PNM’s Last Chance

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 05, 2014

Part 1

A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones—and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals.

—Nelson Mandela

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI am pretty certain that Keith Rowley will emerge victorious during the PNM’s party election and go on to become the next prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Fortunately, that is the easy part of the political equation. The more difficult part is to govern in such a way that the society emerges in a better place than it is in 2014. That’s the challenge PNM faces when it takes the helm of government. However, if Rowley and the PNM fail to leave Trinidad (and especially our brothers and sisters in our depressed areas) in a better way than they found them in 2014, one can confidently predict that 2020 would mark the beginning of the end of the PNM as a political force in our country.

PNM has contributed much to our society. Therefore it stands to reason that if the party accepts praises for the good things that have happened, it must also accept its share of blame for the bad things. If the society is more crime-ridden today than it was yesterday, the PNM must accept its share of the blame for such a condition. It does not do any good to blame the PP (the People’s Partnership) for the state of crime in the society since both parties share in the blame.

The PNM must accept that the party has failed the country in how it has treated the least amongst us: that is, the people of Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Maloney, and the other depressed areas that are predominantly black. If the party wishes to be a relevant entity after 2020, it must stop the downward slide in which these people find themselves and work towards creating a more equitable society where they feel they have a stake in the society and that Trinidad and Tobago is as much theirs as it is ours.

If PNM wishes to make the society more livable, it must make the community the center of all social and political development. It is an opportunity which the PNM rejected and one that has come back to haunt all of us. In 1989 Joel Krieger, a colleague of mine in the political science department at Wellesley College, and I wrote PNM’s 20/20 Vision Statement (it was adopted at the 1989 PNM Convention) the one thing we stressed (but could not get Patrick Manning to agree with) was the principle of community control as the foundation of our social development.

We argued then—and I have continued to do so consistently—that if colonialism involved the control of the society by the governor and an executive council who worked for the benefit of the British Crown, then independence—and later republicanism—must involve a radical overthrowing of that order and placing the control of the society in the hands of the community. Today people must work for themselves and the enhancement of others. The community must become the fulcrum around which our social and political system revolves.

In today’s world, government officials are slowly realizing that the communities are the key to solving many of our problems. A week ago Garry McCarthy, the police chief of Chicago, Illinois, the murder capital of the United States, attributed the drop in the murder rate in Chicago (the murder rate dropped by 18 percent in 2013, the lowest level in fifty years), to the role of community policing and the provision of more social services and amenities for the “worst neighborhoods” in his city.

Speaking about the success of his efforts, McCarthy noted that “the department was structured around community rather than citywide policing, resources were shifted to the most dangerous areas through more spending on overtime, and merit—based promotion for commanders was introduced” (FinancialTimes, February 18, 2014). The police department, he said, had done a “gang audit” and identified “every member, every territory and every conflict in the Chicago’s entrenched gang culture.”What he did not mention was his department’s close working relationship with the community.

Crime however does not exist in a vacuum. Sociologists have attributed increased crime in these black areas to the high levels of unemployment that exists there. Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C. noted that for seventy years black unemployment had been twice that of white workers. She says: “It’s hard not to use the word ‘depression’ when you’re describing the labor market conditions among African Americans now” (FT, February 17, 2014).

Part 2

On February 28, in light of the catastrophic conditions among young black men in the US, President Barack Obama announced an initiative to empower them. He stated that the country should do more to show these young men “that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them.” He emphasized that government needed “to partner with communities and police to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer. And we need to help these young men stay in school and find a good job—so they have an opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities and build decent lives for themselves and their families” (New York Times, February 27, 2014). He also called on the non-profits to assist him in achieving his objectives.

For fifteen years the National Association for the Empowerment of African People of Trinidad and Tobago (NAEAP) has been urging our government to partner with local black organizations to alleviate the conditions of black communities and black youths but to no avail. We established a school, conducted seminars, held summer classes and gave evening lessons. We offered national lectures but never received any assistance from the government or prominent blacks in our communities. Today that neglect continues to haunt us.

To make matters worse, it seemed to us that Mr. Manning had an intractable fear of Sat Maharaj, and the PNM feared to be associated too visibly with anything black. In the early 2000s I sent a memo to Mr. Manning recommending that there be an educational component in every CEPEP program. I made that recommendation knowing that not every participant in the CPEP program would learn to read and write but remained convinced that if the children of a CEPEP worker saw his or her parents reading and writing, they were more likely to want to do the same. Fear of what the PP or Sat would say prevented the PNM from incorporating this very worthwhile idea into its public works program.

