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Wednesday 18 September 2019
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Commentary

A lost quinquennium

REGINALD DUMAS

ON DECEMBER 23, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming the International Decade for People of African Descent. The decade would cover the period January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2024, and would have as its theme “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

On November 18, 2014, the Assembly adopted a wide-ranging programme of activities for the decade. Among other things, it urged states “to ensure that (the decade’s) activities and objectives are planned and implemented in accordance with paragraph 10 of the programme…on the basis of full consultation and collaboration with people of African descent.” Note those last words carefully.

It also requested states, UN bodies and organisations “including organisations of people of African descent” etc “to develop and implement specific action-oriented activities in their areas of competence.” Note that last sentence carefully, too.

What does paragraph 10 of the programme say? Largely, it reads: “States should take concrete and practical steps through the adoption and effective implementation of national and international legal frameworks, policies and programmes to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by people of African descent, taking into account the particular situation of women, girls and young males…” Note those last words carefully as well.

And what are the precise objectives of the decade? The programme of activities lists three: (a) “to strengthen…action and co-operation (for) the full enjoyment (of all legitimate rights) by people of African descent and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society,” (b) “to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies,” and © “to adopt and strengthen…legal frameworks…and to ensure their full and effective implementation.”

But why is all this considered necessary? Why a decade devoted to the African diaspora in the first place? The programme again:

“(R)acism and racial discrimination, both direct and indirect, de facto and de jure, continue to manifest themselves in inequality and disadvantage. People of African descent throughout the world, whether as descendants of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade or as more recent migrants, constitute some of the poorest and most marginalised groups.

“(They) still have limited access to quality education, health services, housing and social security…They all too often experience discrimination in their access to justice, and face alarmingly high rates of police violence, together with racial profiling.”

Does any of that apply to TT? Can I be confidently assured that blacks here have unfettered access to quality education, are fairly treated by our justice system, are not the main victims of police activity (violent or not), and that the dog whistles of racial profiling are not now being heard in our discourse?

I have no space to examine all that states have been asked to do during the decade, so I’ll look only at education. The programme says in part that states should “develop national programmes of action and activities;” “organise national conferences and other events aimed at triggering an open debate and raising awareness on the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;”

“Promote greater knowledge and recognition of and respect for the culture, history and heritage of people of African descent, including through research and education, and promote full and accurate inclusion of the history and contribution of people of African descent in educational curricula;” “raise awareness through information and education measures with a view to restoring the dignity of people of African descent;”

“Support education and training initiatives for (NGOs) and people of African descent;” and – note this carefully also – “ensure that textbooks and other educational materials reflect historical facts accurately as they relate to past tragedies and atrocities, in particular slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, so as to avoid stereotypes and the distortion or falsification of these historical facts…”

Nearly five years – a quinquennium – of the decade have passed. Have you heard of any action by TT on any of those activities? I haven’t (a recently launched textbook notwithstanding). Indeed, how many people, especially those of African origin, are even aware that there is a UN-approved decade for the Africa-descended?

As for the Government, I can’t say whether it knows about the issue or, if so, cares. It might also argue that it has more pressing concerns – crime, energy, an anemic economy, Venezuela, Marlene McDonald, etc. And, it might ask, why run the risk of stirring up racial sentiments in this multiracial, but hardly non-racial, place?

Civil society, principally blacks, must act. We have primary responsibility for our condition. To that end, some of us in Tobago have begun to have discussions.

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