Sound of the Trumpet: Intimidation, Aid & CARICOM

Me bun a fire pon a weak heart
Babylon and dem free talk coulda never get me down
And though they try to use me
And abuse me
I leave dem with a frown

. . . Fire!
You and your crew can go to Hell
‘Cause after we no under your colonial spell

– Bushman, “Fire Bun A Weak Heart”

1060x600-0ea42119085487b05457fde5473edc01Trump’s Christmas Gift to Netanyahu

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and the whole world was talking about Jerusalem. US President Donald Trump, champion of religious right and unabashedly pro-Israel, announced that he was moving the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The US Government called the move a recognition of “reality on the ground.” They cited their sovereign right to locate their embassy where they wanted, as well as a decades-old, oft-delayed Congressional decision to relocate the Embassy.

The only problem was that successive American, Israeli, Palestinian, Russian and European governments had called Jerusalem a “final status” issue – so sensitive that it should be decided only after other aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were settled. A United Nations Security Council resolution dating to 1980, “called on. . . [t]hose States that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.” Multiple UN resolutions forbade states from doing anything that would jeopardize the peace process by taking actions that would “alter[] or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

But the announced move of the US embassy did just that. It was a recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ecstatic. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, was apoplectic. The Muslim world was furious. Clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza claimed 12 lives. The wider international community – including some the USA’s staunchest allies –was concerned about the impact such a move would have on peace, security, and the fabled “two-state solution” of a secure Israel and a secure Palestine living side-by-side, in peace.

This international concern quickly morphed into a United Nations resolution that reaffirmed international consensus on Jerusalem and declared the US embassy move – without ever naming the USA – as “null and void.” The meat of the resolution is in these three paragraphs:

Stressing that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions,

Expressing in this regard its deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem,

Affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem, pursuant to resolution 478 (1980) of the Security Council

The vote on the resolution was set for 21st December.

NaughtynNice_List_16x9Trump and Nikki Haley Prepare Their Naughty/Nice List

As soon as the resolution was announced, President Trump and his UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley began an unprecedented and undiplomatic threats that were widely derided as “bullying,” “blackmail” and “thuggish” behaviour. Ambassador Haley sent personalized letters to all UN Ambassadors, with an unsubtle threat that President Trump was going to take the vote “personally,” and that he would be “watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us.” Ambassador Haley followed up her letter with a series of television appearances and social media pronouncements where she promised that “the US will be taking names” of votes that didn’t line up with their view on Jerusalem. President Trump backed his Ambassador’s threats, explicitly linking votes on the resolution to receipt of American foreign aid.

Where past American administrations sought to downplay the significance of UN votes that they were likely to lose, the Trump White House decided to make it a cause célèbre, and devoted extraordinary diplomatic and political capital to altering the outcome.

The Result? 128 supported the resolution, in spite of the threats. Nine countries – including the US – lined up to vote “No.” 35 countries voted to “Abstain,” and another 21 apparently had something better to do at the time, failing to show up to vote altogether.

5440390625_feab8a9520_bA Trump Bump? Tallying Up the Effects of Trump’s Gambit

The day after the vote, the US press styled the passage of the resolution as a “stinging rebuke” of Trump, a “dramatic rebuke,” as “Defying Trump,” and as a “resounding rejection” of Trump. Ambassador Haley, on the other hand, claimed some measure of victory in the number of countries that didn’t vote “yes” on the resolution. The reality was far more complex. The overwhelming majority of countries – close to 70% – could claim, with some justification, that they were simply voting in line with their long-standing views on the Palestine-Israel issue, Trump or no Trump.

A second subset of countries – about 16% of the UN Membership – would have a hard time convincing anyone that President Trump’s threats didn’t make them at least little wobbly in the knees.

Finally, in the “stinging rebuke” camp, a few countries – about 12% of the UN – certainly seemed to stiffen their spine in response to US pressure. However, even among that 12%, there are a number of plausible non-Trump reasons to explain their votes.

