By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 4, 2020
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
—James 1:5 KJV
Fifty eight years ago Eric Williams (PNM) and Rudranath Capildeo (DLP/UNC) went to Marlborough House to discuss the path forward to create an independent nation. Williams was determined to take the country into independence while Capildeo wanted to make sure that Afro-Trinbagonians, the majority group, did not discriminate against Indo-Trinbagonians. Subsuming their party interests to the national interest, they inscribed a minority platform into the country’s constitution that protected the rights of Indo-Trinbagonians and other ethnic groups.
Eight years later the Black Power Revolt reminded us that there was still much unfinished business. Although we had won independence, Afro- and Indo-Trinbagonians were not included in the economic arrangements of the new state. This Afro-centric thrust sought to include Indo-Trinbagonians in our mutual quest to deepen our democracy.
Raffique Shah, a fellow columnist and participant in the 1970 uprising, argued that Dr. Williams declared a state of emergency on April 21, 1970 because “Indian-African unity, which was being forged from the bottom up, not imposed from a leadership that was looking for tokenism, had to be stopped at all costs.” (trinicenter.com, June 2000.) However one reads this analysis, Indo- and Afro-Trinbagonians were aware of the imbalance of the economic arrangements within the society at the time.
But history is an uncanny master. It takes many avenues to right the wrongs of the past and carry forward the liberation process, albeit in a jagged manner. Now with the outbreak of the coronavirus, we have another opportunity to carry on the work of those who went before and the legacy of those two landmark-events (independence and the Black Power revolts). In spite of the Prime Minister’s desire, no one can disconnect the outbreak of the coronavirus from our historic struggle for justice.
On April 20, the Prime Minister (PM) outlined his “Conceptual Framework for the Formulation of the Road Map for Trinidad and Tobago Post COVID-19 Pandemic.” In a section, “Inclusiveness, Collaboration and Partnership,” he announced boldly: “COVID-19 has unmasked the inequalities that exist in the economy and at the wider societal level. But, it has also demonstrated that all segments of the society are at risk. The Road Map must, therefore, be based on collective action and strong collaboration among all sectors of the economy and all segments of the society.”
This is the challenge. How can we achieve such a noble objective when duly elected representatives of the people, consisting of about 40 percent of the electorate, are excluded from this committee? It is not sufficient to say that the members of the committee could elicit the views of the public. One expects them to do so. But it’s a serious lapse of judgment to exclude the Leader of the Opposition (LO) and some of her colleagues from this committee. The LO should have been one of the co-chairmen of the Road Map Committee if the PM wanted the fullest buy-in of the Indian community.
I also agree that our society must chart a new course from December 2020 but that new course cannot be disconnected from December 2019 or December 2030. We must think in the future even as we seek to understand the past. However, if we are thinking in the future, we cannot put together a committee in which Indo-Trinbagonians are woefully underrepresented. Indo-Trinbagonians consist of about 38 percent of the population. In ten years they will be about 44 percent while Afro-Trinbagonians will remain at about 38 percent. If we are concerned about the future of all members of our society, more Indo-Trinbagonians should be on this committee.
The PM’s committee consists largely of economists, businessmen, and financiers. As I noted previously, his party continues “to emphasize the sovereignty of finances over and above social and cultural capital” (October 22, 2019). A. Hotep, an astute observer of his society, put it best: “Dr. Keith Rowley’s ‘Road Map to Recovery’ team is mostly the same tone-deaf people who have us in our financial and social crisis today. There was no inclusion of members of the African community who advocate for addressing our racial and cultural issues which remain at the heart of disunity, insecurity and discriminatory social behaviors in this country. Why was the Opposition Leader not invited to be part of this group? I am not aware of members of this team placing environmental concerns at the top of their agenda. Where are those who are concerned about the development of our agriculture and water management sectors? I rather suspect that some feminists would also have similar concerns about being omitted” (trinicenter.com, April 17) .
In The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon observed that the Roman Empire fell because the Athenians preferred security over freedom. “They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all-security, comfort, freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”
This emphasis on self-responsibility of which Gibbon speaks might be similar to the self-responsibility that the PM advocates. It is a virtue we need to cultivate in our society.
I suspect a majority of the Road Map Committee members is more concerned with cushioning their own nests than with creating a just and moral society. It is entirely possible that Rondell Feeles, the chairman of the Single Fathers’ Association, can best represent my interest. Only time will determine the accuracy of my observations.