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Living in Liberia
A small social media-fuelled storm erupted soon after entertainer Nicki Minaj commiserated with American Idol competitor Zoanette Johnson about the challenges of their childhoods. “I’m proud that this place right here gives people like you and me that came from absolutely nothing, from a country that we probably didn’t think we would make it out alive, it gives us a shot.”
Ms Minaj, once known as Onika Maraj during her first five years of life at Bournes Road, St James, has had an undeniably challenging life, often leveraged to promotional advantage. Nationalists quickly began pointing out the differences between this country and Liberia while Ms Minaj’s supporters quickly pointed out just how specifically difficult her life experiences were in Trinidad and Tobago before her migration to the United States.
The fame that Nicki Minaj has been enjoying has been a tempting lure for the Government. In October 2010, the performer gave a concert at the Hasely Crawford Stadium that was partly underwritten by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. The youth outreach effort came under criticism from Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne, who accused the Sports Minister of spending $900,000 on the money-losing event, half of the allocation for youth development projects.
Her stated interest in the country of her birth, and perhaps her experience at that concert, led her to produce a Carnival-flavoured video for her song Pound the Alarm, celebrated as a national PR coup. Last week’s commentary, which paralleled her childhood experiences in T&T with a Liberia still recovering from bloody civil wars, are the flip side of depending on celebrities to promote a national image.
In November 2012 the singer announced that a fifth of this country’s population had died from HIV/Aids, a figure that’s closer to 25,000. Somebody needs to brief this young woman about the country of her birth, and quickly. Far too much of our image building has been done on the backs of individuals who by virtue of their hard work and sometimes even their personal mistakes, have come to global attention.
It’s a lazy and potentially lethal shortcut and no replacement for a properly formulated and designed plan to create a consistent and attractive tourism product and to promote it using all the myriad media tools available for modern communication with the world. Nicki Minaj was never a magic bullet for tourism promotion for this country, nor has the appointment of high-profile tourism ambassadors done much for us generally.
The Ministry of Tourism and its agencies of execution continue to make dangerously naive assumptions about the value of our tourism product in a world full of nations aggressively working to package their assets, charms and uniqueness as lures for the curious visitor. As the tourism sector in Tobago gently collapses through lack of visitor interest, Ms Minaj’s comments come as a welcome wake-up call, a pounding of the alarm, as it were, that we’re playing the fool with our tourism assets and it’s time to stop.
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