Today is the 30th Anniversary of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop being placed under house arrest.

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On October 14th 1983, the Bernard Coard led faction of the New Jewel Movement placed Prime Minister Maurice Bishop under house arrest because he had refused their calls for joint leadership of the NJM.

In an Extraordinary Meeting of the Central Committee of September 16 a joint leadership between Bishop and Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard was first formally proposed.

Central Committee member Liam James proposed Coard a joint leader, saying that Bishop lacked ‘a Leninist level of organisation and discipline.. ideological clarity.. [and] brilliance in strategy and tactics’.  

On September 25th, 1983 the faction further advanced the idea of the NJM being transformed into a formal Marxist-Leninist Party.

Word of Bishop’s arrest caused massive protests.

What unfolded in the following days was a horror that we are still coming to terms with.

 

Look out for more posts this week on Grenada and the Revolution.

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Put the Mask back in the Mas

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

One jouvay morning in Port of Spain a couple years ago, an Egun priest told me that the ancestors were upset because we were playing mas with our faces uncovered. This year for Jouvay I covered my face and at Notting Hill Carnival yesterday I made the transition back to a mask.

I had the pleasure of wearing a piece of art made by Brianna McCarthy, one of Trinidad’s most exciting young mixed media artists.

The politics of beauty in Trinidad is problematic at best. Look at any band launching event and notice that black women, dark skinned Indian or African women are virtually non-existent.

I am really excited about the ways that Brianna’s work confronts this.

Her website says:
‘Her work takes on the intricacies and dynamics of representing Afro-Caribbean women who are portrayed as being strong, long-suffering, exoticised and picturesque beings against a backdrop of poverty, hardship, abuse and/or scorn. McCarthy’s constructions and representations revolt against and subvert the stereotypical trends of representing the black body.’  

Once upon a time Carnival was a space for women to claim power. These days I can’t tell if Carnival is a space of power or – given the size of the costumes, the expense of the make up and increase in gym membership from October to February – a space where women are forced to seek approval under the gaze of a society that is male and judgemental. 

So the mask is part of that confrontation that needs to take place.  I loved the fear, awe, intrigue, attraction that the mask caused. Men begged me to take it off, children cried, old people smiled and bowed.

Culture should never be fossilized fragments. It should always evolve to serve the needs of the people who practice it. 

But we always need rituals. And performance as ritual – we’ve lost that from our Carnival with the loss of the mask.

And that is what I loved most about about wearing Brianna’s mask – it was a very contemporary take on a very ancient practice of masking – for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of transformation, for the purpose of liberation.

It’s a key part of the obeah that is Carnival and it occurred to me yesterday that half of the reason why the Carnival has lost its power is because of the removal of the mask.

‘Nutting’ Hill Carnival – a lament for Claudia Jones

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Notting Hill Carnival is on this weekend. Whatever the festival reflects and represents now (party and bullshit and party and bullshit) I’d just like to take a moment to remember and celebrate Claudia Jones, who gave England its first taste of Caribbean Carnival in 1959 in response to the Notting Hill race riots of the previous year.

She was born in Belmont, Trinidad in 1915 and moved to the US at age 9 but was deported in 1955 for her involvement in workers rights and the Communist Party.

She was given asylum in England and it was here that she organized the first London Caribbean Carnival and an Afro-Asian Caribbean Conference which then led to the formation of Committee of Afro-Asian and Caribbean Organisations.

She also founded the West Indian Gazette which later became West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.

She was a journalist, activist, trouble maker, public speaker and allround badass.

She was also the original Jouvayist because she understood the transformative power of culture and the role that Carnival, the carnival of the masses played in defying the boundaries set by a system designed to make migrants invisible and sub-human.

That first Carnival event she organized in January 1959 in Pancras Town Hall featured the Boscoe Holder Dance troupe, the legendary Fitzroy Coleman and Cleo Laine. It was broadcast on the BBC and funds raised from the event went towards court fees and fines of convicted young black men.

I wonder if a penny from any fete, boat cruise, mas band this weekend is going towards addressing any of the many issues in the Black British community….

It’s unfashionable these days to be critical of Carnival. We have earned the right to wine up ourselves in the streets. To pay ridiculous amounts of money to wear the same costume every year. To dress up and go to fete and adopt postures of freedom and wild abandon.

