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The challenge

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Two Saturdays ago in an interview with Juhel Browne of TV6, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, urged Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to take care of the nation’s Afro community which he described as a sick child. He said the Prime Minister should do this to the exclusion of the others and he made no apologies for saying so.

Last Sunday, Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, writing in the Express, had this to say: “I am concerned about the ineptitude of the present Government and its inability to stimulate our people to dream of a better tomorrow. I wonder if, like the teabag, its desire to inspire our people will only go into gear when the country is in hot water? The ANC’s recent performance should be a warning to the PNM.” 

These two commentaries emerged within a day of each other last weekend. On the one hand, Imam Abu Bakr is calling for the Government to adopt a partisan approach to its development of the country, while on the other hand, Selwyn Cudjoe is questioning whether or not the present government has the capacity to undertake the job, partisan or not.

After 54 years of independence during which time the PNM held power for 37 of those years, the call by Abu Bakr must beg the question about what was the PNM doing for all those years that would lead him to say that he makes no apology for the exclusion of the “others” because they are fine and they can look after themselves? How did they get to be fine and could look after themselves?

Prof Cudjoe gave a parting shot to the leadership of the PNM in his column when he raised the issue of the ANC’s recent performance in local government elections in South Africa earlier this month where that party suffered losses in major cities and other areas in South Africa. His message was clearly that a large number of the supporters of the ANC—the party of Nelson Mandela—were prepared to turn their backs on their party and vote for someone else for whatever reason.

Cudjoe also questioned the political philosophy of Faris Al-Rawi and Stuart Young in the PNM and asked rhetorical questions about them. In particular, he opined: “In their absence, Stuart Young is the new poster boy. I know nothing about his or the AG’s political experience or philosophy, but I wonder how do Marlene McDonald, Camille Robinson-Regis, Fitzgerald Hinds, and other PNM stalwarts feel about all of this?”

His selection of those particular parliamentarians is significant and raises the issue of whether or not there is a challenge for Dr Rowley to manage diversity within his government. Given the relative newness of Al-Rawi and Young in PNM politics and their meteoric rise to great prominence at the expense of others who have a longer track record in PNM politics, Cudjoe is clearly challenging Dr Rowley’s bestowal of prominence on Al-Rawi and Young over others.

The reality is that there is some kind of rumbling taking place within the black community about the direction of the current PNM government. Imam Abu Bakr was very blunt about his expectation even if it meant that Dr Rowley has to violate his oath of office which requires him to “do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

Two Saturdays ago, Harvey Borris and the Black Caucus Movement were in the news with their calls for land distribution in Caroni which is another dimension to the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited and the issue of land tenure in the aftermath. This confluence of events and the demands being made on the Rowley administration by Borris and Bakr point to something deeper. The commentary by Cudjoe suggests that something else is happening inside the PNM.

On April 24, I wrote a column titled Laventille At Last in which I observed that the PNM government had finally decided to take the plight of Laventille seriously after 60 years of continuous political support for the party by the residents of the area. Precious little has been done over all of those years. 

In many respects, the Abu Bakr commentary that the “others” are all right and can look after themselves has to be analysed against the backdrop of how a generation of “others” who have had different voting behaviour patterns against the trend of PNM electoral dominance for 37 of the 54 years since independence were able to attain a status of being able to look after themselves without being dependent on state patronage.

It may have been convenient in the past when the UNC held power in 1995-2001 and 2010-2015 to blame an Indian-led government for this, despite its untruthfulness, for electoral purposes. Now that the wheels of power have turned one more time in favour of the PNM, the challenge for preferential treatment for the Afro community is squarely being put before Dr Rowley by Bakr and Borris. How will his government respond?


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