The PNM has an obligation to work to raise up those who have received least from society’s abundance. Afro-Trinidadians from the depressed segments have been the backbone of the PNM but have not received as much as they have given to the PNM. The PNM has been so afraid of being labeled “racist” that it has done little to enhance the well-being of those who need their assistance the most. Today, the outcome is clear: you either empower black people, starting from the base of their communities, or the society will pay a high price for such neglect.

Mr. Rowley should also guard against a related tendency among the PNM hierarchy. On Election Day, come hell or high water, the people of Laventille, Morvant, and other such areas turn out faithfully to support PNM. Once the party gets into power a special select few who usually surround the leader profit most from the party’s victory by way of contracts, special favors, etc., while the poor and downtrodden, faithful to the end, go back their homes, hoping that things will be better this time around.

Mr. Rowley will have to remember the importance of an organized party in achieving the party’s objectives, particularly with regard to black people. When C. L. R. James left the party in 1961 (or was he thrown out?), he emphasized that the party must be controlled by its members. He noted: “A party leader has constantly to ask himself: If I am struck down tomorrow (or shot down) what will happen to my program? The answer is not in individuals but in a solidly organized party” (Party Politics in the West Indies, 54).

James realized that an organized party was indispensible for the achievement of the party’s objectives. He observed: “It is the organized party which alone can assure success against the most powerful enemies. It is the power of the organized party which will bring to the party young and educated elements who are so conspicuously missing [from the party]… Periodical exhortations and denunciations by the political Leader will not organize the party” (Ibid., 60—1). It is a warning of which we need to be aware as we prepare for government.

The PNM also has to be careful about its tendency to glorify “the political leader.” We do not even refer to him by his name but by his title. Party members ought to remember that we serve Keith Rowley or Penny Beckles when we insist on the centrality of the party in formulating policies and practicing consistent democracy within the party. The leader of the party articulates the party’s views and inspires us to greater heights. Ultimately, the leader is not the party: he or she represents the concentrated expression of the party’s aspirations which he or she is bound to respect.

On May 28 I will support Keith Rowley’s candidacy for the leadership of the PNM as I did in those not-so-glorious days of 1996 when he challenged Mr. Manning for the leadership of the party. However, I would be lacking in patriotic sentiments if I did not remind my party of the debt it owes to its most faithful followers and the need to stop taking their loyalty for granted. I may be wrong, but I think the fortunes of the party will rise and fall on how it treats this important segment of the party. As the old folks used to say, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

Selwyn R. Cudjoe is a member of Party Group 12, Tunapuna Constituency. He can be reached at and tweet @ProfessorCudjoe.

6 thoughts on “PNM’s Last Chance”

  1. “The PNM must accept that the party has failed the country in how it has treated the least amongst us: that is, the people of Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Maloney, and the other depressed areas that are predominantly black”.(CUDJOE)

    Most of the failing schools in the country service these areas. The Ministry of Education must intervene and provide services to improve the education and the lives of the students in these areas. Research has shown that the traditional methods of instruction and examination driven curriculum are unsuitable for the majority of students residing in these at-risk communities. New instructional strategies, more appropriate programs and psychometric testing on a large scale are just a few of the requirements. Dedicated teachers and identification of students at risk, intellectually, psychologically and socially must be carried out by trained staff. Intensive and directed interventions have changed the course of failing schools and crime ridden communities in many North American cities. T&T can afford to invest in education but the country persists in perpetuating an outdated education model. New draconian laws do not reduce crime, progressive education systems do. Uplifting the lives of people in these areas improves all of our lives as well.