I love to wine as much as anybody else, but I’m looking at least for a bit of irony, for an undertone of menace for even the shadow of a threat. We don’t even understand the significance of all these English in the street essentially giving thanks for the protests and sacrifice of the generations of Africans and Indians who worked to make this country wealthy and then came here after the World Wars as part of the rebuilding effort. 

The ConDem government is telling people to go home  even as we find out just how much David Cameron’s family got in reparations after Emancipation.

I guess it’s the lack of irony that upsets me the most. The total and complete lack of consciousness at how powerful Carnival could be if we weren’t so busy trying to forget the very things that ensured that we have it in the first place.

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The end of Me and Mr. Sabga Newsletter.

I’ve been trying since Wednesday to find the words to say to make sense of this Guardian folly.
I’ve never felt like the Guardian was the bastion of free press, I’ve read enough of its archive to know that since its 19 Century inception, through Independence through to 1970, the Guardian guards not democracy but the status quo, the elite power structures that keep some of us as masters and the rest of us as slaves.
The key to running a morally and socially bankrupt society is to ensure that you have certain people and institutions that keep people in their place.
People like me find a space in newspapers like the Guardian, because it fits their profile to appear to fair and balanced.
Yet I’ve had several occasions during my time as a columnist when I have had my right to fair comment compromised or threatened.
I had a public spat at a media briefing organized by ALCOA with Anthony Wilson who accused me of being unethical for writing about the smelter issue while I was involved as an activist.
And then in 2009 when Obama was coming for the Fifth Summit of the Americas, I got a call from the then Public Affairs editor Arthur Dash saying that he had been advised to let me know that there was no space for my column the following day. It was only after I made a scene on social media that they miraculously found space for my column again.
I’ve kept my column because I feel like I have things to say about Trinidad, about who we are and who we hope to become.
Few of us have a clear agenda. And that’s okay because it’s only through open discussion and constructive criticism that we’ll start to refine what that agenda is.
But I’m not sure all the voices in the conversation are focused on creating a better country.
The media needs a lot of scrutiny. As much if not more than the government.
A free press and a functional government go hand in hand and it is becoming more and more obvious that we have neither.
And MATT is not the watchdog it should be. If it was, this country would have been shut down the moment Sheila Rampersad, Denyse Renne and Anika Sandiford-Gumbs decided to pick up their jahaaji bundle and ride out. Or when Fazeer Mohammed got removed from First Up. Or when Uncle Jack threatened Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed.
But I guess MATT and the media are made up of citizens like the rest of us. You know, who have a mortgage. And 2.5 children. And long hard days. And hours in traffic.
And if nobody else is willing to, why should journalists sacrifice themselves for the nation’s entertainment?
Just like the public sector and the private sector and the unions and the churches and mosques and temples and the education system, some of my colleagues put their political affiliations before country. And some of us eating a food like the same ones we want to point fingers at. And some of us just looking for bacchanal. And some of us have allegiance to nothing.
Selfishness has us where we are and selfishness will take us where we’re going: nowhere.
The question of who stays and who goes is not the question. The question is who is keeping all of us accountable to each other? And if one person falls on their sword who is going to put up money to make sure they can buy groceries at the end of the month?
The stress and confusion and the lack of the full story created in the last couple days has exactly the desired effect of distracting us what from is really happening and that is the looting not just of the Treasury but our bank of collective responsibility.
They, (and by they I mean we), are trying to keep us in a state of fear and self-revulsion and we are obliging them.
Fear sells papers. And security services. And burglar proof. Fear is big business and the state is acting like a corporate entity peddling garbage and treating its workers like animals.
Once at the beginning of my time as a reporter an editor told me my only role was to fill space and meet deadlines.
I couldn’t reconcile that with what I imagined a journalist to be. I’m reminded of that ridiculous speech when I hear Gabriel Faria, followed by the about turn by MATT three days after they claimed that freedom of the press was under seige.
What we are watching is a freakshow where freedom and excellence are trotted out and flogged by clowns like Mr. Faria the mouthpiece of ‘establishment’ who I’ve never heard in a media context until a couple days ago. I want to know if he ever get a boof from George John. He has neither the professional nor moral authority to have anything to say about journalism.
He and the rest of the GML/AnsaMcAL massas wouldn’t know what excellence is to a journalist if somebody hit them with a Thesaurus. But they get to shout jump and the newsroom must start to levitate.
A journalist is no use without an audience. A newspaper can’t sell without journalists. They need us as much as we need them but somehow the power relationship is skewed and the journalists end up feeling like media owners are doing them a favour.
I’d rather not write for a paper that makes me or my colleagues unsure of who is going to make you bend to their will or wine for your supper.
I have nothing to trade with the world but words. Words and my reputation. My reputation is that I say and do what I think is right. I have a conscience and this is what it has been shouting at me since Wednesday: No compromise. They are threatening people’s livelihoods and that is not just madness it is criminal.
No compromise. This is war and if all citizens aren’t prepared to fight we might as well lie down and dead.

