As we have just passed January 1, 2019, isn't it tragic that there is no official remembrance that 75 years ago Dr Eric Williams wrote “Capitalism and Slavery”? From that book, there are many lessons that we may learn about Africans in our part of the world.
In addition, as we move into the year we have not recognised the significance of New Year's Day for the Haitians. Under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti declared Independence on January 1, 1804, thereby creating “the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion”.
Likewise on January 1, 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, declared Emancipation for all slaves in the Union held areas of USA, eventually leading to the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Why is this preamble necessary? It is because we are also in the 5th Year of the International Decade of People of African Descent (IYPAD) and the Government of T&T, under the leadership of Eric Williams's party, has made no declaration as yet about IYPAD!
Maybe it is because the present leadership does not have any regard for either our history or contemporary developments regarding Africans and therefore they would not mention or commemorate their own founder's book or embrace IYPAD.
This fifth year of the IYPAD meets T&T suffering from an explosion of black on black violence. There is a clear problem of a kind of depression among some African youth whose preoccupation with materialism, instant gratification, bling and other cosmetics like weaves go back is distracting from the achievements of the more ambitious ones. The problem is that the same demotivated Africans are also thinking people and we do not know what is foremost in their minds.
Eric Williams's book becomes relevant because he admits that as oppressed as the enslaved African was, he/she was always alert to their situation. In the chapter “The Slaves and Slavery” he observed that while certain historians of his time were ignoring the enslaved Africans in their struggle for freedom “the planters and British officials and politicians of the time never made that mistake”.
Williams wrote “Not nearly as stupid as his master as his master thought him and later historians have pictured him, the slave was alert to his surroundings and keenly interested in discussions about his fate. “Nothing,” wrote the governor of British Guiana in 1830, “can be more observant than the slaves are of all that affects their interests”.
Having made his analysis of the conditions which prevailed in England and its then Empire including the fact that African enslavement was the means whereby England gained foundation for its Industrial Revolution, Williams concluded that the enslaved Africans, contrary to other views, played a major part in their own Emancipation.
Read Williams again…
“In 1833…the alternatives were clear: Emancipation from above or Emancipation from below. But EMANCIPATION Economic change, the decline of the monopolists, the development of capitalism, the humanitarian agitation in British Churches, contending perorations in the Hall of Parliament had now reached their completion in the determination of the slaves themselves to be free. The Negroes (sic) had been stimulated to freedom, by the development of the very wealth their labour had created”.
Once Africans, now or in the future, in T&T and the wider Caribbean somehow became re-acquainted with the ideas in books like “Capitalism and Slavery”, recall the Haitian Revolution, study the causes and consequences of the American Civil War and become alerted to IYPAD they will be inspired to do better than they are doing now.
The optimism in me says it is not beyond possibility.