  2. Professor Cudjoe ……”I may be wrong, but I think the fortunes of the party will rise and fall on how it treats this important segment of the party. As the old folks used to say, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”” .
    It is not just the PNM party, it is a problem with the Afro-Trinidadian people as a whole, to reject the source of their strength and look to other people’s approval before accepting what is rightfully theirs. Whilst I will admit that the PNM has the best minds and policies for the advancement of this country as a whole, they have allo
    wed FEAR and COWARDICE to interfere with their better judgement. Number one FEAR is SAT MAHARAJ. Number two is the FEAR of “what the Indian people would say?” FEAR number three is “what our financiers would say?” There is almost no FEAR in what their supporters would say. SAD!! VERY SAD!!! Manning destroyed the “support” of the people of Arima because he wanted to choose their representative for them. In so doing, he really fragmented the whole of the party because local people have lost touch with their own constituencies in terms of who and what is right for them. In fact what the PNM did in the last election was to allow “pretenders” to come in and actually appeal to their base so much so that any potential voter will say, “what the hell, we voted for the PNM and they did nothing for us, so why not try somebody else, maybe they might do something for us”. When you allow your “supporters” to feel that way, then you cannot rightfully seek their support at election time then turn your back once you are in office. Contrary to what most Indian bloggers say, the only people who suffer under the PNM is it’s base. Crime ridden, poor schools, poor services, neglect, fear and backwardness. Keith Rowley has a nominal chance to change that kind of negligence and perception. If he does, his leadership standing would most certainly improve. If he does not then he would like Manning be “clearing track for gouti to run” and Kamla can come back with an even bigger mandate than 2010. Afro Trinidadians need to know and understand their rights. Listen to any Indian station, people say what they want (without any signal of impropriety) from the station hosts. On a predominant Afro station, you would be warned of your propriety even if you are quoting SAT Maharaj verbatim. This inner fear is an inferior complex that is all too common in the Afro community. We have to pass on confidence in our children. In mine and that of many Afro families, we pass on to our children ‘what they can’t do’ first and foremost as opposed to ‘what we can do to make ourselves better’. This attitude is played out internally and externally and in so doing we are actually accepting ourselves with inferior complexities whilst allowing other ethnics to maintain a sense of “being better”.

  3. Selwyn Cudjoe as high priest

    By Theodore Lewis

    Story Created: Mar 5, 2014 at 11:18 PM ECT

    (Story Updated: Mar 6, 2014 at 8:04 AM ECT )

