Trinidad and Tobago celebrates its 61st Independence Anniversary on Thursday, August 31. Archbishop J answers the question, will we emerge from this cycle of racial politics?
Every five years, we get a serious dose of racial politics which toxifies the ecosystem we call Trinidad and Tobago. Through this regular dosage we have been lured to believe that racial tension is the dominant driving force in our beloved twin-island republic. One writer said, “race to the voter is like a rum shop to an alcoholic”. Not only is it toxic, it is also an addiction.
Parties in the last Local Government Elections campaigned as if they were contesting a general election. Both major parties gave it their all. The minor parties tried but did not make any significant difference.
At the end each major party got 50 per cent of the corporations, half the pie. This is alarming! If all that fuss and fury only won 50 per cent of the pie, then, what will happen in the national election in two years’ time?
It has been long said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Well, we have been doing racial politics for so long it seems that we cannot imagine another way.
Look at the result. Both parties are still 7-7, although the voter turnout is lower than in 2019 by four per cent. This should bring us a sense of reality. With all the hype raised to a crescendo, fewer voters turned out. Or, put another way, four per cent less voters were motivated. This to me is fascinating.
Politics is the art of persuasion. With every stop pulled out and everything thrown into the ring, far fewer voters were persuaded to turn out to vote. The polls revealed what we have known since the last local elections: we are divided down the middle in Trinidad, 50 – 50.
There are some who believe we are locked forever in this cycle of racial politics. I do not believe that.
John Cowley in Carnival Canboulay and Calypso, speaks of the very early cooperation between the African and East Indian communities in the Hosay and Carnival celebrations.
He speaks of a creole representation of a “Hosay procession” in Carnival as early as 1879 (p 83). He also speaks about “Black Creoles having participated in Hosay, as early as 1850” (p 84).
Hybridity is a constant in our region and has long been a feature of our society. Both celebrations continue to unite all races in our nation.
Nations have their own rate of growth and development. We are in a unique developmental stage where we are still sorting out our identity. While we face this national crisis, the wider world is in its own crisis, learning to deal with the negative impact of technology on politics and elections.
Remember, we were referenced in the film The Great Hack as one nation where technology influenced elections. So, we have both a local context where politicians are realising that the usual messaging is not producing the results they want, while at the same time in the wider world, technology is polarising nations and peoples. Both the local and the international forces are pushing us into this divided place. If leadership is the art of influence, we need to understand the context—local and international. And we also need a vision of where the nation can and should go. We also need to understand what would influence citizens to sacrifice for a common vision. In the absence of a unifying vision, leadership is seemingly exercised by reducing the challenges we face to the lowest common element: race.
It’s not a Zero-Sum problem
It would seem our leaders treat every issue as a zero-sum problem: if I win, you lose; if you win, I lose. One leader wanted to “light them up”, the other advocated against proliferation of guns in the hands of citizens.
It is either “Property Tax” or “Axe the Tax’’; “Local government reform” vs “No reform”. There is little evidence of a search for common ground on which solutions to our pressing societal problems could be based.
One leader, after receiving feedback from the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour on innuendo, reflected in speech about the issuance of firearms, decided to attack the body.
The Council is a non-partisan volunteer group made up of business, NGOs, and religious organisations to try to keep civility and good order during election time. The media came to its defence with each of the daily newspapers writing an editorial in defence of the Council and its work. This strengthened the Council and made clear how much it was needed.
Leadership expert Ken Blanchard defines leadership as “the capacity to influence others by unleashing the potential and power of people and organisations for the greater good”.
The definition has several parts:
(1) the capacity to influence others—this could be done in so many ways;
(2) unleashing the potential and power of people and organisations, so we begin understanding the challenge we are facing.
At the end of the campaign was there a national sense of building a better nation together?
(3) for the greater good—this means all our actions need to move people to the greatest good, raising our vision up to what is true, what is noble, what is right, and to think about these things deeply.
As we know from Scripture, without a vision a people perish (Prov 29:18. KJV). Another translation says: “people cast off restraint”. When restraint is cast off, we descend into lower base human emotions where we are destructive.
Our 61st anniversary of independence finds us at national crossroads. Choose we must.
What is clear from the recent campaign is that people want a solution to crime and security. It is also clear we need local government reform to address the hurting communities more directly and effectively. This calls for a whole-society approach.
In April this year, the heads of CARICOM declared crime a “public health issue”. It is affecting rich and poor, black and white, Indian and African, captain and cook. What we need now, is for those who lead our nation to put partisan political differences behind them and put their heads and hearts together and lead a national conversation about reform on every level of society.
The Covid-19 pandemic, the last public health issue, demanded engagement of all. Leadership, at all levels of society, worked together to bring solutions to the myriad challenges that we faced. There was a clear priority: safeguarding the health of the nation; and a strategy and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the nation.
As an independent nation at the crossroads, the prejudice we may hold or quarrel we may have internally, needs to give way to cooperation.
Crime is about inadequate development of certain pockets of our society; it is about irrelevant education, about stopping the illegal guns and drugs, about building communities and ensuring better resources reach them quickly, about better and more intelligent policing; about a national plan that calls every citizen to conversation about our community.
It is about all of us coming together to build beautiful Trinidad and Tobago.
Without vision and leadership, we will continually descend into base emotions and feelings. Leadership is meant to raise the vision and unite the people around what is most important.
What can I do each day to make Trinidad & Tobago a safer place for all of us?