Within CARICOM, voting positions ran the gamut, from consistency, to a disturbing number of possible wobbles, to at least one country on whom the US threats had the opposite effect. More on CARICOM later.

compare-travel-insurance-plansComparing Votes: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Five years ago, the international community was faced with a far more vexing problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Whether to officially recognize Palestine as a state – albeit a “non-member, observer state” of the United Nations. The USA, then governed by President Obama, opposed the resolution. The US made no secret of its opposition to the resolution, and campaigned against it. However, as is typical of the stylistic differences between Obama and Trump, the USA’s 2012 anti-resolution efforts were far more respectful and decorous. The vote, however, was remarkably similar:

2012 vs 2017

Now, it must be said that, all things being equal, it should’ve been easier to vote for the 2017 resolution than the 2012 one. The 2012 resolution was breaking new ground (international recognition of Palestinian statehood), while the 2017 one was simply restating settled and consistently-held positions from at least the last four decades. Nonetheless, the resolutions also serve as rough proxies for States’ positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You would expect most countries’ vote on the 2012 resolution to be replicated on the 2017 resolution.

The numbers bear out this theory: 132 of the UN’s 193 member states voted exactly the same way in 2012 as they did in 2017. “Yes” votes remained “Yes.” “No” votes stayed in the “No” column. Abstainers continued to abstain. One country – Ukraine – skipped both the 2012 and 2017 votes. For ease of analysis, we’ll say that this 68% of the UN membership was unmoved by President Trump’s added pressure.

That leaves us with the 61 countries whose vote changed between 2012 and 2017.

Five of those countries changed their vote from abstaining to not voting at all (Mongolia, Moldova, Samoa, San Marino, Tonga). Kiribati, on the other hand, skipped the 2012 vote but showed up to abstain on the 2017 resolution. I believe that skipping the vote altogether suggests that you might have heeded the sound of the Trumpet, but it’s hard to say. Most of those countries have tiny UN Missions. The vote was close to Christmas. It’s possible they’d already left town for the holidays. I’ll exclude those six countries as “inconclusive” and focus on the remaining 55.

Only one country in the entire 193-Member UN General Assembly made a barefaced, 180-degree switch from “Yes” to “No” between the 2012 and 2017 resolutions: Honduras. This is understandable. Honduras’ right-wing government just unabashedly stole an election, and is counting on the USA to continue turning a blind eye to that blatant fraud. If I were the Honduran President, I’d also be shining Trump’s shoes and taking out the White House garbage.

Every other country weakened or strengthened their position by a half-measure; moving from abstain/absent to yes/no or vice-versa.

31 countries weakened their vote in the face of the increased US pressure:

Vote wekeners

These are the countries that should have special seats at the Nikki Haley reception to celebrate Trump’s power. If they’d voted consistent with their 2012 positions, there could’ve been as many as 157 “Yes” votes instead of 128.

Some of these changed positions have obvious answers. Trump’s rhetorical assault on Mexico and Mexicans has them reluctant to engage the US on anything not related to NAFTA or the Wall. Myanmar is terrified that the USA will take greater interest in their on-going Rohingya genocide. South Sudan is almost entirely dependent on aid, and that aid is already under threat. Guatemala’s new President, Jimmy Morales, is a staunch right-winger who recently received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is keen to strengthen Guatemala’s historically strong ties with Israel. He’s already announced his own plans to move Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem.

However, if you believe that Trump scared people into changing their vote on Jerusalem, start with this list.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to make a case that Trump was rebuked and defied, there is another, shorter list, that can help you make your case. In spite of the Trump/Haley pressure, the following 24 countries “strengthened” their vote relative to the 2012 baseline:

Vote strengthener

It’s fair to say that the European Union is less fond of Trump than Obama. Also, the EU is significantly invested in the Israel-Palestine peace process and is part of the Quartet that has always declared Jerusalem to be a final status issue. Many of the changes from “Abstain” to “Yes” probably reflect EU votes in support of their own interest in the peace process. Nine of the 24 “strengthened” votes are EU members.

One of the more interesting votes on this list is Canada’s “Abstain.” Many expected Prime Minister Trudeau to be more progressive than his predecessor, Stephen Harper. And, on this issue, he was: moving Canada’s vote from a “no” in 2012 to an “abstain” in 2017. The fact that Canada stopped short of a “Yes” vote may be rooted (like Mexico) in ongoing NAFTA renegotiations with the Trump administration, or in that fact that, on reflection, Trudeau’s progressiveness is limited to local issues (Marijuana, LGBT rights), and not global affairs.

