Monthly Archives: December 2011
There is a body of thought that believes that every nation is made up of two spiritual countries. One is the shining, golden beacon that is its best self—a country living within the elixir of its imagination. The other is its shadow self—a nation run by its worst impulses. For England, that magical spiritual country is “Lourdes”, the England of King Arthur and Camelot, of Middle Earth and Narnia. Its diabolical dark side is the England of coal mines and industrial mills, the imperial global murderer “Britannia”. The litmus test of a nation’s health is: “which ‘country’ is it living closer to?” Are we, dear friends, closer to the Golden Trinbago of king sailors and Nobel Prize winners, Ramleela and Hosay pageants, Lara, Hasely, and CLR James? The land Amerindians called Iere—land of the hummingbird. Or are we closer to the savage nation of mediocrity, ugliness, corruption, murder and petty vice?
The year 2012 brings with it “the prophecy” of world’s end. Even if you do not want to believe the canny Mayans—there are a number of historical forces converging, locally and globally. Alive in the world —and right here at home on the ground—there are enough tumbling forces that can spell destruction. But to me, the answer to the question of apocalypse comes in the choice of which “nation” prevails. In that choice lies the destiny of whether, when the inevitable principalities and powers collide, we emerge with apocalypse, or rebirth.
In my first article, I stated that Trinidad and Tobago is currently undergoing, possibly, its most fertile period ever. Why? Because in 2010, we finally destroyed the centuries-old cult of the maximum leader that had paralysed us for so long. This was a system of governance inherited from the plantation. It was refined by the Crown Colony, perfected by Manning and Panday. In it, the political leader had all powers centralised in himself. Institutions countrywide were gutted of visionaries and independent thinkers and, instead, were staffed with mediocre talents whose job was to follow orders, maintain the status quo.
Maximum leadership is now dead, but the nation finds itself in a new frontier, a vacuum where it has absolutely no protocols with which to govern itself and advance its agendas. This means we have the opportunity to fashion a new beginning. To choose, Britannia or Lourdes.
We chose Britannia.
The mandate of this new Government could not have been simpler: assemble massive meetings of stakeholders. Get feedback. Assemble core visionaries in sectors. Assemble reports and collect data. Peruse the best proposals of the past that were on shelves rotting. Create action plans out of all this dialogue and good thinking. In the drive for implementation, use the best local human resources. Repatriate foreign-based professionals at the top of their field. That was it. Simple. This was the simple change that people voted for. Intelligent participatory democracy, making use of the best that we have.
Instead, we got more of the same: network, family and ethnic nepotism. The culture of corruption, inefficiency and waste. Non-consultation and policy by vaps. The continuing reign of the mediocre. The stories are now rampant. Add to this: clueless ministers who feel they have all the answers, completely ignoring grassroots expertise, and State boards loaded with clueless appointees. It is the continuing Trini recipe for disaster. The crazy doctor is gone, but the inmates are now running the asylum. There has been a near complete abandoning of people’s participation. Instead, Julian Kenny is dead. Pat Bishop is dead. Norris Deonarine is dead. These were “visionary citizens” who articulated solutions. Who offered themselves for service. Who risked their lives for “change”. Our political class continues to betray “the visionary citizen”. With every misstep, we move further from Iere and into darkness. The leadership we now require is one that knows how to emancipate “the visionary citizen”. In that way, salvation lies.
England recently coined the term “feral elite” to define the class of businessmen and political insiders who stand in the way of redemption. It’s the same elite the Occupy Wall Street movement and Latin American socialist political revolutions fight against. In Trinidad, that elite may be businessmen and politicians who frustrate progressive projects while skimming tens of millions from the economy. Other members may be bringing in drugs and guns from massive global cartels which destroy certain communities, possibly with ethnic, class, or real estate agendas. Other members may just be morons who have large amounts of power. All the same, this elite constitutes the constituency who must be engaged to move the country closer to the island of light.
Against this backdrop of our internal war between our best and worst selves, the world is turning. The Middle East is battling for its soul, as are all the countries of the world, while the Mayan prophecy hums in the background. We are at a crossroads. We have an opportunity that happens probably once every 100 years to change the course of our time. Each time we betray a moment, the harder it is to return. Which nation will we choose?