    I have been trying to digest Selwyn Cudjoe’s two-part column published in the Express over Carnival. I find it to be strong on prediction, but weak on evidence or analysis. He said he is “certain” that Rowley will win the PNM internal elections and then go on to win the national elections. But he does not provide the basis of this bold and positive prediction. This is Selwyn Cudjoe as high priest, playing the role of soothsayer who can summon uncommon powers of prescience that bring the future to the present, thereby allowing his leader to conserve cognitive resources and shoe sole that he might otherwise expend as he tries to win back the elections for his party.
    Indeed there are elections to be fought in this country, within the PNM, and then among the populace at large. They are not pro forma. Rowley could lose them both, if he looks past them and is perceived to be so doing by PNM supporters or potential PNM voters. He has to make his case to PNM supporters and to the public as leader, and these two elections provide him the opportunities to do so.
    It was arrogance on the part of Manning, and a false feeling that he was divinely protected, that caused him basically to hand over the state, with two years to go. Manning had gone too far in front of his party. When he looked back on election day they were not there. The corridor was gone. As was Tobago.
    Now comes Prof Cudjoe, as though none of this ever occurred, and he tells Rowley to start planning for what he would do for black people the next time, especially in hotspot communities where black people dwell, such as Laventille, and Maloney, constituencies the PNM were left with after the last elections.
    It seems to me that Mr. Rowley would be better off if he takes Ms Penelope Beckles challenge seriously, and fights the internal PNM elections with real gusto. This is not the first test of his fitness for leading the party. The evidence is that he has been intellectually engaged in this, and that when the time came whether it was Section 34, or the host of other PP mishaps and misdeeds, he pounced, with good results. The PNM has done well in elections in the interim—in Tobago, St, Joseph, and in local elections. Rowley must communicate that Ms Beckles is a worthy contender, with whom he can have a civil debate about vision and priorities for the party. He cannot do less.
    Prof Cudjoe’s main thesis is that this time around, if the PNM do not connect directly with the black electorate this would be its last chance. In particular, he focuses on the hot spot communities. He writes: “The PNM must accept that the party has failed the country in how it has treated the least amongst us: that is, the people of Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Maloney, and the other depressed areas that are predominantly black.” I hear what Prof Cudjoe is saying with this point, and I will come back to this question of race and the PNM. But maybe Prof Cudjoe does not fathom properly what happened the last time. And it is that the PNM lost the corridor and Tobago. The party lost Arima, Toco-Sangre Grande, D’Abadie/O’Omeara, La Horquetta/Talparo, Tunapuna, St Augustine, Barataria, and St Ann’s East. It also lost Tobago East and Tobago-West. Plus Moruga, Fyzabad, and Mayaro.
    So what happened in the last election is that the base of the PNM was washed away. This is bigger, much bigger than crime hot spots. This is also the middle class black person, fed up with crime, and wanting solutions. This is the elderly black woman wanting to get up at five o ’clock to go to mass, and afraid that she will be held imperilled.
    As to the question of race, it is the case that party politics in this country was founded on ethnic strivings. The authority here is Morton Klass, who in his seminal study “East and West Indian: Cultural Complexity in Trinidad”, explained how the politics of the 1940s derived its outlines from the two ethnic poles in the plural society. Indians wanted to maintain their ethnic identity, and retreated to cultural enclaves after trading in the market place. Africans with looser bonds with ancestry favoured the Creole society.
    The two groups mixed but did not combine, consistent with the theory of cultural pluralism as set forth by Furnivall. Both groups looked to their own for political leadership. This is our history. We must not be ashamed of it. We did not have Democrats and Republicans here as in the US. Nor Conservatives and Labourites as in the UK.
    We had Africans and Indians, politics based on the ethnic outcomes of colonialism that can be seen in Malaysia, for example. We were defined politically here by the slave trade and indenture-ship. On the whole we have done remarkably as a nation, accepting each other and respecting each other’s rights.
    As to black aspirations and the PNM, I think Prof Cudjoe has a point when he says that the party has sometimes been unclear in its message, for fear that it will be assessed to be race-based. A Peoples’ National Movement has to include not just Africans but all the races. The question though has to be what group constitutes the PNM base? The UNC in its various iterations whether PDP, ULF, or DLP, has never been unclear about this. Bhadase Maraj and now Sat Maharaj have told us loud and clear what is that base. Basdeo Panday said it was “sugar workers”. We could dance around this, employ euphemisms, or call each other racist, but we cannot deny history. It is the case that the PNM has been somewhat more shy than, say, the UNC, in naming or clarifying what is its base.
    A final word here has to do with crime and dysfunction in the black community. Yes the PNM has to own up to some of this. But black people also have to take up our own beds and walk. Manning did not make anybody a criminal. Just like Obama did not make the young brother on the streets of Chicago a criminal. People make themselves criminals.
    It is the case though that the absence of fathers or father figures in the black home, a perennial problem does not help. A grandmother or working mother is not a match for the gang leader on the block with his bundles of cash, and sexy girls, in convincing a 16-year-old youth to make the right choice between his mathematics homework or riding in a stolen car in which there are other black youth, one or more guns, and a Movado or Vibes Kartel sound track.
    But there are choices that beat early death. Some African brothers sell nuts on the highway. Many work at the various ministries. I see young brothers selling yams and fish in Arima market. The Bravo brothers play cricket. Bunji and Machel followed their entertainment passions. Machel has O’ Levels. Sunil Narine plays cricket in India. I see my Indian brothers selling coconuts, and doubles. We can learn from this. I reject outright that black people are helpless against criminality.

    The PNM must not pander to young black men who are criminals, and who love jobs that start at 7 a.m. and end at 8 a.m. If you make a CEPEP recipient literate, as Cudjoe says, how do you convince him to get out of CEPEP? Look at young black sisters. They are in school, and at the university, where the young black male is missing, here and in Jamaica. I think we need social policy and programmes, such as youth apprenticeship that focus on skill training, that engage black youth in their critical transition years between adolescence and adulthood. But murder is not a natural response to poverty.
    This long after slavery, we have black men still, who believe they came on this earth to impregnate black sisters and to walk away. That is the reason why the black community is crime infested. It is not poverty alone, it is young boys who become men too soon, running communities at 16, a job that pundits, imams, the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis, with grown men, take on in other communities.

    Theodore Lewis is professor
    emeritus, University of Minnesota,

  4. Welcome back Mr. Cudjoe good to see a greater effort at a balance view. Blacks have traditionally depended more on government to which government have created a dependency syndrome that starves independence and creativity. Less government is the better way to go. Making people rich cannot be the objective of governance. The objective should be to develop good, responsible citizens who are given a lift when needed to achieve their dreams.

