as an African and a member of the PNM) to correct this situation before it deteriorates.

Professor Ryan is correct in his analysis. He recognizes that there is something fundamentally unjust about a system that penalizes large segments of the population who do not reside in an area that contains a densely populated racial group. One is not necessarily blaming the Electoral and Boundaries Commission for this condition; one is simply saying that it is easy to establish what one scholar calls “the tyranny of the majority.”

There from, one can argue that this is a political rather than a legal issue. Others may argue that it is a moral issue; one of natural justice and common sense. Whatever side of the fence on which one finds oneself, the question remains: could we, in good conscience, deny representation to one quarter of the population and not realize that at some time in the future it will come back to haunt us; particularly Africans?

As a group, Africans do not possess a great deal of personal wealth. We do not corner the professions and our group interest is not as strong as it ought to be although there are times, such as the last elections, when the tribal instinct tends to triumph. I use the term tribal interest in the same way that Noam Chomsky uses the term, human nature, as a creative impulse inherent in our human-ness.

Placed in such terms, the question comes down to whether we want to create a developed society by 2020; a just and moral society by 2020; or a developed society that both moral and just.

If we say we want to construct a better society, it follows that it is in our interest to construct a society that distributes the power at the legislative level in a better and more just manner. Professor Ryan says the time has come when we must find a way at the highest level of government to give expression to any party that receives one quarter of the votes.

Nor do I think it appropriate for the Prime Minister to treat with the leader of a legitimate party such as a COP in a way that can be interpreted as being demeaning to his status as confirmed by the polls. Much of what cements a democracy and prevents it from solidifying entrenched grievances revolves around the respect we accord to legitimate leaders whether they are in power or not; whether they hold a seat in the Legislature or not. No one can dismiss the achievement of Winston Dookeran outright. He and his followers have a right to be heard in the highest echelons of our government.

In a famous debate with Michel Foucault, Chomsky observed that although we, in the Western world, are not in a position to create a society of “ideal justice” we are certainly in a position to create a better society. He noted: “We are in a position-and we must act as sensitive and responsible human beings in that position-to imagine and move towards the creation of a better society and also a better system of justice.” In this day an age it makes no sense to take advantage of one’s political adversary.

We need to fix our constitution in this regard. It may mean looking at our constitution and coming up with a specific solution to this problem. It may not mean writing it over as it may require a specific amendment on this ground alone. We may want to agree on a national referendum specifically to deal with this anomaly.

Whatever we do depends on the enlighten leadership of the PNM and the UNC. No party can continue to disrespect the wishes of its populace and get away with it forever. It is in our best self-interest to direct our parties to begin to discuss this important issue. PNMites (read Africans) may enjoy certain advantages today. It is in our own best self interest to ask whether political justice deferred could not come back to haunt us.

We owe Professor Ryan a lot of gratitude for raising such an important question. It is now left to our population to respond.

13 Responses to “Acting in Our Self-Interest”


  • I agree whole heartedly with the sentiments expressed in this piece. I do not regard it as a political prerogative, I regard it is a moral prerogative. No portions of any population group, regardless of the outcome of political competition, should be left with the perception that they are in the wilderness where representation in the decision making process is concerned. Most developed societies negate this perception with tweaks in their parliamentary systems, or checks and balances between the different levels of Government. In former Colonies like T&T and Guyana where voting is disproportionately influenced by ethnicity however, that perception is a reality, and there are insufficient checks on the winners to guarantee equality in their administration.

    There is markedly lack of sophistication in the thought processes among politicians in this hemisphere. They become instinctual after getting their hands on power, and pliable to the sense of triumphalism that infects large portions of their constituencies. The possibility that the shoe could be on the other foot tomorrow seldom penetrate the layers of arrogance and hubris that developes with the realization of victory. The system is “winner take all”, and they instinctively set out to do just that.

    Patrick Manning can distance himself from his contemporaries by moving to correct this deficiency in the distribution of political power, or at least the perception that such deficiency exist. This can be done in a variety of ways, and there are ably equipped people in T&T who can come up with ideas for this process. For me, it can best be accomplished by changing the first past the post system to one that apportions seats proportionately. I would also like to see a system where a super majority is required to pass crucial legislation dealing with the disbursement of state finances. Politicians are not little Jesuses, and we cannot expect the right kind of administrative behaviours from them. We need to have rules that compel them towards such behaviour, that compel them to work together, and which punitively sanctions them when they fail to follow such rules. That is how the people win, and not just the politicians and their acolytes.

