Please stay home

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 29, 2024

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI do not know what Cabinet intended to achieve when it changed “Emancipation Day” to “African Emancipation Day”, beginning August 1, 2024. Our Prime Minister declared that too many people at the international level were attempting to “add appendages” to the reasoning behind emancipation. He felt he had to change that. He declaimed: “We in T&T, who led on this matter, will have none of it. We made it quite clear that emancipation in T&T is a result of the emancipation of slaves,” even though most enlightened scholars refer to people who were stolen from Africa and brought to work on the plantations of the New World as “enslaved” people rather than “slaves”.

This distinction is subtle but important. “Enslaved people” possess human agency, whereas “slaves” are merely chattel—dumb animals or movable goods—that act at the behest of a master. Shane Paul Neil remarked: “Enslaved people…had very particular ideas about their value, ideas that differed greatly from their enslavers.”

The Cabinet did not discuss the matter with the organisations that took the lead in revivifying a celebration that commenced in 1839, one year after the enslaved people were formally freed. Shabaka Kambon bemoaned that the Emancipation Support Committee was not consulted on the matter.

He said: “I think that speaks to something of an unhealthy culture in terms of how we move things forward as a society. The major stakeholders in a particular area, the authorities don’t feel it is important to discuss something so significant with them to have them caucus and make a decision.” (Newsday, April 19.)

Kwasi Mutema, political leader of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), another organisation that was responsible in re-establishing this celebration, opined that he “would have liked to be included in the decision-making process…There should have been some level of consultation when it came to changing the name”. (T&T Guardian, April 20.) Aiyegoro Ome, a co-founder of NJAC and an African cultural activist, declared the name change “is meaningless”. (Express, April 2.)

After his pronouncement, the Prime Minister informed us that he would jet off to Ghana to “further relations with the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II” and to celebrate the Asantehene’s 25th anniversary of his ascent to the throne. The Asantehene may pay for the Prime Minister’s trip—he will be his guest—but the country will be without the services of its Prime Minister for a few more weeks as he attempts to build “stronger relations with Ghana”. It would be nice to know what this entails.

I do not know exactly how a visit to Kumasi will benefit us, particularly the black people of the island, especially when Ghana is plagued with elevated inflation, subdued growth and high levels of government debt. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) reports: “Nearly 68% of Ghanaians live on less than US$1.25 [or about ten T&T] dollars a day.”

The Prime Minister has been away for 31 days this year (five days in January to Washington, DC; 12 days in February to Guyana; and 14 days in March to Ireland). This raises the question: who is really running the country? Babies die at our hospitals and crime abounds, yet he prefers to roam the world. It’s easier to fix an internal problem while one is at home rather than dallying abroad.

Before the Prime Minister scooted off to Ireland for his vacation, he selected a constitution committee to go across the island to seek citizens’ ideas about constructing a new constitution. Thus far, these consultations have been a major failure. Few people have attended these consultations, leading the committee to say “public participation and interest are weak”.

When I addressed the nation on the crime problem in February, I stated: “A national discussion on crime is more relevant to our society’s future than one on constitutional reform as proposed by our Prime Minister. To the degree that there should be a committee on constitutional reform, it should be chaired by a constitutional expert…It is this thoughtless vikey-vie approach to national affairs that has placed us in the dangerous position in which we find ourselves.”

The evidence suggests the Prime Minister and his Cabinet did little or no preparatory work to ensure the success of these constitution hearings, which is why they have floundered in the wind, looking for a mission to accomplish.

When government leaders travel abroad to meet their counterparts, they usually have an advanced plan of action. Since there has been little planning and no consultation with the stakeholders about the objectives of this mission, one can confidently predict that it will fail, as the constitutional committee is doing right now.

When the Prime Minister arbitrarily changed the name of a celebration that has been in the making for over 165 years and proposes that his visit to the Ashanti Empire will improve our relations with that land, one wonders how such actions would allow us to “preserve our history, our legacy and make our claims without apologias to anyone”?

The Prime Minister would be better off staying at home and working with relevant groups to determine how best to improve the lives of Afro-Trinbagonians here and now.

Benjamin Franklin said in 1790: “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail,” which is exactly what awaits the Prime Minister’s visit to the seat of the Ashanti Empire next month.

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