August 14, 2005
By Raffique Shah
DURING recent Emancipation Day celebrations, I happened to be at a function hosted by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in which the church honoured three of us from the 1970 Black Power revolution-Makandal Daaga, Clive Nunez and me. We all spoke, but none more eloquently than Daaga. The topic related to the youth of today versus the youth of the 1970s, the differences in behaviour and attitudes. In that struggle in the 1970s, I pointed out, tens of thousands of mainly young African men marched up and down the country for several months, and there were few, if any, incidents of violence, theft, banditry, bombings, etc.
Daaga had an interesting take on why we are witnessing an upsurge in violent behaviour among today's youth, and why it will get worse, not better. And he spoke with authority since, among the many leaders of the 1970 movement who came from the Laventille district, he is the only one who has never moved residence from there. So he interacts and mingles with the youth, and the story he told that day was a chilling one. He believes the only reason he and members of his family have not thus far fallen victim to their violence was because they recognised who he was, what contribution he made to the development of Indians and Africans in the country.
He said that the entire system was stacked against these people and their parents. The education system failed them in that so many went through it gaining no certification that would make them eligible for higher education or for jobs. Their living conditions have remained the same for 30-plus years, even as they witnessed other communities rising from mangrove to mansions. And worse, their parents and elders continued to vote for parties that had no use for them except as election-day fodder. So the parents and that generation were as guilty as successive governments in keeping them stymied.
Against that background they saw no way out of their predicament except by "lashing back" at the society. They first targeted those who appeared to have money. But they have now turned on ordinary people who they consider as being part of the problem, not of the solution. And he firmly believes that the wanton violence will spread from the hills to the lowlands, affecting just about everywhere in the society.
Now I do not altogether agree with Daaga's analysis, although I admit he is more qualified than I am to talk on these matters. But he does have several very relevant and important perspectives on the disorder-of-the-day. Because even as we howl and bawl out about the way people are being gunned down, we always fail to be introspective in all of this. Have we in any way contributed to the mayhem that has overtaken the society?
I remember when the Government raised the minimum wage from eight dollars an hour to nine dollars almost every business organisation came out crying bloody murder. And I thought to myself: is it that all these people are paying their employees the minimum wage, hence the impact on their businesses?
If that was true, then these business people must be beasts in human form! How do they expect anyone to survive on less than $2,000 a month at a time when that can hardly buy the minimum of food to sustain a family of, say, four? And what of "luxuries" like electricity, basic appliances, water, telephone? Surely no one can survive on the minimum wage. Or on what they earn from CEPEP or the URP. And if people cannot eat, they will fight: a hungry man is an angry man.
Even as the bandits and kidnappers find creatively hideous ways of "earning" a better living, we have among us corporate crooks who are stealing us blind.
They evade corporation tax, pocket VAT payments, sell goods and services at ridiculously high prices, earn salaries and/or profits that boggle the minds of the poor, and think nothing of it. For all its faults (as I pointed out last week), at least the US justice system is more equitable than ours. Last week the chief financial officer of WorldCom, a company that "disappeared" US$11 billion, was jailed for five years and that only because he agreed to testify against bigger fish in the company.
The CEO faces 25 years in the slammer for "false financial filings". Even a GOP lobbyist has been indicted for conspiracy and wire fraud. And there are the Enron executives who are facing retirement behind bars.
When justice in this country is seen to be done, when there is equity in the economic system, when we close the rich-poor gap, when we pursue criminals of all shades, then we can come down harshly on the mindless robbers and killers who make our daily lives pure hell.