T&T at 59: Jean or Dinah?

By Raffique Shah
August 30, 2021

Raffique ShahIf I were asked to put a human face to a new portrait of Trinidad and Tobago at age 59, I would sketch a decrepit Jean or Dinah, aged beyond her actual years, scowling and regretting her wasted years, waiting to die at the feet of an ungrateful people.

I am not happy conjuring such a sorry image of my native land at a point in its history when it should be bubbling with life, oozing confidence and full of energy befitting a nation that has had a good run, whatever obstacles it may have encountered after it became an independent nation on August 31, 1962.

Few countries this small had the resources we did as we were about to take our destiny in our hands, chart a course of our choice. Then, T&T possessed hydrocarbons reserves that ranked it in a class way beyond its weight. True, its export-oriented agricultural sector needed to be overhauled, to refocus on pursuing food security as far as that was practical.

We had the brainpower, the fertile land, the requisite water resources. Hell, three years before we became independent, in 1959, the US conglomerate WR Grace & Company, had established the first ammonia plant in this part of the world at Savonetta, putting within our reach nitrogenous fertilisers, a critical resource in enhancing food production globally.

The government led by Dr Eric Williams had recognised the importance of well-rounded education. So, in addition to focusing on the arts and sciences and constructing new schools at the secondary level, it expanded and elevated institutions for training those who were not inclined towards academia in technical skills, hence the establishment of the John Donaldson Technical Institute and others of a similar nature.

There was training and certification for the hospitality sector. We had a thriving local lumber and furniture industry with craftsmen who produced works of art. And a local scientist had genetically modified an animal we named the “buffalypso” that would thrive in tropical conditions. We could justifiably boast of being on the cusp of creating a model nation.

In short, we knew what we had to do with this newly independent country to make it work better than it did under colonialism, to exploit its many resources downstream, create skilled jobs that would add value to raw materials. We had simply to harness the wealth of natural resources with an expanding pool of fairly literate, if not educated, human resources, and we were on the road to success.

But somewhere, early o’clock, we stumbled, and before we could pick ourselves up and right the wrongs that were leading us on the road to mediocrity, possibly mendicancy, we fell into a cesspit of political sewage that stained us indelibly, its putrid odour marking us not just for our lifetimes, but for generations.

And if we face reality, we’d admit that race, greed, selfishness and rank stupidity have coalesced into the ugly excuse for a human being we have become.

It is we who, rather than rationalise what was right, what was just, what could take us to the higher planes of humanity and mould us into a first-class nation, settled instead for second, tenth, one-hundredth best, because it was the easy way out, and it satisfied our animal, tribal instinct.

I am ashamed to be what I am, when I consider how many times I turned my back and pretended I just didn’t see (thanks for the lyrics, Pete Seeger) when my fellow citizens from different strata of the society stole, sometimes plundered, the public purse, and shared the spoils of their greed and boldface banditry among a few; those were crimes I condoned by my silence.

When someone got a State contract he didn’t deserve, and another 20 “ten days” that others more needy could not get, that was a crime. And if I knew of it, I turned away.

When a friend or a relative landed a job that he or she was not best qualified for, but “contact” made it possible, that was gross injustice I did not speak out on.

When people steal State lands, backfill and block water courses, build mansions then cry foul when they are flooded out, and to add insult to injury, the State uses public funds to compensate them, I looked on with detached dumbness, not expressions of outrage.

Then the politicians, rather than create opportunities for citizens to exercise their entrepreneurship, literally fed them from the fount of eternal dependency, and I remained mute.

Any wonder that at 59 I am a bedraggled buffoon, abused by my own, now abandoned to the vultures whose insatiable appetite for freeness I helped create and nurture, who now circle my skeletal remains to strip what marrow is left.

Have a reflective Independence Day, people.

12 thoughts on “T&T at 59: Jean or Dinah?”

  1. In addition to race, greed, selfishness, corruption and rank stupidity mentioned in your article, another monumental, enduring stumbling block to any progress in T&T is the psychological nature of the Trini personality. Trinis all have egomaniacal tendencies, from those on the top to even the most lowly being on the street. They arrogantly and stubbornly know everything and can do anything- a recipe for failure as it unfolds today as disastrous civil and political decisions pile up.

  2. “Any wonder that at 59 I am a bedraggled buffoon, abused by my own, now abandoned to the vultures whose insatiable appetite for freeness I helped create and nurture, who now circle my skeletal remains to strip what marrow is left.”
    A nice satirical message to the nation that gave you life, luxury and love.

    TnT out of 59 years has been under the grip of the
    PNM for 43 years
    NAR for 5 years, —1986 election
    UNC/NAR for 5 years, —1995
    UNC for 1 year—-2000
    PP for 5 years—2010
    Total = 16 years

    Yes after 59 years it has all turned into a real bad dream, a horrible nightmare. But look who in charge.
    Happy Independence Day…

  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EctE3dEAwEY
    Dubai an empty desert without water now the world number nation in development. Like TnT an oil base economy converted into a tourist and investment base economy where oil is now only 5% of the economy. And foreign labour from mainly India and Pakistan runs the economy.

    Without good leadership nothing happens in a nation.

