But how are these folks serving us?
One of the noticeable occurrences during the height of the Nigerian students saga in the island was the resurfacing of the Commission For Pan-African Affairs.
Created in 1998 ostensibly to establish cultural linkages with the African continent, promote African awareness and develop cultural industries, among other lofty ideals and intentions, it was seen by some political sceptics as designed to give the then Owen Arthur-led Barbados Labour Party a grassroots, pro-black working class appeal.
First led by the committed attorney-at-law David Comissiong, and followed by the equally astute and dedicated sociologist the late Dr Ikael Tafari, and now managed by Dr Derrick Murray, the achievements of the commission over the years remain as ethereal as the emperor’s new clothes.
Indeed, some would suggest that 2015 finds that agency basically acting almost akin to the Barbados Treasury with its main function being the payment of salaries.
At a time in Barbados’ history when austerity is the watchword and the existence and functionality of such departments as the Democratic Labour Party-introduced Constituency Councils are being questioned, one is also minded to debate the purpose being served by a Commission For Pan-African Affairs in a predominantly black country. How really are Barbadians benefiting from their tax dollars being used to underwrite operations of that agency?
We often become all misty-eyed and nostalgic at the mention of Africa. We are the children of the African continent, scattered across many seas, and we must cherish our roots. But romantics in our midst, whether rightly or wrongly, will rail with rabid intellectualism against anything that remotely questions the mode of attempts to maintain that African connection.
But since taxpayers are those who foot these bills, and in an environment where children of that continent are losing their jobs this side of the world, the Commission For Pan-African Affairs cannot be seen as operating on hallowed ground.
Just over ten years ago, Dr Tafari spoke of setting up a pan-African trade centre that would place much emphasis on culture and the documentation of history via film and the electronic media. He also spoke of developing cultural industries and establishing linkages between Ghana and Barbados.
We were also told that South African officials were interested in using Barbados to develop a carnival in their country, and that there would be cultural and economic linkages. Perhaps the commission can inform taxpayers on the progress of those ventures.
In 2006 the governor of the Ogun state in Nigeria indicated that Barbadians would be given free land if they moved to that country. There were also promises of exciting measures being put in place to facilitate Barbadian entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Aqua Sol, to the best of our knowledge, was one company which made overtures to business interests in Nigeria. Perhaps the commission could inform the public on the progress of this and any other commercial venture which it has facilitated over the past 17 years.
One of the stated plans of the Commission For Pan-African Affairs over the last decade was to push for direct flights between Barbados and the African continent, especially the states of Ghana and Nigeria. How has that progressed?
In 2012, Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley spoke of giving the Commission For Pan-African Affairs a wider mandate.
“Very shortly we will be unfolding in Barbados some projects which will have the effect of widening the mandate of the Commission For Pan-African Affairs, because it is certainly my view as minister with responsibility for the commission that the true vision for the commission must be felt in the villages and communities of Barbados,” Lashley said, noting the agency would aid in projects to uplift the spiritual, emotional and economic well-being of the young people of Barbados.
Beautiful sounding rhetoric! And still more rhetoric.
“We are still very interested in ensuring that we cultivate meaningful relationships with the African continent, and one of the things that we are focused on achieving is the area of direct air linkages between Barbados and the African continent. I believe that this is extremely important to ensure that the reality of the connectivity between these two lands is not in any way affected negatively because of lack of awareness,” he said, echoing Mr Comissiong and Dr Tafari’s decade-old mantra.
Despite this mooted expanded role by Mr Lashley, over the past three years the Commission For Pan-African Affairs has been scaled downwards, especially in personnel. This has made economic sense, especially with the presence of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of International Trade and a Ministry of Education to examine possibilities of African linkages and the promotion of African awareness in Barbados. Thus, the question still remains: what purpose does the Commission For Pan-African Affairs serve, other than the payment of salaries?
Of course, over the past few years the commission has staged discussions such as Who Was King Dyall? and has hosted workshops to train teachers to be part of a Mabalozi project to promote African awareness in schools. But it is almost a non sequitur that in the absence of the Commission For Pan-African Affairs, the promotion of African awareness in our schools would be non-existent.
However, the Commission For Pan-African Affairs is not alone. There are other agencies out there simply paying salaries. And we should not be afraid to trim fat, even if it offends idealists, or is not nice. In times of plenty such luxuries go unnoticed. This is not such a time.