By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 05, 2021
“Ethnic mobilization [in Trinidad and Tobago] is the result of national political impotence, not its cause. Such parties, without any firm, rooted principles, provide no basis for political solidarity….These loose ethnic solidarities arise from the safe cliques by which citizens organize themselves in this half-made society.”
—Kirk Meighoo, “Ethnic Mobilisation vs. Ethnic Politics,”
Dr. Kirk Meighoo is one of our better scholars. I have followed his academic progress since he was a student at the University of the West Indies. In his well-researched book Politics in a Half-Made Society (2003), he argued that societies such as T&T “have not yet established enduring, meaningful standards of their own. They are societies still in formation and unmade, without a firm foundation (intellectual, cultural, political, military, and/or economic), and in which solidity is elusive.” Although I disagree with his central thesis (taken from the work of Vidia Naipaul whom he calls one of T&T’s “great philosophers”) I still think his book is a worthwhile read.
His rhetorical excesses began in January after he was appointed the Public Relations Officer of the UNC. In April he released a controversial statement that distorted an advisory the US Department of State gave its citizens about traveling to areas around Port of Spain. Meighoo interpreted that statement to mean that US citizens were advised not to travel to areas “ruled by the PNM (People’s National Movement) continuously since 1956 up to today….The US government has declared these very seats the most dangerous areas in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Not content with misreading the US advisory, Meighoo argued: “It is only a matter of time before the PNM turn the whole of Trinidad and Tobago into the crime hellholes that they have turned their stronghold areas into.” This is the same Meighoo who argued in 2003: “For 25 years, through a combination of skill, determination, and fortune, Williams and the PNM consistently prevailed over the disorder of Trinidad and Tobago politics, both within parliament and outside of it….
“Williams had achieved a significant measure of what he had set out to do, leading Trinidad and Tobago through significant political, social, and economic transformation, which included the establishment of a Republican and a liberal-democratic constitution, widespread free public education, heavy industrial development, and a greatly increased standard of living, all within a relatively peaceful and free social and political environment” (Politics in a Half-Made Society).
The US Embassy objected to Meighoo’s inaccuracies vigorously saying: “The Embassy is aware of the UNC’s response to the Department of State’s travel advisory to US citizens….The Department’s Travel Advisories are apolitical in nature, and in no way reflect our relationship with any country or with any specific political party within a country….We strongly disagree with any attempt to politicize the Department of State’s travel advisory system.”
One would have thought that this written putdown would have alerted Meighoo (and certainly the UNC) about the need to be more balanced in his interpretations since he is trying to convince intelligent people about the soundness of his claims. That lesson seemed to have gone over his head.
On August 21, in the second issue of The Checklist: The Official Newspaper of the United National Congress, of which Meighoo is the editor, he continued to exaggerate his claims. He declared: “UNC Must Reclaim Our ‘Independence Project for the Whole Country: Eric Williams is not T&T’s Father….We must debunk the notion once and for all that Eric Williams is our country’s father, a false idea ideologically pushed on our people every Independence day.”
His rationale: “Trinidad and Tobago existed long before Eric Williams did. He was merely one of her sons. Trinidad and Tobago will exist long after his party passes and fades. We [meaning the members of the UNC] are not their dependents and owe no allegiance to them.”
Meighoo’s rationale about Williams not being the “Father of the Nation” seemed farfetched. George Washington, the first U.S. president from 1789 to 1796, fought gallantly against the British and ushered in US independence. He was named the “Father of the Nation” because of the significant role he played in founding the country and his excellent command of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
In India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is considered the “Father of the Nation” because he was the country’s first president and worked assiduously to establish the nation after it broke away from Britain. Needless to say, his association with Mahatma Gandhi was important but he earned the appellation “Father of the Nation” because he worked hard and conscientiously to build the nation. He was considered one of the most remarkable men of the 20th century.
With the zealotry of a new convert, Meighoo glorified UNC’s achievements: “The historical legacy of the UNC is absolutely unmatched in terms of its history of struggle for the people of Trinidad and Tobago….In the short ten years the UNC was in government we probably did as much as or more than the PNM did in those 50 years…[they were] in power.” He concludes: “Imagine if we had 50 years like the PNM had, then T&T would be unrecognizable because we would [have] joined the ranks of those developed countries” (Express, May 1).
A student of history or an astute political observer can judge the sincerity of Meighoo’s claim (we call it a counterfactual), after all the complimentary things he said about Williams and the PNM previously and the impotence of politicians generally in this half-made society. It might be that UNC politicians are exempt from his latter evaluation. Meighoo, however, is hell-bent on deserting his scholarly reputation and entering into the realm of propaganda and that is foolhardy. He ought to be careful.