So, was there a Trump bump? Was he resoundingly rejected by the international community? The answer is mixed. At the extremes, you can argue that 16% of the UN Membership “capitulated” to Trump, while 12% “poked him in the eye,” and the remainder ignored him. That is an overly simplistic summary of the numbers. However, for all the bombast and hyperbole, all the tweet storms and threats, a net of at least seven countries undeniably moved Trump’s way. The real impact of the threats was undoubtedly greater.

fe769c3598c14f0b4b3d624a25843b8bThe USA’s Aid Threat: A Decision in Search of a Justification

On the eve of the vote, President Trump made an explicit threat to cut aid to countries that voted in favour of the Jerusalem Resolution: “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us,” he said. Well, we’ll be watching those votes. Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Here’s the problem with that threat: Well before the UN vote on Jerusalem, the Trump administration had already decided to radically slash US aid.

In March 2017, the White House released an official document called America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” That document, published way before any brouhaha over the Jerusalem resolution, pledged to “Reduce[] funding to the UN and affiliated agencies,” to “Reduce[] funding for multilateral development banks, including the World Bank,” and “Refocus[] economic and development assistance to countries of greatest strategic importance to the U.S.” The cuts to the US aid budget were predicted to be 28%, or $10 billion less than 2017.

[The budget document also pledged to “Eliminate[] the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the President’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.” But that’s a whole different blog posting.]

More tellingly, there was concrete evidence that the US Government had already drawn up plans to gut American aid globally. In an article called “The End of Foreign Aid As We Know It,Foreign Policy magazine detailed a series of planned cuts to the American aid programme that would completely eliminate foreign assistance to many countries. Foreign Policy magazine quoted from a leaked 15-page State Department document that detailed massive cuts across the board. According to that document, cuts to the Caribbean include:

Vanishing Aid

Setting aside the special case of Haiti for a moment, US aid to the Caribbean, in this document alone, is scheduled to be slashed from $62.52 million all the way down to $26.8 million – an almost 60% reduction. Most of that remaining money is in assistance in the field of health. Development assistance to Jamaica, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean is scheduled to be cut to $0.00 in 2018.

That’s zero dollars.

Again, this document was leaked to Foreign Policy a full eight months before President Trump and Ambassador Haley started claiming that there was a link between the Jerusalem vote and aid.

Clearly, then, the White House and the State Department have already given considerable thought to cutting aid, and have decided where they want that aid to be cut. What they were looking for was a justification for their planned steep cuts to the aid budget. The Jerusalem vote was as good a justification as cover for the planned cuts.

Those countries hoping for a holiday aid miracle may soon realize that the Grinch had already stolen Christmas.

T&T sayings 006CARICOM: Cockroaches in the Fowl Fight?

Caribbean folk wisdom from Trinidad to Jamaica cautions that cockroaches should stay out of fowl parties and fights. A glance at how a divided CARICOM voted on the Jerusalem resolution suggests that more than one country may have elevated this local edict to the level of foreign policy.

CARICOM votes

Six CARICOM states kept their 2012 “Yes” vote as a “Yes” in 2017 (Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines). Both the Bahamas and Haiti remained consistent in abstaining both times.

Barbados strengthened its position, abstaining in 2012 and voting “Yes” in 2017 despite the increased pressure.

The remaining five CARICOM States: Antigua, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and Trinidad all took a half-step back from their 2012 vote. Both St. Lucia and St. Kitts decided to skip the vote altogether. [In a post-hoc justification of her country’s absence, the Foreign Minister of St. Lucia certainly sounded as if her vote – if cast – would have sided with the USA.]

A few troubling stats about the CARICOM voting record on this matter:

  • While 68% of the wider General Assembly remained consistent from 2012 to 2017, only 57% of CARICOM states did.
  • Only 16% of the General Assembly weakened its stance from 2012 to 2017. However, 36% of CARICOM changed to a weaker posture.
  • CARICOM makes up 7% of the UN Membership. However, CARICOM states comprised 16% of the countries that adopted a weaker stance.