    The culture of dependency with “slash and burn” thinking cannot be good for any nation. For the nation to move forward there has to be a list of “core values” that can shape the thinking of the next generation. Here are a list of core values (1) Strong families with fathers playing an active role in the lives of children, (2) Education that focuses on the needs of society rather than trying to find “y” in a mathematical arrangement, how about parenting class, the effects of drugs on the human brain etc, (3) Respect- teaching children to develop the graces of social mannerism rather than the empty rancor of obscenities.
    I can go on but I am sure that there are 7 core values that can become the modus operandi for the next generation.

  5. What is the alternative to the PNM. It is a replica of what rules in Guyana. A political ensemble unable to untangle itself from the historic cultural tradition of caste stratification and privileges inherited from the Mother Land of its leaders. So while Indians can leave T&T and Guyana and live comfortably in other Caribbean nations with predominant African populations and political leadership, the two nations in which their numbers managed to propel them into Government have become like “little Indias”, complete with s social political administration dedicated to replicate in the nations they govern, that which has historically been cemented into society of India.

    So we have to understand the zealousness with which the punditry attempt to extirpate the PNM from the Political Scene. That party stand in the way, and obstructs their master plan. As long as there is any political party with strong black leadership that black people will vote for both in T&T and Guyana, the frantic effort to nasty those parties by displacing cultural traits alien to Africans, but which has been an existent way of life for them, will continue. The task for us is to respond with no apology whatsoever, and not to allow ourselves to be guilt tripped into silence. It is that silence on which they capitalize, and [proceed to pawn off all of the nasty and odious cultural practices related to racial prejudice, unto us.

  6. There are those who would like to make us believe that all T&T Indians , are doing great , and some 80% or more , are budding millionaires , highly educated,who emerged from wonderful neo spiritual, value laden families, are law abiding , honest, crime hating patriots.
    Far from it folks!Likewise,contrary to mainstream popular opinions , a growing segment of the Trini African population have done /are doing quite well, on the socio economic front-many without depending on n any governmental handouts.
    Many are spiritual, family oriented people. Most abhors crimes , in any form, and would personally condemn any from within their community ,who so indulges.
    Leaders of both parties can take some credit for the successes,but so should they accept some blame, when we try to understand the problems.
    On the contentious issue of crime T-Man, like many of my citizens , I too am disgusted by it.I am however a big fan of equal playing field justice.
    Translation:- Increasingly violent Blue color bandits , that terrorize neighborhoods , forcing that Granny you spoke about-to stay at home ,are a menace to society.
    I am talking about the ones ,who also rape our sisters , taking a risk to drive in their private cars , due to our substandard national transportation system.
    T -Man attempted to use a host of suspect sociological / anthropological reasons ,as to why this problem is so common within, or rather occur more frequently ,within African folks circles.
    He even went so far , as to insinuate, that Afro Trini leaders , in ,or out of hardcore politics, are to be blamed since they encourage same.
    Now think were we might head as a country, if he was as passionate about the acts from White color bandits , who have been financially raping citizen, at every corner-more so during, the past few years, Kamla , and her PP government existence?
    I am talking about a high end , Indo Trini ,unscrupulous First Citizens CEO, who made off like a bandit,tarnishing the institution’s brand.
    I am referring to a Indo Christian Evangelical pastor, of a mega-church, who stole with impunity, then murdered when cornered , and eventually ,resorted to the cowardly act of suicide, to hide his shame.
    I am talking about a son , who sold his aging mamas (squatter )property, without her knowledge, thus turning her homeless, in the process, with few avenues for redress.
    Need I go on?
    The facts are TMan ,is that the majority of despicable, white color crimes, be it embezzlement, fraud, misuse /misapropiation of citizens monies, insider tradings etc, were all committed by Indo Trinis, many of which are card carrying UNC folks.
    I won’t speculate as to the cause of this , Bro T-Man, except to say ,that our South Asian /Indo Trini cousins,possess an unwholesome passion for indulging in , as well as tolerance level,for such activities.
    Now ,for the record, I do not care who is more guilty than who, or the merits of escapist cultural excuses, as to source.
    In the name of Security, both problems must be confronted, and eradicated, if our country is to move forward.
    Let those of us who claim to care , begin the journey, as we quit finger pointing
    ,and instead start looking in the mirror, humm?
    There is work to be done.
    Luv humanity folks!

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