Social commentator Jomo Thomas has accused Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of strong-arming University of the West Indies (UWI) personnel in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) into postponing an Emancipation month lecture so he could hold a party function.
The annual Oscar Allen Memorial Lecture, which was secured for last Thursday was postponed to tonight (Tuesday) so that Gonsalves’ could launch his Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) “Institute of Governance and Politics of Latin America and the Caribbean”.
Thomas, a former candidate for Gonsalves’ ULP and a speaker of the House of Assembly under the ULP administration who later quit the party, noted that on Emancipation Day, the government held a concert to celebrate CARICOM’s 50th anniversary and Emancipation.
He said that while local and regional artistes made money in the payments they received for performing at the free concert, 10 years after the Gonsalves government formed the Reparation Committee, “there was not a single cent that was budgeted to assist that work.
“And then in one blow, you take a million dollars and spend it [on a concert]. It’s a commentary on whether or not you are serious about some of these rhetorical mouthing that you do from time to time,” Thomas said on Monday on Voices, his weekly show on WE FM.
Allen, 75, who was regarded as one of its most humble but persistent advocates for social justice in SVG, died on July 28, 2017 after his “urgent” surgery was postponed twice.
Allen’s surgery was postponed as two of the three anaesthesiologists at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital fell ill. Before he died, he wrote a commentary saying that people are likely to die if certain issues in the healthcare system were not addressed.
The University of the West Indies Open Campus in collaboration with “the Friends of Oscar Allen” held the inaugural “Oscar Allen Memorial Emancipation Lecture” on Aug. 21, 2018, one year after his death.
This year’s lecture by Vincentian historian Michael Garrey Dennie, on the topic “Emancipation Still Coming” was scheduled for last Thursday at the UWI Global Campus in Kingstown.
But Thomas, a lawyer, who is a member of the Friends of Oscar Allen said the lecture was
“aborted” because Gonsalves “strongarmed the authorities at UWI and called up Dr. Dennie and said he’s having an event on Thursday evening, and that he wants his event to go forward”.
Thomas said the prime minister asked that the lecture be rescheduled “and the people who were directly involved … buckled” and the ULP’s event went ahead.
He said the ULP’s event was billed as the launch of the Institute of Politics and Governance for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Nice sounding name,” Thomas said, adding that he only learnt during the prime minister’s speech that the institute was an organ of the ULP.
“Now imagine that. In Emancipation Month, you strongarm the educational authorities from holding an emancipation event in the Emancipation month so that you … can engage in a sense of self masturbation, because that’s what the event was.”
He said the presentations by Minister of Foreign Affairs Keisal Peters and Minister of Urban Development, Benarva Browne, both ULP senators, at the launch of the institute “were tangential, they were on the margins of what that event was about.
“That event was about intellectual masturbation. ‘Let me show you all what I know. I know the circumference of the earth. And I know the circumference of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I know the size of Haiti and I know the size of Greenland. And I can tell you that I read this book or that book, and I am recommending that this institute that people are told about colonialism and Neo colonialism and imperialism. And that you must read Naipaul and Fanon and Rodney and Fidel’,” Thomas said.
“And the sad thing about it is that that event, which was held last Thursday, at which PM Gonsalves spoke for about 90 minutes, that event could have been held on a Friday, it could have been held tonight, tomorrow night. It could have been held next week, next year, or it could not have been held at all, it would not have made a single difference, because there was nothing new there.”
‘an assault on African people’
He said that the launch of the institute was just another platform, in addition to the Emancipation Day concert, for Gonsalves to speak at an event during emancipation month.
“But it was an assault on African people. It was an assault on black people, for him to do what he did, by strong arming those who are involved in the Oscar Allen Memorial Lecture, to have them put it off for him to have a party event that is unbecoming. That is rude. That is distasteful. That is arrogance on steroids,” Thomas said.
Thomas quoted that Allen as saying in one of his books, said “we want to be wise”.
“And we have to wise up, we have to see beyond the nonsense of leaders. We have to look beyond it.”
He said that some people would speak about “the responsibility of the people.
“And people have responsibility. They have roles,” Thomas said, adding that because of “the enormous difficulties” in SVG, including “unemployment, poverty, crime, hopelessness, helplessness, alienation homicides” and people not being able to prepare their children for the reopening of school, “the people in a general sense may not have the strength, may not have the clarity of thought and vision to stay true to a fight”.
He said many people still do.
“And it’s commendable that so many of them do amidst all of the problems that they have. But many may not be able to do it.”
Thomas said that people with training and education and those who have travelled and see how societies organise themselves “have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to the nation,” noting that during the African liberation struggles of the 1970s, it was often said that for the nation to survive, the tribe must die.
“And what they were essentially saying, that Africa was made up of a number of tribes and you have nation states and people were lining up in tribal solidarity rather than national solidarity. And so, we have it here that we have people lining up in tribes. It’s this one is ULP. This one is NDP. And we pay little regard to the country that we call ours.
“But the intellectual, the academic, who have had a chance to be trained, and better yet, those of us who have had a chance to be educated because training is greatly different from education, we have that responsibility to our people.
“And I think that we dropped the ball a lot of times when we allow politicians to run rings around us, there has to be a time when we stand up and say enough, there has to be a time when we stand up and say, ‘No, I will not do this, because my honour does not allow me to do it.’ And I think more of us need to do that, more of us need to do it.
“Because … at any important juncture in the history of any nation, we are called upon to take stances that are critically important. And if we don’t take those stances, the question then becomes, what would society say of us?”
Thomas encouraged the public to attend or listen to tonight’s lecture, noting Dennie’s academic qualifications and experience as a historian.