Monday, March 7, 2011

March 6 - a significant date for Africa and the Caribbean

by Oscar Ramjeet:

March 6 is a significant date for both Africa and the Caribbean. It is on that date in 1957 (54 years ago) the first African state, known as that time the Gold Coast, was given independence from Britain and was renamed Ghana. It was also on that date 40 years after Ghana's independence (1997) that two Caribbean greats, Dr Cheddi Jagan and MIchael Manley, died within hours of each other. Jagan died at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore in the United States, and Manley died in Jamaica.

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney at law who practices extensively throughout the wider CaribbeanThe Gold Coast was one of the richest countries in Africa conquered by the British and after a strenuous battle with Kwame Nkrumah the Brits decided to hand over independence to the country, which was renamed Ghana. Of course, by then, the country was stripped of its vast wealth by the British masters.

There are about 1,000 Ghanaians living in the Caribbean and a few of them hold top positions. I know of a High Court Judge in St Vincent, Frederick Bruce Lyle, who started his career in 1989 and a highly respected Senior Counsel in Belize, Fred Lumor.

Like many Commonwealth countries, Ghana, like Guyana, was not only robbed of its wealth, but suffered severe brain drain. However, reports from Accra state that the country sees a bright future.

Ghana has discovered oil in commercial quantities and is currently from December last year pumping 50,000 barrels of oil for export, which is expected to increase to 120,000 barrels a day within the next couple of months. It is understood that other fields are being discovered, together with immense natural gas deposits, which would place Ghana in the big leagues of oil producers in about five years. It is reported also that the country has a stable democracy since 1992.

Jagan, who had been the president of Guyana since 1992, became ill in Georgetown and was airlifted to the Johns Hopkins hospital, but succumbed on March 6, 1997, a week later. While his death was being announced throughout the region, another sad story broke of the passing of Michael Manley, who served three terms as prime minister of Jamaica.

Jagan was considered one of the greatest politicians in the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere, but US President John F. Kennedy dubbed him as public enemy no. 2, no doubt because of his leftist tendencies and his close association with Fidel Castro, and other world leaders who had socialist ideas and did not see eye to eye with the US and even Britain.

Jagan's People's Progressive Party (PPP) won three elections -- in 1953, 1957 and 1961 -- before independence. He served as chief minister, and later premier. It was under his leadership that Britain suspended the 1953 Constitution and brought in British troops to the country, a move that shocked the world because the country was peaceful at the time. However, both Britain and the United States wanted Jagan out of the way, and worked out a way to do so.

The usual divide and rule strategy was used and race was brought into politics in Guyana when Forbes Burnham, Cheddi's deputy and a brilliant lawyer and a great orator, was prompted to challenge Jagan for the leadership and that move back in the mid-fifties sowed the seed of racial problems in Guyana.

Cheddi was out in the cold. It was not until 1992 he was able to take over the government, but died five years later following a heart attack.

In Guyana, the political climate is not good and at present the political parties are preparing for general elections to be held later this year. I sincerely hope that the politicians will see wisdom and work in the best interest of the country, which has suffered immensely since adult suffrage the 1950s.

Over in Jamaica, Michael, son of the famous Norman Manley, came to prominence after he defeated his cousin, Hugh Shearer, a former prime minister. He served three terms as prime minister of Jamaica, and was soon branded a leftist because of his association with Cuba's Fidel Castro, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and other well known socialist leaders at that time. He got rid of the jacket and tie, and introduced what he called the "bush jacket"

Michael Manley, who was the fourth prime minister of his country, and a keen cricketer, was married five times.

March 7, 2011