    1. Also in Dubai, societal demarcation relegates the Indian and Pakistani to the low ebb of society. They run the taxi service and all other services to elevate the Arabs who are in control.
      The Arabs accept Europeans as equals and facilitates the Chinese and Japanese for their economic prowess. Is that what we want for our society???

      1. And so there will always be the “hewers of wood” in any and every culture. https://www.thefirstgroup.com/en/news/why-indian-investors-love-dubai/

        Why Dubai?

        Dubai has become a second home for Indians. There are four reasons for the same:

        — Higher rental yields: The Dubai real estate market offersrental yields of 6-10 per cent. “This is unheard of even in many mature markets. 1 million USD can buy significantly more real estate space in Dubai than in most other cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai, Shanghai, London, Singapore, and Monaco,” Jacob says.

        — Highly regulated: The market is highly regulated making it far more transparent and compliance-oriented market than any of its Indian counterparts, giving considerable comfort to real estate investors.

        — Just about 3 hours away: Dubai is just about 3.5 hours’ flight from Mumbai, making travel to and from Dubai extremely convenient. Besides the quality of lifestyle is at par with any other global counterparts.

        — Cuisine: Indians love their food. “The similarities of cultures and cuisines add to the overall attractiveness. For Indians, Dubai offers an unmatched global lifestyle – literally at India’s doorstep,” says Jacob.

        Kian stop spreading fake news!

  4. The problem with our society, is that there is no pool of consciousness that embodies a character that defines us as a nation. Independence for most of us, was never a redefining of a path forward where we can develop and grow into nationhood. It was just a relief from the yolk of colonialism that subjugated our freedom and stifled our latent talents. So while our leader envisioned our path forward be shaded by discipline, production and tolerance, those three aims were never achieved after sixty-two years. It was an illusionary concept to expect a young country, whose rudimental knowledge of unity, governance and rule of law were misunderstood at best. From the beginning, we were a people who did not know who we were. When our leaders met with the colonial masters in London there were two different expectations. One (Williams) was confident that we can go it on our own while the other (Capildeo) would have preferred to remain under the system that introduced slavery and indentureship in our region. The reason for the differences in expectations was (and still is) a lack of trust in both camps. The responses and opinions expressed in every form is evident of that mistrust. For the purpose of this conversation I will use the mild word ‘mistrust’ even though the reality might yield a much harsher reality. A nation cannot be built on mistrust, disunity, hate and lack of national pride. Our behavior today towards each other, is the embodiment of the same expectations that we negotiated in London – we are not in unison. National goals are different, depending on which camp we are in. We cannot achieve nationhood with different goals and priorities. In a democracy, both government and Opposition may have different policies but we should be steadfast in what we should do to achieve nationhood. We cannot take democracy for granted, we need to work at building a national character regardless of our differences. We should therefore celebrate independence not as a date we were set free but as an opportunity to build national consensus. As Sparrow said in his calypso “age is just a number”, because there is very little significance on how much we have grown as an independent nation. WE HAVE WORK TO DO.

  5. “And if we face reality, we’d admit that race, greed, selfishness and rank stupidity have coalesced into the ugly excuse for a human being we have become…”
    The sad reality is this is true. TnT is heading down the abyss. As I spoke to my good friend yesterday, he said that by Christmas most people will not make it.

    He said the cost of food has risen to about 300%. People are not working. How are they suppose to take care of their family. Here in a pandemic situation with many businesses closed, rampant unemployment, and high cost of everything. It is the recipe for disaster. The elitist 1% is doing exceptionally well. Kamla did not raise taxes but reduced it on many things. Rowley has done the opposite and created a poorer class of people whose future is like entering the black hole of nothingness. Kamla was vote out because we must support the wajang, well allyuh take what you getting. More to come.

    1. Mamoo,let me take you up on one of your quotes in which you acknowledged reality but obviously ignored reality with the same breath. “And if we face reality, we’d admit that race, greed, selfishness and rank stupidity have coalesced into the ugly excuse for a human being we have become…”
      The sad reality is this is true. “”
      In order to converse, we must first understand definitions. Reality is defined as ” thing that exists in fact, having previously only existed in one’s mind ” or “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them:” This, being given as a rational for argument, it is obvious that you are NOT considering “reality” as it actually exists as a state of things that created the reality that we all worry about.
      Your reality is NOT an examination of reality but a statement of YOUR political consciousness. There is NOT ONE nation in this world that have not suffered economic fallout due to the pandemic. THAT IS REALITY!!!!! Since we are NOT a manufacturing country nor do we have the answers to what afflicts us, we must, by virtue of our economic reality MUST accept suffering as the rest of the world does, as a fallout to this reality..

      1. Agreed Kian, nations are being shaken. But the coming wave of pestilence is leading to famine. A leader cannot be too overly concerned about the present but must see 5 years down the road and plan for that. Unless you have that kind of leadership in the pandemic situation trouble ahead.

        If you see trouble ahead and don’t take action now your nation will end up in the abyss. The world is going in a particular direction. And what is that direction? That is what we must understand before it is too late.

  6. Ater more than 40 years of a PNM administration, your sacrifice, your hard work, your saving, all the effort to put money in the treasury, all that can be undone in 5 years of a UNC government. The moral is don’t allow the UNC to get 5 more years so that they can thief out, and give out to their friends, and waste all the sacrifice, all the hard work you have put in to bring some sort of financial security to the treasury and the country.

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