  • I agree with this piece as well. However, it is a given that TNT is a diverse society and in its diversity one can become lazy with the application of ones social skills. TNT is like a stew instead of a melting pot. Carrots are still carrots and only pay homage to carrots. The same goes with the peas and other ingredients. Some ingredients compliment others, while some stand alone. The problem is that one social norm for all should be adopted. It can’t be carrot soup if you have peas and potatoes. I’m not saying that residents should abandon cultural backgrounds, but they should uplift a standard that is specifically Trinibagonian and that should be what matters in the end. Can the current leaders get past xenophobic beliefs and implement a plan for nationalism and the promotion of TNT? I don’t know, but nothing is for certain. Race wars can and will destroy lives and society. We are just people. Let’s keep it simple and let’s do what is right for Trinidad and Tobago.

  • “We are in a position-and we must act as sensitive and responsible human beings in that position-to imagine and move towards the creation of a better society and also a better system of justice.” Yes, “there is something fundamentally unjust about a system that penalizes large segments of the population who do not reside in an area that contains a densely populated racial group.” But I would also add there is something fundamentally wrong with closing the door to the body of knowledge and creativity of 25% of the population at parliamentary level.

    I believe as a nation we have not yet learned to understand or respect each other’s differences. It goes much deeper than merely having good social skills. Why was the closing down of Caroni Ltd. so painful to Indo Trinidadians? Does anyone care? Why are they always demanding more be done to develop the agricultural sector? Does anyone care?

    To progress as a nation we need to do all in our power to put an end to the race war. I don’t even like the word “tolerance” in this context, there must be “respect”. The present administration has embarked on a journey to make this the financial capital of the Caribbean. Cariforum recently signed the EPA, which means closer ties with our CARICOM neighbours. Is this the kind of conflict we can expect in the macro scenario when encounters with other West Indians become more frequent? Do we believe all West Indians are like Trinis? Or, will the all too familiar attitude “Ash Wednesday fall on Good Friday” prevail. Whatever happen, happen.

  • If and when we mature into the civilized concept of nationhood we will find it legally binding, incumbent that all individuals citizens villages, or alleys should be represented and adhere to not proportionately but as equal members of humanity and or citizens on/of our land.
    Too often we thread on the dreaded belief that if you ain’t from the party race area constituent or belief though of the the same soil same country even same race then you get nadders or you are ignored soon -to-be violated or accused.
    Lets look at Kenya, Bosnia, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, Yugoslavia “Kosova” – who says that GOD loves us that much in that our petty gutter politicking would spare us the civil wars and constant crime that visited and still visiting the aforementioned?

    We ain’t unique it is only a matter of time least we take heed.

  • If I could give TnT a gift for the new year, it would be my young houseguest from Tunisia, a Fulbright Scholar, spending a month with me while her university is closed. She is twentyfour, prays five times a day, inluding quietly in someone else’s house on Christmas Day, AND YESTERDAY, IN A STORE WHERE WE WERE EXCHANGING A BROKEN ITEM
    She speaks Arabic, her native language of the Magreb(all of Muslim North Africa, except Egypt)French, the second mandatory language of the school system in Tunisia, and English, the language she is using in America. She arrived at my house with tons of papers to read in English, spends hours reading and studying every day, and is the most courteous, helpful and gentle young woman one could meet.Her commitment to humanity sends her seeking places where she could volunteer to help underprivileged people. She has learned to negotiate the bus routes in this USA city, and goes into town when she needs to.

    What about a poor cunttry like her homeland produces such a fine young woman? We agree on so many things- the need to raise the bar on the recognition on the rights of women being one of them.

    I wish I could clone her and insert her into our society in TnT, so that our younger generation could learn lessons of valuing education,respecting elders, and racial/religious tolerance. Everywhere I have taken her, she is loved by Americans and Caribbean people alike. She is a future citizen of the world, and if I could get her a job in TnT for a year, I would gladly do it. She is a teacher of Arabic, but can also teach French. She is a child of Africa of mixed blood, and reminds me of the people we used to be before endless partying,fetes and murders turned our drug filled world upside down. She could fit into most TnT families.She turns most stereotypes about Africans, vieled Muslims, and young women on their ears. It is not too late for our young people. We cannot turn the clock back, but we could shitf direction from destructiveness to hope.

    I am so glad I opened my home to her.