What does this disproportionate representation among the abstainers and absentees say about CARICOM? Depends on how you look at it. One answer could be that all five weakened votes came from countries that changed governments between 2012 and 2017. Maybe these governments, which collectively represent a slight rightward shift, philosophically, would also have abstained or absented themselves from the 2012 resolution if they had the chance.

Another answer could be that America’s toehold in the region is now more of a foothold. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the changed Jerusalem votes represent many of the same countries that led the charge to alter a CARICOM Heads’ decision regarding Venezuela, and to align themselves with a US-authored resolution that would have laid the groundwork for intervention.

Yet another answer could simply be that it was almost Christmas, diplomats and foreign policy advisors were heading home for the holidays, and no one saw the sense in antagonizing President Trump on an ultimately symbolic gesture.

What is undeniable, however, is that the US, and other great powers, may be looking anew at the region, to see if the previous reputation of CARICOM as principled and generally united on foreign affairs has been replaced by a more transactional, flexible, influence-able and uncoordinated foreign policy approach. Our perceived “wobbles” on the Israeli-Palestine issue, whether grounded in fact or circumstance, will cause us to be probed and pressured anew in the coming years.

This could be the first Trumpet
Might as well be the last
Many more will have to suffer
Many more will have to die
Don’t ask me why

– Bob Marley, “Natural Mystic”

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No One Remembers Old Marcus Garvey?

Flag of the UNIA

Flag of the UNIA

 

One hundred years ago this month, the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, global icon and national hero of Jamaica, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The UNIA, in its heyday, was the era’s most dynamic and visionary mass movement of Black people organised under the banner of Pan-Africanism – of Africa for Africans; of the need for global black businesses; of resistance to Western hegemony; of the right of repatriation of African peoples; and of the universality and unity of African struggles from the United States to the United Kingdom to Latin America to the Caribbean to the Motherland.

The UNIA was also a working class movement of “ordinary” people. The Baltimore Observer newspaper at the time described them as “cooks, porters, hodcarriers, and washwomen,” and tried to deride the Association by mockingly suggesting that Garvey should have on the official seal of the empire “a washtub, a frying pan, a bailhook and a mop.” But it was the working class, people-centred nature of the UNIA (and the Nation of Islam, led by former UNIA member Elijah Muhammad) that was its greatest strength. Pan-African ideology was not simply an academic pursuit for writers, or for scholars without followers. It was a popular movement, with a broad base of support among disenfranchised peoples. That support was what made the UNIA, and Garvey, dangerous.

For Black people, the world of 1914 was vastly different than the one we inhabit today. In 1914, every African country except Ethiopia was the colony of a European power, as was almost every Caribbean country (sans Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Within the United States, racial segregation was the law of the land, upheld 20 years earlier by the landmark US Supreme Court case of Plessy v Furgeson. The legal dismantling of segregation and the passage of the Civil Rights Act were still 40 and 50 years away, respectively. These bleak conditions informed the goals and worldview of the UNIA.

Today, many of the more immediate and tangible goals of the UNIA have been achieved, from desegregation to decolonization. But the guiding Pan-Africanist perspective of Garvey’s Association, and his desire for Black people to centre themselves physically or philosophically within the African continuum, remains a distant, and seemingly unreachable goal.

The list of great Pan-Africanist leaders and thinkers, beginning with Garvey, is long: W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Emperor Haile Selassie I, Patrice Lumumba, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Amiri Baraka, Kwame Ture, Julius Nyerere, George Padmore, Walter Rodney, Jomo Kenyatta and Muammar al-Gaddafi are a diverse (all men, though) but fairly representative collection of bright lights of the Pan African milieu.

Unfortunately, they are all dead.

Is Pan Africanism also dead? Or has the unifying dream of the UNIA simply outlived its usefulness, 100 years later?

Post-Garvey, Pan-Africanism as a goal and ideal retreated first to the well-stuffed armchairs of bourgeois intellectuals and then to the rarefied air of political leaders who were tired of a geopolitical world order that was irrevocably stacked against the interests of African peoples. Worse, it also became the last refuge of despotic leaders who used Pan-Africanist rhetoric as a political prophylactic against regional criticism. But the people – the working class “cooks, porters, hodcarriers, and washwomen” who populated and energised the UNIA and invested their money in the Black Star Line – followed a different path. They voted with their wallets, their cultural choices and their visa application fees. Pan-African no longer, we became Pan-Brookynites, Pan-Canadian, and Pan-British. Our spending choices spurred the creation of multinational corporations and global brands. Capitalism, consumerism, individualism and a homogenisation of culture and desire – all lubricated by insidiously omnipresent Western media – was the opiate of Pan-Africanism. The rise of this Westernised ethos of me-first individualism is the antithesis of community-centred or global movements.

