Do fuh do ent no Obeah!

by Baba Elombe Mottley

This is an open letter to the ruling political, business and intellectual elites of the Caribbean.

Sir Shridath Ramphal
Sir Shridath Ramphal

“In the last six months, Girvan and professors CY Thomas, Havelock Brewster, Vaughan Lewis and scores of other Caribbean academics have ‘reviewed’ the EPA exhaustively. Those against the signing of the EPA have ‘consulted’ tirelessly throughout the length and breadth of the region by way of seminars, workshops, newspaper articles and media interviews. The issue has been ventilated thoroughly on Girvan’s Web site and elsewhere on the Internet. And anti-EPA views have been expressed in countless newspaper columns across the region.” (Trinidad Guardian Thursday July 24, 2008)

Recently there has been an uproar re the EPA agreement between the CARIFORUM (CARICOM members plus the Dominican Republic) and The European Union. Some governments are satisfied with it, some influential academics are dissatisfied with it, and the rest of us are ignorant of what it is all about. I personally cannot claim to understand all aspects of this agreement but I want to make a serious point to all and sundry how we can approach and benefit from this or any agreement.

I listened to an interview with Sir Shridath Ramphal on a radio station in Jamaica where the essence of his argument (to me) was that a mouse cannot negotiate with an elephant. What was implied in this argument was that the elephant would always get his way and that any agreement would favour the elephant and it would be impossible to change any such agreement in the future. When I discussed this with my friend Sir Courtney Blackman, former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, he reminded me of the obvious and that was a mouse is not a small elephant and an elephant is not a large mouse. We are talking about two different species.

The argument by Sir Shridath is that reciprocity cannot work. It is very hard or almost impossible for Caribbean businesses to compete with European businesses because of economies of scale. This he posited would leave the Caribbean vulnerable to European businesses and Caribbean businesses would find it difficult or impossible to enter and compete in Europe.

This sounds logical, especially when you look at who owns:

* The majority of banks in the Caribbean.

* The oil and gas companies.

* The bauxite companies in the Caribbean.

* The major beach lands in the Caribbean.

* The major terrestrial and floating hotels.

* The profitable airlines coming into and going out of the Caribbean.

* The electricity companies.

* The telephones companies – land lines, cell phones.

* Undersea and satellite communication networks.

* The lotto systems in the Caribbean.

* Existing and future casinos.

* The majority of rum brands in the Caribbean.

* TV cable networks.

* The flour mills and animal feed companies.

What is available for purchase are the largest Caribbean-owned public and private corporations:

* The insurance companies – Sagicor, Guardian and CLICO.

* The hotel chains – Sandals, Superclubs, Almond, Sunset Resorts, etc.

* The distribution companies – Grace Kennedy, Musson, Ansa McCall, Neil & Massey, Barbados Shipping and Trading, Goddards, Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies.

* The chemical companies – Methanol Holdings (Chico).

* The manufacturing industries – Peake, Lok Jack, Bermudez.

* The construction companies – C.O. Williams, WI Home Construction.

* The cement companies.

In the 1850s in the United States, a man called Stephen Foster produced many Ethiopian songs about black life, utilising the melodies and the genre from enslaved blacks. These melodies were so popular that they remain part and parcel of the music of the English speaking world for over a century.

In the 1880s and the 1890s, black music was called coon songs of which one of the most popular performers was a man born in Antigua by the name of Bert Williams. This too produced many imitators. As the music shifted to ragtime at the turn of the century, white America and Western Europe exhibited paranoia because their sons and daughters became enraptured with this black music and its so called erotic dances.

Louis Armstrong, a street boy who was incarcerated in reform school, took up a trumpet and had the whole world dancing with him for almost five decades. The swing music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, et al provided arrangements for all the white imitators two decades before the 1950s produce another set of imitators playing rhythm and blues, politely renamed rock and roll to distinguish it from the original. This continued through soul, funk, R&B, and hip hop.

During the 1930s, Trinidadian calypsonians became big stars on network radio in the US and UK. Slowly this became the music of connoisseurs during the 1950s until Harry Belafonte took our traditional and contemporary melodies and gave them world wide exposure. And Jamaica ska became blue beat in the British underground but it was reggae that captured the minds of the world’s youth regardless of language and made Jamaican the only concept of English for many worldwide for the last three to four decades.

I could do the same historically for sport — cricket, athletics, boxing, baseball and football. We as a region have seen our talent bring honours to American and Canadian universities. Our people represent the US, Canada, UK, France, Holland in athletics. We have produced numerous world champions in boxing. Our football players are all over the US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, the Near East, and so on. Santo Domingo and Cuba have the majority of players in professional baseball in the US and Japan.

My question is this: Do you gentlemen recognise that in spite of all the development produced in the region, our entertainers and our sportsmen are the major people that the rest of the world identifies with?

Now that you are on the same page as me, let us look at reciprocity. In every territory in the Caribbean, you can watch British, German, French, Spanish and Arabic television stations (also Chinese, Indian but no other Caribbean territories!). Are we not entitled to reciprocity and have our stations in every country in Europe?

How about mandatory requiring Europe to place Caribbean stations, especially those carrying music and sport on all cable networks in Europe? But how about also making sure that all Caribbean stations can be seen on the cable networks in the Caribbean!

It is said our entertainers have access to Europe but they end up keeping their money outside of the region. Think about this. Do you understand the power of this music and the youth market across every country in Europe and Asia?

“Unlike previous trading arrangements, the EPA covers trade in services, along with trade in goods. Trinidad and Tobago’s motivation for negotiating commitments on trade in services with the EU was driven by the need to give the country’s service providers guaranteed market access into the European Union.” (Trinidad Guardian Thursday 24th July, 2008)

Each territory should begin looking at how to get Caribbean TV stations on all European networks. Boards that formerly brought business to the Caribbean should change their perspective and focus to:

* Provide the information on how to get Caribbean television stations into the European and Caribbean artists touring European Union.

* Identify European festivals and European promoters that Caribbean artists can use for live performances.

* Become a clearing house for Caribbean performers.

* Identify European art galleries, exhibitions and markets for Caribbean visual artists.

* Booking Caribbean artists at other festivals, especially heritage festivals.

2 Responses to Do fuh do ent no Obeah!

  1. Anderson Pilgrim February 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    A brilliant analysis and pathway forward for our cultural administrators. I hope they are paying attention.

  2. Derry Etkins February 16, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Well, if we’re going to trade, let us TRADE!


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