  • Yet another red herring by respected “intellectuals” of TnT. The issue is not how boundries are drawn but how the people are to be guaranteed the dignity, respect and human rights they deserve by virtue of birth here in TnT and, thus, into the human family. Here is Ryan talking about dienfranchisement of 25 percent when 100 percent of the poor and working people of TnT are not having their problems addressed and their needs taken care of, regardless of how the electoral districts are currently drawn.

    Are the poor and workers who voted PNM or UNC in the last election any better off or are they enjoying a status above those who voted COP or for no party at all?

    The fact is that Ryan and Cudjoe have suddenly and conveniently decided to introduce the “tyranny of the majority” discussion–the same one the American Slaveholding Founding Fathers were having about Jeffersonian democracy–into TnT which bears no historical, cultural or temporal similarity to the United States of 1776.

    Apologists for the system of exploitation and repression come in all different guises and have perfected the art of deception.

  • Dr.Cudjoe,
    This writer is a bit off the mark but what the writer has not learnt is to say what he wishes to say to you without the ” Attack Dog mentality”.

    Your ideas,Dr.Cudjoe,comes from a mind which is rich and well developed and the writer does not understand that you love your country very much and you are committed to your country hence you never emigrated ( as far as I know ) to the USA or Canada or England which will have been very glad to have you teach their young people but you remained here in TNT and the Caribbean to do what you could for your TNT.
    The thing is though you have been speaking to and sharing your ideas too often with the wrong people.
    Take your message to the people on the streets and simplify it and explain to them what freedom and empowerment is and what great power they have in their hands by way of the ballot box and how they can demand so much more of the pie and as as individuals do so much more…stop wasting your precious time with the ” psuedo Intellectuals” professor go to the people who will appreciate your ideas and knowldege.

    Do not allow your great knowledge and learning and thinking to be wasted on ” barren people” who bear no fruit…
    The Fearless TNT Republcan as always.

  • I believe that to appreciate where Dr. Cudjoe took this argument you must read Dr. Ryan’s original article. You would find that Ryan was appealing for a place to be set at the head table for Dookeran, despite COP not having won a seat in Parliament. Ryan is looking at the number of people who voted COP, he says 25 percent of the voters, now have no voice in government.

    Now, tell me whether this is in the same vein as Cudjoe’s article. He is calling up the racial boogeyman about some indefinite, vague, alleged threat of dienfranchisement of African Trinidadians. I know he does not believe that the PNM would dilute its own political base. So then the question becomes: “Who is the culprit that would do this?” Thus, I see that he is spreading fear and distrust along ethnic and racial lines.

    Yes, I believe he is too talented to engage in this type of nonsense and needs to construct bridges to understanding rather than putting up barriers to unity.

  • Phil John I thought you were a bigotted nut before, now I am sure. Where does Dr Cudjoe conjure up any racial boogeyman. You like all little eichmans become crazy when any reference is made to the experiences of Africans. So much so that you distort the context of Cudjoe’s commentary in plain sight.

    Doctor Cudjoe says quote, “Accordingly to Professor Ryan, or at least that is how his thinking goes, it behooves Africans-i.e., the member of the PNM-to find a way to accommodate the thousands of persons who did not receive any seats in our Legislature through our first-past the post system. Therefore, it is in our own best self-interest (and I speak as an African and a member of the PNM) to correct this situation before it deteriorates”. Anyone but an unreconstructed bigot can discern from this passage that Cudjoe is saying that Africans, from their experiences, should be ultra sensitive to this situation. That they should understand that guaranteeing representation for the least among the political assembley of T&T is essential to a future guarantee in their case. What racial boogeyman is he conjuring up with these comments.

    Doctor Cudjoe went on to assert that quote, “Nor do I think it appropriate for the Prime Minister to treat with the leader of a legitimate party such as a COP in a way that can be interpreted as being demeaning to his status as confirmed by the polls. Much of what cements a democracy and prevents it from solidifying entrenched grievances revolves around the respect we accord to legitimate leaders whether they are in power or not; whether they hold a seat in the Legislature or not. No one can dismiss the achievement of Winston Dookeran outright. He and his followers have a right to be heard in the highest echelons of our government. Doctor Cudjoe cautions Manning not to marginalize the leader of COP merely because the party did not win a seat in parliament. His meaning is pellucid here. He believes that Democracy is best served by ensuring representation of the smallest minority at the forum where national decisions are deliberated.