Up until the 1960s African life in the New World was marked by an ambition for education and upward mobility. There was an extraordinary amount of genius in all fields of science, business, the arts — in the face of extraordinary racism. However, since victories won by civil rights and independence struggles — along with African-inspired cultural movements —African life has been marked by decline in many areas. Here is why.
Just like at Emancipation the backlash to African advancement was savage. It began with the assassination of leaders: Medgar Evers; Martin Luther King Jr.; Malcolm X; Patrice Lumumba; Steve Biko; Black Panther leaders; Walter Rodney in 1980… Others were jailed — like Angela Davis and Geronimo Pratt (Marcus Garvey 1920s, Butler 1940s, our Black Power leaders 1970s) or sent into exile like Assata Shakur.
These were attempts to discredit and dismantle growing African-based institutions. A major crisis in African leadership followed the murders in the 70s. It has taken almost two generations to fill. Many next generation candidates were wary of making themselves targets. This destruction of African genius leadership, movements, and institutions has been systematic, sabotaged the tribe, and influenced much of what happened next.
Africans then began putting faith in political leaders to provide leadership and redress that continued to be denied. In very few cases has this been successful — due to the psyche of politicians and to the now hidden influence of the real powerbrokers. The election of President Barack Obama to the highest office in America shows the limitations of political leadership in the fight against historical oppressors. Obama’s election represents the culmination of this Age of Africans yearning for political saviours. It should inspire a turning point realisation that political leadership cannot work without economic power and identity-based mobilisation and institutions on the ground — especially against the forces that historically control the world.
Some say the very success of the civil rights movement was the undoing of the African. “We won what we wanted — but lost what we had…” Africans actually were more successful under legal global apartheid in the West pre-1960. During open oppression, Africans created separate institutions and managed them without interference, building technical capacity and economic independence.
More importantly Africans knew the system was rigged against them. This gave them an identity and organising principle — which operated as a type of replacement for ancestral African belief systems stolen during slavery. The tribe was always on war footing. Without this identity, what now did they have? Civil rights, the vote and flag independence brought the new myth of “equality”, “integration” and “assimilation”. A number of things then happened. Many African institutions collapsed — like the Negro baseball leagues and the chitlin cultural circuit in the America. The best black minds, labour and consumers migrated to white institutions in search for betterment and inclusion. Black businesses left behind could not compete. Successive generations lost the identity and ambition of “struggle”.
However, structural and individual discrimination still existed and was sanctioned by complicit approval of mainstream society — in housing, health, leisure, infrastructure, education, allocation of state resources… On global and national levels there continued to be three different economic tramlines — for whites, browns and blacks… Discrimination against Africans in banking for instance has been a major factor in stalling African growth — especially with the disappearance of communal systems in the 70.
This structural racism and classism is continually upgraded. During the 1980s then US president Ronald Reagan and then prime minister of Britain Margaret Thatcher co-ordinated major disenfranchisements globally through the IMF, World Bank and policy. They and the elites they represented attempted to reconsolidate the Western Empire and dismantle every gain made by civil rights and anti-colonial struggles in the 60s. They withdrew progressive policies of affirmative action (quotas for worthy candidates of colour in employment and education), funding for public school systems, and social programmes. They destroyed the social fabric of countries and increased inequalities of wealth globally. The worse hit was African urban poor communities.
Recently America’s biggest banks were caught pushing minority borrowers into subprime loans leading to our present financial crisis. A bank executive revealed blacks and Latinos ended up paying higher rates so they were more likely to lose their homes! Thousands of African families have plunged into poverty. These are policies routinely practised in this “era of equality”.
Post-1970 gains emancipated large educated and trained African elites — but masses remained behind in poverty. It is this vulnerable majority that makes headlines the world over. When we speak of Africans we tend to act as if the entire race exists in a ghetto. There are large classes of resourced Africans and super achievers in all fields. The problem is the distance between this “talented tenth” and the rest.
The real questions are then — what are the states of the African elite, the middle class, the working class, and the disenfranchised poor? And the solution to arresting the decline of all may be to understand that apartheid still exists — and to return to the psychological and institutional mode of war footing.