Ghana in a Timing

RollinginGhana

Told you we ain’t dead yet
we been livin’ through your Internet
you don’t have to believe everything you think
we’ve been programmed wake up, we miss you.
they call you indigo, we call you Africa.
go get baptised in the ocean of the people
say reboot, refresh, restart
fresh page, new day, o.g.’s, new key

The Healer, Erykah Badu

 It’s as if I’m floating over my own body as this is happening. Like I’m not really here. In Accra, Ghana. In the heat and noise of an African night. Talking with Angela Davis. Yes, THE Angela Davis. Her afro still big and defiant, challenging the straight acceptance of weaves and relaxer. The words are tumbling out of my mouth and I feel jumpier than ten teenage girls in a Justin Beiber concert.  

 I am telling her the story of that time when I was in Cuba in 2000 and I met Assata Shakur who, like a runaway, had escaped to a freetown called Havana after the FBI decided that she was a terrorist. 

We bumped into her, Mariamma and I, on the last day of an international solidarity conference, the young people from all over the Americas seeking her out, hoping to get a glimpse of her. We were about to catch a train to go and see Che’s remains in Santa Clara and in looking for a quiet spot from which we could sneak out, ended up sitting right next to Assata, who smiled at us with the quiet dignity of one who is notorious and loved. I thought at the time and I think now: everything happens when it’s supposed to. 

Like this is the moment when I am meant to be in Ghana. In Africa. For the first time. Standing between my mother and Angela Davis. Two giants in the development of my personal and political consciousness. On the scale of life experiences and adventures, I think I would rate this moment in the top five. Second maybe to being born. I’ll allow myself this rather un-Aquarian exaggeration because I don’t know how else to process what I’ve been thinking and feeling and living for the past two days.

But it’s a wonderful confluence of life experiences against the backdrop of a conference hosted by the Organisation of Women Writers of African Descent at which my Eintou is presenting a pan. Yari Yari Ntoaso brings together women of African descent from around the continent and the diaspora to explore the individual and collective experiences of women as writers, as academics, as queer theorists, as troublemakers, midwives of a new era for young black women. 

In addition to the conversations on the panels and the conversations over lunch and on the bus to and from the conference, there are the moments with the volunteers. Young Ghanaian women. Who have the kind of beauty that you see on every street from Brixton to Kingston and everywhere in between.

 An unconscious kind of beauty. Hidden behind lace front weaves. Talking with them is what I enjoy the most. Their voices and their smiles and the spontaneous dance moves we break into at random moments in our conversations tell me that this is where I am supposed to be at this moment in my life. For no magical or mystical reason I am never going to be the same again. Places and people change you. Adding this experience to my life’s equation is no idle feat. 

I try to be reasonable about processing my feelings. Along the way I worried that I would have anticipated this too much and that it would either be disappointing or tragic. I cried with fear and nervousness and joy at every point of the journey from London, to Rome to Lagos and then to Accra.

When I finally got out of the plane and felt the heat and smelled the smells and heard the voices, I knew it was going to be okay. And a man behind me said “You are home.” And I looked about for the camera crew because it was just too much like a film moment to be true. There is no film crew following me but I know I really will never be the same again. 

Africa, this corner of it, far from being the home I thought it would be, is the place where I am even more comfortable in my state of being that unapologetic small-island Trini. An amalgam of things and people and ways of being. More than an African. I am a Steel Pan African. I am the product of survival. I am the reconfigured, reconstituted truth of globalisation. I am Anansi and Osun bouncing up Durga and Hyarima. 