    Doctor Cudjoe concludes, quote, “Whatever we do depends on the enlighten leadership of the PNM and the UNC. No party can continue to disrespect the wishes of its populace and get away with it forever. It is in our best self-interest to direct our parties to begin to discuss this important issue. PNMites (read Africans) may enjoy certain advantages today. It is in our own best self interest to ask whether political justice deferred could not come back to haunt us. The man is saying that the African supporters of the PNM should not take the current position for granted. He is exhorting his fellow African Supporters of the PNM to empathize with the position of the constituents of COP. When a Jewish sympathiser of the Palestinian plight exhorts his fellow Jews in Israel to be mindful of the needs of those people is he calling up the religious or racial boogeyman? Gimme a break you nut.

    You Guys or reservoirs of ephemeral wisdom and insight. The nasty and deceitful workings of your mindsets are revealed in these nefarious flights of fancies you embark upon in order to demonize a group, or defame those who speak on behalf of that group. It is anathema for people like Doctor Cudjoe to represent views contrary to the vile propaganda you are self committed to proliferasting, and you are prepared to perform acrobatic feats of logic in order to distort his message. Support African Freedom fighters my eye. You probably went into their midst as a fifth columnist on behalf of the apartheid regime. Fortunately your undervover venture came to nought.

  • What you need to do is return to elementary school and learn the fundamentals of comprehension. You would find out that the opening paragraph contains the main idea which is later the subject of embellishment in subsequent paragraphs. If you miss this, you would always be in trouble when it comes to knowing what you are reading. I have said this, but I can’t really believe you are that dense. You are pretending to be naive.

    Dr. Cudjoe’s opening paragraph: “I suppose I can say publicly what Selwyn Ryan…can say privately and obliquely when he speaks about the specter of the non-representation of twenty-five percent of the population AND THE IMPENDING DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF AFRICANS IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS THAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN HERE EVENTUALLY IF WE DO NOT ATTEND TO THIS SITUATION.” (emphasis mine). The word “impending” means that the thing poses an imminent threat. Who is threatening, to your current knowledge, to take away the franchise of Africans in TnT? Is the PNM so suicidal that it would destroy its own political base?

    Next, he clearly states that he was speaking “…as an African and a member of the PNM.” This is not the same as Ryan’s populist call for an expansion in representational democracy. Further, he draws reference to Guyana and cautions that Forbes Burnham and the PNC (Africans) were booted out by the PPP and Cheddi Jagan (Indians) and “would not see power in the foreseeable future.” I can get no logic from this analogy because I cannot imagine what Burnham could have done to the Guyanese constitution in order to have been able to maintain power. Maybe TnT would be the testing ground.

    Thus, Dr. Cudjoe’s main thesis is that PNM should take steps to amend the constituion because it is in his, and its self-interest as PNM to maintain power. What genuine democratic measures would emerge from a narrow partisan interest in remaining in office.?

    As to this “tyranny of the majority” argument, it is equally misplaced. Slaveholder and “Founding Father” of the US, the Federalist James Madison, used it in 1787 when discussing the practicality of controlling minority factions and the dilemma that when decisions are made by majority vote, the outcome may be quite uncertain for the wealthy who made up a small portion of the electorate.

    Based upon both the Ryan and Cudjoe articles, I guess I would be correct in concluding that those who voted for PNM and UNC are now in a better posture than those who voted for COP. I guess that such persons have no representative in Parliament based upon the current election boundaries. I am also correct in my assumption that those who are now being represented by PNM and UNC, and not the unfortunates who voted COP and now have no representation, now have better housing, quality healthcare, better and safer roads on which to travel, pay lower prices for food, their children attend better schools, they have a say in how government prioritizes expenditures, they are not fearing for their lives at the hands of violent criminals and gangsters.

    The premise is absurd and the baseless and unwarranted ethnic slant is inexcusable.

  • See what Ryan and Cudjoe are doing and call it like it is. Ryan uses, and Cudjoe repeats, “tyranny of the majority” which is totally out of context. The person who coined it was fearful for his own wealth in a system of majority decision-making.

    The plain truth is that they were pleading for a visible role for Dookeran whom they view as a class ally I am willing to wager that this idea did not originate with either of these gentlemen, but was dictated by those whose interests they serve. Afterall, he was the former Governor of the Central Bank. He knows more than anyone what has to be done to continue the foreign domination of our nation’s natural resources and finances.