But for the annual exercises in rhetorical excess at the summits of the African Union in Addis Ababa, “Pan-Africanist” is a term more frequently used today in eulogies of great men; an epitaph on the tombstones countless Don Quixotes who tilted tirelessly at geopolitical windmills.

The non-African and/or Western-assimilated intelligentsia, long opposed to the revolutionary thesis of Pan-Africanism, has crowed triumphantly that the philosophy is dead. The inglorious murder of Muammar al-Gaddafi, chief funder of the African Union and proponent of a “United States of Africa” triggered giddy joy in America’s establishment press. G. Pascal Zachary, a sometimes-astute non-African technology journalist turned Africa expert, proclaimed in The Atlantic that “Qaddafi’s death. . . is a reminder that pan-Africanism was an historic mistake of enormous proportions.

Is he right? Is Pan Africanism a “crazy dream and mistake?” Or is it an idea whose time is yet to come? In honour of its 100th anniversary, let’s look at some of the principles from the UNIA’s seminal “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World” for guidance:

 

“Be it known to all men that whereas, all men are created equal and entitled to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and because of this we, the duly elected representatives of the Negro peoples of the world, invoking the aid of the just and Almighty God do declare all men, women and children of our blood throughout the world free citizens, and do claim them as free citizens of Africa, the Motherland of all Negroes.”

“We believe in the freedom of Africa for the Negro people of the world, and by the principle of Europe for the Europeans and Asia for the Asiatics; we also demand Africa for the Africans at home and abroad.”

Here, in two succinct paragraphs, are bedrock principles of the UNIA’s Pan-Africanism. Freedom and liberation for African peoples and nations; African unity (because you can’t be the a “citizen[] of Africa” unless there is a country called Africa, rather than a collection of sovereign states); and full and equal involvement of the African Diaspora. In claiming Africa as “the Motherland of all Negroes,” the UNIA unequivocally and unapologetically located people of African descent within “the Motherland.” Today, that profound act might not seem as big a deal as it was then, when Africa and everything African was seen as backward and shameful.

On second thought, it is still a huge deal. Africa isn’t commonly portrayed as the “dark continent” of savages and cannibals as it was in 1914 (one of the UNIA’s declarations back then was “We hereby protest against the publication of scandalous and inflammatory articles by an alien press tending to create racial strife and the exhibition of picture films showing the Negro as a cannibal.” – Can you imagine the need to even say something like that??). Nonetheless, the Africa of today is still portrayed solely as a continent of war, poverty, disease and corruption despite the countless examples of the Continent’s accomplishments, modernity, history, innovation, culture and wealth. People of African descent – particularly those of us in the West – are still reluctant to fully embrace the concept of Africa as our ancestral home. The result is our own rootlessness, and our failure to rise up in solidarity when our Motherland is wronged, exploited or neglected by the countries in which we now reside. The rootlessness caused by our failure to embrace the Motherland affects us personally and disadvantages the Continent on the whole.

The United States, the world’s most powerful nation, is home to over 40 million Black people, and has a President whose father was born in Africa. Brazil, one of the world’s rising powers, has close to 100 million people who identify themselves as Black or mixed race – a majority of their population. Peoples of African descent form the majority of most Caribbean nations. The UNIA imagined a world in which these massive and influential populations of Black people would locate themselves in an African continuum – mentally, psychologically, personally and globally. In doing so, they would create a nation of diverse and far-flung peoples whose population, wealth, influence, and power would rival that of any in the world.

