In 1968, the Ethiopians, a popular Jamaican group, had a huge hit with a tune called “Everything Crash”. Not unlike the social and political commentaries from local calypsonians, its lyrics captured the strife and turmoil taking place in that country at the time.
It was a period of great social upheaval not only in Jamaica but throughout the western hemisphere and it was in that same year that both Bobby Kennedy and the great Martin Luther King were assassinated.
Here in T&T, feelings of black consciousness were beginning to stir and the late Kelvin Pope, the Mighty Duke, captured his first of four consecutive calypso monarch titles with his classic “Black is Beautiful”.
In less than two years after Duke’s victory thousands were marching through the streets of Port of Spain shouting “Power to the People!”.
It is remarkable how our calypsonians have always been able to capture the popular mood and provide a glimpse into the future as Karene Asche did so cleverly earlier this year.
The Ethiopians warned their fellow Jamaicans that “wha’ gone bad a morning can’t come good a evening”, suggesting that once you start off on the wrong foot it is difficult to recover.
If this philosophy is applied to politics it suggests that in the five-year term of a government it is the first year, not the second, third, fourth or fifth that is the most important.
The late Lloyd Best had put forward the concept of “pre-collapse’ to explain the phenomenon of successive governments seeming to fall apart while still in office.
He argued that political parties come into power ill-equipped for governance and begin to collapse even before the Cabinet is sworn in.
Although the party may have established effective strategies to win an election they remain trapped in campaign mode, even after getting into office. The result is that the early years are consumed with triumphalism, settling old scores and redressing perceived imbalances. Party supporters, however unqualified, are catapulted into high office and since blind loyalty supersedes competence it’s just a matter of time before everything indeed begins to crash.
However, instead of confronting the reality of declining popularity, leaders often resort to public relations gimmickry with plenty “gun talk” and meaningless rhetoric.
It is therefore not surprising that the latest anti-crime measure is promoted as “stamping out the cockroaches” in so-called hotspots.
Meanwhile, a recent article in the Miami Herald noted that “the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has warned about increased drug trafficking in the Caribbean, saying more cocaine is being smuggled into the United States after passing through the region. The increase in the Caribbean came even amid an overall drop in the amount of cocaine shipped in the hemisphere, suggesting smugglers are confident they can take advantage of weak security in the region”.
It would seem that the major source of funding for local gangs is in fact the drug trade and not money from government contracts. But while lockdowns continue in Malabar and east Port of Spain, the white collar criminals who control the trade that feeds and fattens the cockroaches continue to thrive.
It is no wonder that a recent report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs made the frightening claim that “gangs have a stronger hold on the Trinidadian population than its government does”.
Yet the major topic during the recent local government elections was not crime, drugs, health care, unemployment or social injustice but who t’ief’ more! “Bussing a mark” was the modus operandi on many of the political platforms while the rare opportunity for a serious debate before a live television audience was effectively scuttled.
This inability or unwillingness to deal comprehensively with complex social and economic problems is a reflection of the shallowness that has afflicted recent administrations. But PR and photo-opportunities can only go so far and, just as in Test cricket, the new ball eventually loses its shine.
By the time the mid-term arrives and the next election looms on the horizon there is a frantic attempt to “lift-off”, an admission that things have in fact remained stuck on the launch pad.
It also indicates that the situation is now moving from pre-collapse to full collapse and a siege mentality begins to take over. This is the time when even the mildest criticism however constructive is viewed as a part of some subversive and diabolical plot and journalists in particular face tremendous pressure. But the stage has already been set and “wha’ gone bad a morning’ is unlikely to ‘come good a evening.”
The real tragedy is that political parties that have won the general elections have often done so with impressive margins giving them a real opportunity to forge a genuine national unity. Yet they operate as if the floating voter who gave them such significant support can now be pushed aside and taken for granted.
They seem oblivious to the fact that the votes that floated in, can just as easily float away. They seem unaware that new voters have since arrived on the scene and many of them will not automatically respond to emotional appeals to party loyalty.
The Ethiopians’ hit song also provided valuable advice for those who insist on driving along the same bumpy road in the same battered vehicle powered by the same sputtering engine—“every day you carry bucket to the well, one day the bucket bottom must drop out”.
• Richard Braithwaite is a