Everything happens for a reason. And how it’s supposed to. In the right timing. African time. Not too early or too late. Just right. What else can I be but thankful.

First published in Trinidad Guardian May 18, 2013

Sacred Waters

To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.

 

Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat. 

Vedanta HQ in London mobbed by Protestors as Supreme Court gives final decision on Mine to Village Council

18 april 3

 

  • Supreme Court final judgement says ultimate decision on Niyamgiri mine lies with local ‘gram sabhas’ (village councils).

 

  • Defiant and loud demonstration at Vedanta headquarters.

 

 

Indian Supreme Court judges today handed the final decision on Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine to the Dongria Kond tribe and farmers living around the mountain. Two Gram Sabha’s (village councils) or local self-government within 10km of the proposed mine should announce their decision to the Ministry of Environment and Forests within three months1. The decision will have a major financial and reputational impact on Vedanta and may force them to close their Lanjigarh refinery, costing them billions.

 

In London, activists from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups descended on Vedanta’s nominal Mayfair headquarters later today celebrating what they see as a victory for local self-determination, but calling for thorough independent oversight of the decision making process which they say is wide open to abuse by Vedanta officials and state police. They held a loud noise demonstration, and held a banner stating ‘MoEF – No U-turn on Niyamgiri‘ while shouting slogans with a large megaphone. The protesters again called for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.

 

Protesters in London today staged a loud protest at Vedanta’s headquarters in reaction to the Supreme Court’s judgement to leave the final decision on Niyamgiri to the people affected, which they see as a victory for self-determination and tribal rights. They again added their voice to demands by parliamentarians and financiers that Vedanta is de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations such as those committed at Niyamgiri.(1)(2) In January Foil Vedanta handed documentation on a variety of abuses to the Financial Services Authority who are now investigating the company’s abuses and the case for de-listing2. In February David Cameron again used his India visit to pressure Indian PM Manmohan Singh to allow Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine.

 

Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says:

 

For ten years Vedanta has harassed local people and committed major abuses and illegalities in its attempt to push this flagship project through. For ten years farmers, Dalits and Adivasis living around Niyamgiri have fought to save their traditional communities and their sacred mountain, from a mine which would give just four and half years worth of bauxite for the 6 million ton per year refinery as planned by Vedanta Aluminium.

The Supreme Court is right that decision on the mine should be with those affected by it – the ancient inhabitants of the mountain. But the Dongria and others have stated their disagreement over and over again through Gram Sabha’s and mass rallies. We know that Vedanta officials have been very active in lobbying the judges leading up to this decision, and are concerned that the villagers will be under heavy harassment from Orissa state and Vedanta officials. We call for many independent observers to oversee this crucial process.

We demand that Vedanta is now de-listed from the London Stock Exchange in recognition of it’s proven abuses of law and Human Rights.”

 

The judgement states that the decision making process at local councils will be overseen by a judge appointed by the Orissa High Court. Vedanta officials and police have been repeatedly accused of trying to force villagers not to oppose the project in the past. As Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states:

 

“We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last month they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.3

 

The ultimate decision will now rest with the Ministry of Environment and Forests who will accept the local council’s decision within three months(3). The Ministry banned the mine in 2010 after the N.C. Saxena committee warned that mining in Niyamgiri will severely affect the ecology and the habitat of the primitive Dongria Kondh tribe that lived on the mountain slopes. In February the Ministry again stated that they would not allow the Niyamgiri mine as Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran told the Supreme Court “We are completely against the mining operations.4

 

Senior Counsel, Sanjay Parikh, who has fought the case for the Dongria Kond said today:

 

“The historic judgement delivered by the Supreme Court today recognises the community, cultural and religious rights of tribals. The Dongria Konds can now establish the abode of their Niyam Raja. The Supreme Court verdict is significant as it recognises the rights of tribals against mighty mutlinational corporations”.

 

Vedanta is currently at a shareholder confidence low, as Societe General downgraded their shares to BB- or ‘sell’ status several weeks ago and suggested that they are unlikely to get permission to mine Niyamgiri5while Standard and Poor have also downgraded Vedanta’s shares to BB6. Societe General’s recent report states:

 

‘Niyamgiri bauxite reserves were central to Vedanta’s aggressive expansion plans in aluminum…Vedanta’s management was overly confident and committed too much capital without getting all the relevant clearances7.’