  • Comprehension my ass. Like they say words do not have meaning, people do. This is a classical example of the truism that reside in that observation. The inferrence you draw from Cudjoe remarks that led you to accuse him of conjuring up the racial bogey man is more a function of your bottom house socialization, than any miscomprehension or misreading of the essence of his remarks.

    Like your pardner, your automatic reaction is that blacks have to be led, they cannot be allowed to lead. Ryan and Cudjoe’s attempt to argue for the inclusion of COP leadership in the decision making process in Trinidad in the context of the African experience is galling to people like you who believe, as your pardner said, that we ought to resign ourselves to learning from and being led by those outside of our ethnic groupings. You guys are nauseatingly transparent.

    Doctor Cudjoe statement quote, “I suppose I can say publicly what Selwyn Ryan (See Express, December 23) can say privately and obliquely when he speaks about the specter of the non-representation of twenty five percent of the population and the impending disenfranchisement of Africans in the political process that is likely to happen here eventually if we do not attend to this situation end quote, will be interpreted as conjuring up a racial bogey man explicitly by those with the mindset to do exactly as obliquely referenced by Ryan. It is this kind of mindset that is culturally predisposed to find imaginary evil behind the most empathy laden words of Africans, that has to be feared if it gets its hand on power. It is the kind of mindset that is intolerant of the fears of Africans, and intolerant of any genuine expressions of such fears, that would be prone to marginalize and discriminate against them. It is the kind of mindset that, if it assumes power, would go to great lenghts to silence these expressions, even to the point of classifying them as race baiting in order to silence the message and the messenger. Ryan and Cudjoe knew what they were talking about. The Phil Johns hope that by shouting “wolf” attention can be evicted from the true essence in their remarks. Boyo, T&T for a little twin island sure produced its share of “Bendedicts”.

    I make my bones in the struggles of Africans against discrimination, not only on their behalf but on behalf of others, by deciphering the double entendre criticisms of people like you Phil John. My cue is that once I have identified you, the louder you protest, the more attention has to be given to the concern associated with the expression you are protesting. Your protest is to take peoples attention away from the mean, and divert it to the periphery where you find egotistical comfort. But my task is not to comfort those like you in the “get over it” bottom houses. My task is to challenge you at every turn, and popularity is not an influence in my zealousness so to do.

    Education has produced more asses in this world than anything else, and this is a case in point. Because you are leading an argument that you can deduce from Cudjoe words an intent that he did not have in his mind while making them. You are attributing a negative element to his statement, and then attempting to butress it by claiming those who do not agree with you have comprehension issues. Yeah right.

    If my inability to find the same meaning you did in Cudjoe Words implies an issue of comprehension, then what about the majority of bloggers on this thread that did not find that intent either? Thou mayest attempt to conceal thy sin by cunning art and exhortations about your contributions to African struggle, but simple leaps like these exposes what lies beneath the deceitful surface. And what lies there impells you to argue that anyone who does not see the evil intent you do behind Cudjoe’s words, lack comprehensive skills. Man you are not only an unrestrained bigot, you are also pathetically sophomoric with the reasonings you advance.

  • Thanks for your very candid admission as to your meticulous avoidance of education. Let me asssure you that your fear of education producing asses is misplaced. Just look at yourself and see what ignorance has done. Like you, I too am very busy. I am not going to waste any more time educating you because you seem to wear your dunce cap as a badge of honor and accomplishment. When you “agree” with persons such as Drs. Cudjoe and Ryan you think that elevates you to the Dr. League.

    If you had used your common sense you would have immediately discovered the obvious. First, in a system of majority rule, like in TnT, those who voted for a losing candidate is represented by the candidate who won the election in the district in which the voter resides. As an example, if you live in San Fernando in Manning’s district and you voted for the UNC or COP candidate, you are now represented by Mr. Manning. Pray tell, how have you been disenfranchised?

    Therefore, it would be wise to more closely examine the real issue which has become the subject of Dr. Cudjoe and Dr. Ryan, who are not fools, but very able scholars. Since you cannot decipher the puzzle, I shall tell you what the main agenda is. They have come to the realization that there are uneven growth trends in the population of TnT, creating a very real potential for drastic shifts in power. A constitutional change to a system of proportionate representation would assure each group at least a theoretical chance to be represented in the government. In my view—-and I am not here or at anytime ever canvassing for votes or acceptance—-this is a system that is long overdue.

    My main quarrel is with the pretext they used to propose the subject and Cudjoe’s innuendo that there were sinister hands at work and not openly stating that his, and Ryan’s, recommendation was based on the demographic realities of TnT.

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