Special to the AmNews
People of African descent across the English-speaking Caribbean will largely observe Aug. 1 as the day their foreparents were emancipated from slavery. But at least one regional head of government says he is dissatisfied with the achievements of his island’s Afro population.
Decked out in an African dashiki shirt Keith Rowley, the prime minister of Trinidad, says the country’s 40 percent Black population is not doing as well as it should and might not be positioning itself to take advantage of the myriad opportunities in the oil and gas-rich twin island republic with Tobago.
Speaking at an Emancipation function in the capital, Rowley said people of African descent are “not doing as well as expected,” as he urged them to turn things around.
He also suggested that Black-on-Black crime is becoming a serious cause for concern in the community and in government noting that while slavery had indeed ended more than a century ago, violence is again revisiting Africans in a way no one wants to see it.
“It began with blood, the loss of value of life. And today we are well into the 21st century and if one might be a little cynical, you might want to think that we are re-creating an environment we have known once before, particularly for African people,” he said, apparently referring to the recent runaway violent crime in Trinidad.
For the year so far police have recorded more than 305 murders, setting the island on course to surpass a 2008 record of 550 murders. Authorities have long complained about gang membership involving too many young men of African descent either being killed or incarcerated for lengthy periods. Authorities say they have done their level best to minimize gang activity to no avail.
Facing a general election next year, Rowley did not delve into too much detail but his latest remarks are in keeping with a long-standing view of his about the African community.
“The color of our skin is not going to change but that significant piece of biology has established itself as a marker for us.” Racism is alive and well, he said, pointing out that slavery has some new forms with human trafficking as an example. “We can never leave that period of our history behind.”
He stayed on crime and its effects for a decent period, noting that to properly tackle it, society has to face up to several questions including “who is affected, who is carrying it out, who is defending it and who is being ignored? This is a problem for all the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
As islanders prepared to mark Emancipation, a second leader piqued the interest of locals by suggesting that Afro workers across the twin islands should be given the day off to reflect and enjoy the freedom and sacrifices earned by their foreparents.
Khafra Kambon, the head of the Emancipation Support Committee, called out big businesses on the island for forcing workers to come out on such an important day
“These are the same merchants who open their stores on Emancipation Day, force poor workers who look like us to work while we are supposed to celebrate this day which marks freedom from slavery. You cannot make us work on Emancipation Day, it is a public holiday,” he said.