“Africa for the Africans at home and abroad” was simultaneously a liberation cry against the colonialism of the day and a forward-looking call for Black people to take interest and ownership in the future of their Motherland. Imagine a continent of 1.1 billion people, with a GDP of $2.4 trillion dollars and a history as old as time itself. Now imagine another 200 million people, even wealthier, on average, than those on the Continent, all forging ties of culture, commerce and common objectives. To imagine that powerful collective, strengthened by its diverse outlooks and experiences, united by ancestry and history, and fortified by a shared goal of development, is to imagine the UNIA’s Pan-African philosophy.

 

“We strongly condemn the cupidity of those nations of the world who, by open aggression or secret schemes, have seized the territories and inexhaustible natural wealth of Africa, and we place on record our most solemn determination to reclaim the treasures and possession of the vast continent of our forefathers.”

Here is the danger of neglecting the Pan-African cry of “Africa for the Africans:” Without that sense of interest, ownership and united defence of the Continent, the dictates of capitalism and great power intrigue will forever consign Africa to be merely a source of resources for the betterment of other nations. The Continent has supplied other empires with labour and natural resources – and ridiculously unfair terms – for the last 500 years. The names of the exploitative powers have changed, as well as the means of exploitation, but the seizure of the “inexhaustible natural wealth of Africa” continues apace. Just read the news, where the debate about where “investment” ends and “colonialism” begins continues to rage. This prescient foundation principle of the UNIA’s Pan-Africanism is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. There is no need for me to explain any further the dangerous consequences of allowing other nations and powers to carve up and exploit the Continent’s resources for their benefit instead of Africans’ benefit. Who feels it knows it.

“We demand the right of unlimited and unprejudiced education for ourselves and our posterity forever.”

“We demand that instructions given Negro children in schools include the subject of ‘Negro History’, to their benefit.”

Education – unlimited, unprejudiced, and rooted in history and a positive self-image – was a UNIA Pan-African rallying cry. Over the next 100 years, experts have only reinforced the value of education for development and progress, and the importance of young people developing a sense of themselves that is affirming and empowering.

To ask whether Pan-Africanism is relevant today is to ignore the existing global racial disparities in education, or to endorse those disparities as acceptable. Every study ever conducted makes powerful connections between education and wages, choices and empowerment. You want to empower a people? Educate them. You want to reduce poverty and eliminate a sense of helpless victimhood? Educate the poor and the exploited. The UNIA recognised and championed this visionary cause.

All the new age talk about self esteem being connected to body image, or gender roles, or poverty, or sexuality, pales in comparison to the fundamental disability that children must carry into their adulthood if they believe that they are racially inferior. Not too long ago, Caribbean history was the history of the great European explorers and colonizers – whose individual names we learned – and their exploits relative to a nameless, faceless mass of “slaves” or “natives.” I certainly learned the names of more British and Spanish kings and queens than I did African ones. I was told about the “peaceful” Arawaks and the “warlike, cannibal” Caribs. I learned of the “‘slaves’ taken from Africa” as if the entire Continent was simply an endless source of a different species of human – called ‘slave’ – from whom we all descended: The “bottomless pit” of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Today, there remain some corners in our region where a British accent and white skin – nothing more – convey some sort of innate authority and legitimacy. Still. Incredibly. And those lingering – though receding – vestiges of inferiority are the product of an insufficiently pervasive and self-empowering system of education. When SVG Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves talks about education in terms of “inculcat[ing] a core of tried and tested values resident in our Caribbean civilisation and its Vincentian component,” or “train[ing] critical minds fit to receive and transmit universal culture, including science and technology, but with a Caribbean particularity” he is making a Pan-Caribbean pitch that is rooted in the UNIA’s Pan-African philosophy. Ditto his talk of “our sense of self-belief; in the imperative of our self-mastery. Education, work discipline, the tried and tested values of our Caribbean civilization.”

 

“We demand a free and unfettered commercial intercourse with all the Negro people of the world.”

And here is the linchpin of Pan-Africanism in today’s globalized, commercialized, hyper-capitalist world: “free and unfettered commercial intercourse” across Africa and between peoples of African descent. Black Business.

