By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 25, 2018
Sixteen years hence, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) will celebrate its two hundredth anniversary since slavery ended formally. As I open my eyes, I am not sure I can see as clearly as the Minister of Finance how the African population will be positioned within the society in 2034.
Last Sunday I argued that by 2030, the Indian population will grow to between 588,000 and 776,000 people or 41 percent of the population; Africans will grow to between 525,000 and 615,000 people but remain about 36 percent of the population; and the mixed population will grow to between 339,000 and 417,000 people or 22 percent. In short, the African population will have dropped from 73 percent in 1803 to 36 percent in 2034.
There is nothing good or bad about the falling percentage of Africans in the population. What is important are the implications of this falling percentage and how Africans will, as a group, stack up economically with the other ethnic groups.
D’Vera Cohn and Andrea Caumont of Pew Research Center observed: “It is important to study the forces that are driving population change, and measure how these changes have an impact on people’s lives” (March 31, 2016). We know that identities, particularly in a cosmopolitan society such as ours, will not remain static, millennials will behave differently than earlier generations, and the growth of women in the labor force and in leadership roles may change the outcome of things.
The New York Times, in a front-page story entitled “Fewer Births than Deaths Among Whites in Majority of U. S. States” blazoned: “Deaths now outnumber births among white people in more than half the states in the country, demographers have found, signaling what could be a faster-than-expected transition to a future in which whites are no longer a majority of the American population.”
It continued: “[This] change has broad implications for identity and for the country’s political and economic life, transforming a mostly white baby boomer society into a multiethnic and racial patchwork.…’People say demographics is destiny and there’ll be more people of color—all this is true. But they also say that the U.S. is going to become more progressive, and we don’t know that” (NYT, June 20).
This is true also for T&T. We cannot be sure T&T will be a better place for Africans in 2034. Presently most of the top businesses in the country are in the hands of the Syrian/Lebanese group or the one-percenters. Their holdings include: Ansa Mcal; West Mall/Dairy Milk, Elleslie Plaza; Amalgamated Security; Blue Waters, Gulf City Malls; Francis Fashions; Prestige Holdings consisting of KFC, Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday; Pizzaboys Group; Starlite Pharmacy; and N. H. Construction.
Last year Mario Sabga-Aboud, chairman of the Global Brands Group of Companies and leader of this monopoly, declared, “While people of Syrian [Lebanese] descent represented one per cent of the population they were the ‘most powerful’ [group in the island] (Guardian, June 2, 2018). This business class exhibits much selfishness. They live in enclaves, marry one another; patronize one another’s businesses to the exclusion of others, and generally socialize together. They give back little to the community when compared with how much Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Zucherberg give to their community.
Last month, Gerald Aboud, a younger member of this Syrian/Lebanese onslaught against the majority population, declared that Indian Arrival Day and Corpus Christi were “two stupid holidays” the country did not need. He claims he was appalled by “the lack of productivity and challenges faced by most businesses due to the sheer number of public holidays we have in Trinidad and Tobago” (Express, June 2).
George Aboud, in defending his son’s racist comment, said: “My son is 45 and was born here. My father came to Trinidad in 1905. I’m 70 and have never gone back over. Trinidad is our home. We put everything into Trinidad. Many critics of my son pay no taxes but live off the Treasury” (Newsday, June 2).
While George Aboud may have put everything he owns into T&T, it was the black and Indian workers who set the table and laid the economic banquet he and his sons (and all of the Syrians/Lebanese) enjoy in T&T today. In July 1933, Usine Ste Madeleine “achieved the greatest output ever delivered by a sugar factory in the British Empire” and in1936, Trinidad “was the largest producer of oil in the British Empire” (Stephen Stuempfle, Port of Spain).
When the Abouds talk about the laziness and lack of productivity of the majority population, they should go back into our history books and learn who built the T&T that allows them to luxuriate in its present-day wealth.
The Syrians/Lebanese came in 1905. Africans have been here since 1517. Today, Africans are not part of the top echelon of economic power in the island, which has little correlation with the hard work we have put into building T&T. Given the present economic trajectory, one can predict with scientific certainty that nothing will change by 2034 unless the government places the economic equity of all peoples at the top of its political agenda.
In other words, are we, as a society, prepared to do anything about the growing disparity in wealth amongst the various ethnic groups? Or, will anything come of asking this question?