George Padmore impacted post-colonial independence movements

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday May 09 2012 in Editorial
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It is noteworthy that within one organization built by Black people, the International Services African Bureau, that after WWII, almost every Black country that achieved independence, be it in Africa or in the Caribbean, had a leader who was a member of it. The person responsible for creating it was George Padmore. Involved in it, from Ghana and Kenya, were Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, respectively.

 

In Trinidad & Tobago, the person who ran the last leg of the long relay towards independence was Dr. Eric Eustace Williams. The author of such episodic tomes as Capitalism and Slavery, he governed less radically than he’d written. Modest in lifestyle, acerbic in debate, and intolerant of fools, ‘The Doc’ was more easily admired than loved; more easily believed in than understood. Whenever he was ‘on radio’, the old people would tell us to ‘listen to wisdom’.

 

His policies in education ensured that all children could have a secondary education in the best schools in the country; schools previously the reserve of those who, according to my parents, whether or not they were educated, had already had their ‘HSC: officially an acronym for the accredited High School Certificate, but ironically used by them for the double entendre, High Skin Colour’.

 

It is at least difficult, given the conditions from which these colonies had come, and the conditions into which they have subsequently fallen, to either praise or blame their leaderships. Disagreements developed based on policy choices between those who subsequently governed, and colleagues with whom they had formerly strategized. In T&T, Dr. Williams, at best a social democrat, disagreed with his erstwhile colleague, C.L.R. James, an embossed Trotskyite, to the point of C.L.R. James being detained ‘on suspicion’.

 

What had happened? Too many things to list here. Among the most crucial for which the founding members of the Bureau had agitated, was ‘independence without imperial leashes’. Kwame Nkrumah had described and condemned any ‘independence’ that had ‘all the outward trappings of international sovereignty (while) in reality its economic system and thus its political policy (was) directed from outside’.

 

In Ghana, a special pupil of Marcus Garvey and C.L.R. James, he suffered the ignominious fate of being overthrown in a coup. Banished from his country, he died in exile in Egypt.

 

In Trinidad, despite the country’s brand-new flag, anthem, coat of arms, et al, brazenly located at the corners of Independence Square and Frederick Street, the most strategic intersection in the capital, Port-of-Spain, were the country’s two largest banks, both foreign-owned.

 

Britain had imposed on an ‘independent’ Trinidad & Tobago, financial strictures that were also humiliating and onerous. During and following WWII, Britain, massively indebted to America to meet some of its obligations, had leased for a military base parts of Trinidad to the Yankees, the pristine real estate of Chaguaramas. For 99 years.

 

It also decreed that oil reserves in Trinidad – possibly elsewhere, too, in the British-controlled West Indies – would tally as part of America’s reserves. Today, were there to occur any insurrection in the country, can America still intervene to ‘protect’ these reserves?

 

Of course, every Trini of my generation remembers the lines of the calypso, “T’was a day of all days to remember when we marched in the rain with our Premier … so freedom; independence for one and all…”. It commemorated how Dr. Eric reclaimed Chaguaramas from America, and without having to resort to arms.

 

He, in consultation with other West Indian leaders also intent on a Federation, had considered the site at Chaguaramas the ideal headquarters. At a 1960 rally in Woodford Square, Williams had said, ‘no self-governing state could tolerate another country having jurisdiction over part of its territory’. Between 1967 and 1971, the Stars n’ Stripes was finally lowered over the base.

 

Leaders of other former colonies fared differently. One was Patrice Émery Lumumba, the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. He had won independence from Belgium in June 1960. Twelve weeks later, his government overthrown, he was executed by firing squad, a crime committed with the assistance of Belgium, and for which Belgian officials apologized in 2002.

 

Under the post-WWII order, colonial interests retained their ‘ancient rights’ to the resources of former colonies. Then, this policy and practice was caustically dubbed, ‘neo-colonial’. Today, ramping up on steroids, it is heralded as globalism.

Lennox Farrell

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