100 years ago, the UNIA was calling for a free trade zone among African nations and its Diaspora. Today, we have a European single market and customs union that has revolutionized trade and commerce in that continent (Pan-Europa?). There is an ASEAN Free Trade Area that covers the 600 million people and $2.3 trillion in GDP of ten Asian countries (Pan-Asia?). The North American Free Trade Area covers the almost 500 million peoples of Canada, Mexico and the United States (Pan-America?). The imperative for free trade areas based on geography or history is more urgent today than it was in Garvey’s time, and the examples of Europe and Asia prove its validity in the African context. To paraphrase the UNIA – by the principle of Europe for the Europeans and Asia for the Asians; there is similar demand of African free trade for the Africans.

Today, the establishment of free trade areas and the facilitation of “commercial intercourse” is the bedrock of any integration movement or the creation of a “Pan-“ sense of unity. The reason that Africans in the continent and in the Caribbean often feel a greater sense of kinship or affinity for great Western powers is partially rooted in the pervasive influence and omnipresence of Western commercial brands – from McDonalds and KFCs to iPhones to BMWs. Their ubiquitous presence in our regions, and the way that our aspirations are shaped by them, is rooted in the liberal trading ties we have between our region and our former colonizers or neo-colonizers. And let’s not talk about media: If I ask you to name your favourite TV stations, TV shows, news programmes, movies or magazines; how many will you list before you hit upon an African one? The presence of Western goods and services in our regions – to the exclusion of African ones – is a cause and a symptom of our multifaceted disconnect from the Motherland.

Our trading ties are still patterned on the now-illogical trade routes established by the colonizers and neo-colonialists. Our politicians debate how many Bananas we’ve shipped to England. We discuss how to take advantage of economic partnership agreements with Europe. We go shopping in, and ship barrels from the United States. We study how many tourists come from Europe or the USA.

Where is Africa in all this? For that matter, where are the African descendants in Central and South America? In an era of integration, where “Pan-Europeanism” has become a powerful reality despite Europe’s diversity, what is inherent in Africa and Africans that prohibits similar economic unity?

Maybe the UNIA was onto something.

The Caribbean in the Pan-African Renaissance

The Caribbean has produced a disproportionate number of great Pan-Africanist thinkers and leaders. Jamaican Garvey begat Malcolm X (Grenadian parents), Louis Farrakhan (Jamaican and Kittitian parents), Kwame Ture, George Padmore and C.L.R. James (Trinidadian), Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire (Martinique), and Walter Rodney (Guyana), to name only a few. Indeed, many Pan-Africanists are born out of a need to look beyond their borders and see themselves as part of something larger than their own limiting immediacy – be it the ghettos and shantytowns of the United States and Africa, or the smallness of a Caribbean island. Pan-Africanism in that sense stands as an ideological oasis in a desert of insular exceptionalism – a rock in an unending torrent of seemingly local problems without solutions. These conditions, and the desire to see beyond them, is at the core of the Caribbean’s leadership in Pan-African thought.

So too has the racial makeup and history of the Caribbean forced us to consider issues of Blackness and exploitation in more global and systemic terms than those for whom racism was a segregationist white man with a noose, a nightstick and a guard dog.

CARICOM’s recent call for reparations from European slave powers for native genocide and African slavery is rooted in the Pan-African agenda. It has electrified and revitalized the remnants of the Pan-African movement worldwide, and the symbiosis between the Reparations movement and the Pan-African agenda will likely be the vehicle that will add impetus and structure to any Pan-Africanist or reparatory successes of the 21st century.

As the first (and second) generations of great Pan-Africanists have died off, the Caribbean has a special responsibility to build on their legacy. Our creativity, intellect, leadership and solidarity have shaped and driven Pan-Africanism for the last 100 years. As a new generation of Caribbean youth look longingly to the north rather than the east, the future of Pan-Africanism for those “at home and abroad” is at a crossroads.

Should we give up on our historical and cultural links to Africa? Should we forget the atrocities that brought our ancestors to Caribbean shores, and the legacies that we still confront today? Should we pattern our education on British or American curricula – with a perfunctory nod of the head to Africa – and call that progress? Should we try to build trading relations solely with the USA and Europe, on unequal terms, or explore trade with the peoples of Africa, Central and South America? Should we see the world with African eyes, or through the media-filtered glasses of FOX News and its ilk?

The answers, I think, are clear.

Happy Anniversary, UNIA. Thank you Marcus Garvey. And long live Pan-Africanism. Rally ’round the flag.

Flag of the UNIA

Flag of the UNIA