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Global Highlights reparations debate

Global Highlights reparations debate

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Fri Aug 23, 2013

Editor: On the program Global Highlights last Saturday morning, the co-chair of the London-based Pan African Reparations Committee of Europe (PARCOE) Kofi Mawuli expressed a view that governments should not lead on the issue of African reparations. Rather, they should operate from behind and as enablers and facilitators of what should be a people-centred movement.{{more}}

The African jurist consultant drew examples to many failed African movements where governments’ overzealous nature to provide leadership on “people issues” has led to grave divisions that have stymied success. Kofi painfully pointed out the experience in Nigeria where internationally recognised members of the movement were marginalised and forced to operate out of the shadows, while political appointees, who often included friends and family members, jetted to international conferences. In the end, the movement died and now the civil organizations are digging in once more to re-start a process that should have already been at an advanced stage. But his synopsis of the African movement highlighted the urgent attention that needs to be paid to the status quo in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and by extension, Caricom. In two areas during the interaction between host Luzette King and chairman of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Reparations Committee Jomo Thomas, the listener got the impression that SVG may have started on the wrong footing.

In a response to the composition of the SVG Reparations Committee, chairman Mr Thomas unsuccessfully tried to allay fears that the appointees are non-representative of civil society and may have merely been appointed to appease the good graces of a Cabinet with its own agenda on this matter. To suggest that someone who is a Garifuna descendant signifies “Garifuna representation” on the committee is misleading at best. If this argument holds, then “If A is 23 years old, is it accurate to say that A was selected to speak on behalf of youths?” The entrenched best practice has always been to consult with community-based organizations and their umbrella NGOs on matters of appointment and/or selection. To do otherwise is to select members acting in their own personal/private capacities. This is important as most constitutions of CBOs and NGOs require their members to make reports on their activities and to engage in educating that corporate body on the issues. So, the question that begs to be clarified is “Were the members of the committee selected in their private capacity or are they affiliate representatives of CBOS/NGOs?” This answer would help us to assess the work of the said committee and to pinpoint who is ‘drawing the strings’—-politicians or the people. However, there is nothing wrong with the former, once it does not masquerade as the latter.

The other issue is the so-called public call to the opposition to participate in the process that has reached up to the point of an upcoming regional conference. Whether the Opposition Leader has in public claimed the process to be a “red-herring”, it is not the purview of any member of the committee to carte blanche “assume” that the Opposition will still not engage the committee on this all important issue. However, to first fill the committee without consultation with the opposition in what should be a non-partisan dialogue gives credence to the continual politicising of issues of ‘them against us’; interestingly a matter on which the chairman Mr Thomas has written expertly on many occasions in his “Plain Talk” column. Again, best practices dictate, as host Luzette King was trying to allude to, that such an important matter should come under the purview of the legislature rather than the executive. In other words, parliament should have been invited to be a part of the process to form a national consensus on the way forward. In this case, MPs on both government and opposition benches would, for the public record, then be given a chance to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on this exercise and history will look favourably and judge those who are ‘enablers’. Moreover, it would have been convention that the opposition be invited at the forming stage to be consulted and/or submit their nominees for consideration. This is the political maturity that is needed to advance any national exercise.

But, it was not all bad news for us in St Vincent or the Caribbean. Mr Kofi, with his hands on the pulse, arguably even more so than some of our very own brothers and sisters, identified Antigua and Barbuda and its Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer as a ‘centre of excellence’ on how the movement should proceed. To quote PM Spencer “We, as political leaders, must encourage our various reparation agencies to continue the education of our Caribbean people and our diaspora, and enhance their awareness of the reparations issue. It is important that there is solid people and multi-party support for our efforts and we must impress on our colleagues in both Government and Opposition that this is not an issue we should use as party-politics fodder. Our various reparation organizations must see the forging of bi-partisan political support and civil society consensus for reparations as one of their main objectives.”

If anything, Global Highlights continues to show why it is arguably the top radio programme in the country by effectively resetting the agenda for the reparations movement started recently. It is not too late for us to get this foundation right, if those with the power are so inclined. Chairman Thomas said his committee would send an official letter to the Leader of the Opposition, inviting him to join the process. This no doubt would be a step in the right direction.

The chairman, above everyone else, knows, in quoting white slaver Willie Lynch, “distrust is stronger than trust, and envy is stronger than adulation, respect or admiration.”

Adaiah J Providence-Culzac

Comments at: cemsvg@gmail.com

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