We are reaching the point that analyses why the African nation is in crisis. We traced the journey through 7,000 years of civilisation in pre-colonial Africa—a continent made up of 10,000 nations ranging from hunter-gatherers to empires. Europe began global invasions in the 1400s and in 500 years wiped out over 300 million people and stole trillions of dollars of wealth.
For Africans, over 20 million crossed the Middle Passage through a process called plantation slavery, meant to remove tribal destiny and remake them into slaves of the West. Africans resisted by retaining identity and humanity—and fighting back in some of the most heroic revolts and revolutions known to man.
On the African continent, Europe slaughtered until nearly the whole continent was occupied—and then they carved it up. It is the single most important piece of real estate in the world. Nearly every item in modern Western civilisation can trace some of its raw materials to Africa.
The system to hold stolen Western wealth in place was “Apartheid”—a system of white people over brown people over black people. This was officially integrated into Western legal, social, educational, religious and economic systems all over the planet since the 1500s. This system remained in place until the 1960s for most of the world until it was toppled by independence, civil rights, youth and anti-imperial movements. It persisted legally in South Africa until the 1990s.
The period 1830-1930 marked a remarkable age of African progress. Thousands of geniuses and pioneers emerged in every field to integrate the West—despite constant threats of murder and sanction. The race attempted to use education and trades to raise itself. By the 1930s, most Western institutions had been challenged by African genius.
The importance of African people is that it is they who fought and dismantled the Western machine and its ideas from inside. Jack Johnson, Dr James McCune Smith, Major Marshall Taylor, Macon Allen, Jackie Robinson, Buzz Butler, Ralph Bunche, Jesse Owens, Frederick Douglass, MZumbo Lazare, Bessie Coleman, JJ Thomas, Frank Worrell, Matthew Henson, Vivien Thomas and thousands of others were not just geniuses in their fields—they were missiles destroying cities’ worth of inhuman Western intention. They opened up the racist West to the world. The 1930s was also the period of the two World Wars and transition from British to American Empire.
The period 1930 to 1970 for Africans was the period of mass organisation and cultural revolutions which transformed and humanised the world. The 20th century was a period of African-led cultural golden ages—of jazz, pop, rock and hip-hop; of pan, mas, and calypso; of samba, mambo and Latin rhythms; of reggae and dancehall; of hi-life.
These ages completely transformed the nations they emerged from and the world. Writer Tony Hall says these were not just forms of music, but “ways of seeing”. In this way, Africa began to “reverse colonise” the West! Each movement waged social war to happen and changed social and cultural systems completely—unleashing completely new inclusive, integrative, humane modes of interaction, transforming systems that were exclusive, hierarchical and tyrannical.
They changed the possibilities of social mobility and created multi-billion-dollar human industries where none existed before. They created a new demand for humanity, peace, joy, communion, leisure, love, music and transcendence in the West that did not exist before. This is the African Revolution! Its victory is the popular cultural and social life of the planet…
Accompanying these golden ages was the creation of African mass organisations in the West not seen before—from Garvey’s global United Negro Improvement Association which had over two million members, to civil rights movements, trade unions, Pan-African movements and independence movements. They would even inspire young Gandhi in South Africa. These movements collectively inspired the fall of official global apartheid in the 1960s—from worldwide independence movements sweeping Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, to youth movements in the US liberated by the beat of African music. The democratic inclusive civil rights architecture of the world is an African-led creation.
Ironically, the 1970s marks the beginning of African decline—and this is what concerns us. How did this happen? Having taken the fight to the West for a century internally and producing legions of genius thinkers, scientists, businessmen, politicians, sportsmen, and artists that changed the course of the world, one thinks that the collapse of apartheid would result in an Age of African Advancement.
The reasons for the African decline will be explored in the next article. They include: the West’s ruthless backlash against African gains—marked by the assassination of African leadership worldwide which dismantled organisations. African people and movements also relaxed, believing the end of legal discrimination would open opportunities for them. This did not happen. Many African institutions that existed because the community was on war-footing collapsed as people abandoned them to try and enter mainstream white institutions. Also the old apartheid elites still existed—but now those elites conducted agendas undercover internationally. These and more will be explored.