 

Vedanta are also in more trouble as a major acid gas leak earlier this month led to mass protests at Vedanta’s copper plant in Tamil Nadu, India, which have forced the plant to close until the National Green Tribunal has made a recommendation on whether it should be allowed to re-open at all. Their report is expected on 29th April8.

 

The Niyamgiri project has been racked with controversy from the start, as a spate of recent coverage points out: The Lanjigarh refinery built to process the bauxite from the hills was illegally constructed, the court case presided over by a judge with shares in the company, and the refinery should never have been given permission without including the associated mega mine in impact assessments9. A cover story in major Indian glossy Open Magazine in December details evidence of corruption and collusion between Vedanta and the Odisha state government, local officials, judges and the police to force the project through10.

 

 

(1) British registered mining company Vedanta have been named the ‘world’s most hated company’ by the Independent newspaper for their long list of environmental and human rights crimes for which they are being opposed all over the world11. Most famously Vedanta’s plan to mine a mountain sacred to the Dongria Kondh tribe in Odisha, India, has led to mass protests and the Church of England among others pulling out investments.

 

 

(2)Most recently MP John McDonnell raised a debate in the House of Commons calling for the Financial Conduct Authority to use its powers to investigate and de-list companies guilty of major human rights violations such as Vedanta. Other parliamentarians, financiers and the former CBI Director Richard Lambert have also highlighted how Vedanta’s listing is used for legal immunity to hide their corporate crimes.

 

Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights’ . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…’.12.

 

Similarly City of London researchers from ‘Trusted Sources’ have noted Vedanta’s

reasons for registering in London:

‘A London listing allows access to an enormous pool of capital. If you are in the FTSE Index, tracker funds have got to own you and others will follow. Both Vedanta Resources and Essar Energy are members of the FTSE 100. London’s reputation as a market with high standards of transparency and corporate governance is another draw for Indian companies. Both Vedanta and Essar have faced criticism on corporate governance grounds in India, and a foreign listing is seen as one way to signal to investors that the company does maintain high standards.’

 

In a parliamentary debate on 28th Nov 2012, MP John McDonnell made the case for Vedanta and other ethically contentious mining companies to be strongly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, including possibly de-listed ‘because of their begaviour in the developing world.’13

 

 

  1. According to today’s NDTV report:

The court has ordered the Odisha government to share details of the mining proposal with the gram sabha. The gram sabha has to make up its mind in three months and share its decision with the Environment Ministry.

The ministry had refused clearance for the Vedanta group’s massive bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills in August 2010. It withdrew clearance after the N.C. Saxena committee warned that mining in Niyamgiri will severely affect the ecology and the habitat of the primitive Dongria Kondh tribe that lived on the mountain slopes. The state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation, which has a joint venture with Sterlite, a Vedanta group company, had challenged the environment ministry’s withdrawal of clearance in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had in 2008 given permission to Sterlite India for the diversion of 660 hectares of forest land in the Niyamgiri Hills for mining bauxite. 
The Centre also withdrew earlier permission given to Vedanta to expand its 1 million tonne alumina refinery to 6 million tonnes at the Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi, also in Odisha.
Vedanta shut down its Lanjigarh alumina refinery on December 5 last year, citing shortage of bauxite. According to their agreement, Odisha Mining Corporation was supposed to supply up to 150 million tonne of bauxite for the Lanjigarh Refinery from bauxite mined in the Niyamgiri Hills, but was unable to do that because of the ban. 
Vedanta has claimed that in the last five years of curtailed operation, the company has lost about Rs. 2,500 crore on an investment of Rs. 5,000 crore at the Lanjigarh plant.14

 

 

 

 

9‘Games Vedanta Plays’. Economic and Political Weekly. December 22, 2012.http://www.epw.in/editorials/games-vedanta-plays.html

10Mihir Srivastava. ‘How Big Business Gets Its Way: Companies like Vedanta are brazenly taking over governance in some parts of India’. Open Magazine. 22nd Dec 2012. http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/how-big-business-gets-its-way