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Beyond Emanicipation Daypdf print preview print preview
21/08/2008Page 1 of 1

By Nehemia Owusu Achiaw

The Emancipation Day which has become an annual ritual in Trinidad and Tobago, was celebrated in Port of Spain (July 31 to August 1, 2008) with the usual fanfare. President J. A. Kufuor was the special guest of honour at the annual event.
At the end of the three-day official visit to Trinidad and Tobago for the celebration, the President did not only fall in love with Trinidad and Tobago but he and his host also decided on a number of initiatives which could bring economic benefits to the two countries and strengthen the relations and co-operation between them.
Emancipation Day is widely celebrated in the Caribbean during the first week of August to mark the abolition of slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834 and full freedom of slaves from working on plantations of their colonial maters.
Trinidad (meaning Trinity in Spanish ) and Tobago (meaning tobacco) was the first country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery and this year the event was marked with a cultural explosion and public lectures on the theme: “ Crossing The New Frontiers To Conquer Today’s Challenges”.
The visit of the President to Trinidad and Tobago was at the invitation of the leadership of that country .Every year one African leader is elected to be the special guest of honour for the event and this year the lot fell on President Kufuor.
There are political and historical linkages between Ghanaians and Trinidadians and Tobagonians but the link has not been strengthened to secure meaningful rewarding economic benefits for the two countries. The historical links of the two countries date back to slave trade. Ghana, along side Nigeria, was one of the outposts for the slave trade in the 18th century in West Africa, many of our kith and kin just like Joseph in the Scriptures, were sold to slave masters to work on plantations in the West Indies (the Caribbean).
Politically, it was the contribution of some of the political stalwarts from Trinidad and Tobago such as George Padmore, whose remains were interred in Ghana, which fired the imagination of some African leaders such as Ghana’s Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in Pan-Africanism. The ideas underlying were instrumental in the formation of Pan-African movement such as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which has changed to African Union(AU).
Although they were sold into slavery for many years, the Africans, just like the Indians who also became victims of the raving industrialization and export of capital, did not allow time and space to forget their history and culture. After three hundred years of being detached from Africa, the members of the black community that constitutes 40 per cent of the population of Trinidad and Tobago maintain some aspects of African culture and some of their African names.

Some of them, who were apparently from Ghana, still tell Kwaku Ananse stories to their children. For example, the President of the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP) in Trinidad and Tobago, is called Professor Selwyn Cudjoe. His surname is Ghanaian. He traces his ancestry to Ghana and specifically to the Central Region. Some of the black communities to present dance formations that similar to those of the people of Northern Ghana.

 However, because Africans, Indians, Chinese, Arabs now form the multi-racial society of Trinidad and Tobago, one can also discern what can be described as cultural fusion in diversity. And on the first day of his arrival at the Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday, July 31, 2008, President Kufuor was given a snap shot of the cultural diversity of the Trinidadians and Tobagonians.
In a captivating welcoming ceremony, the energetic dance performed by Picton Folk Performers, a cultural troupe, and the beautifully dressed teenagers and young women held the audience spellbound with their carnival dance to calypso music. As the music and dance flowed, masquerades from San Fernando, the second biggest city and home region of Prime Minister Patrick Manning, waved miniature national flags of Trinidad and Tobago and of Ghana on the periphery.
The President and his entourage were indeed impressed and when a similar performance was put up at a reception organized in his honour by the president of Trinidad and Tobago, Professor George Maxwell Richards, at his official residence the following day,    Friday, August 1, 2008, and another at San Fernando on Saturday, August 2, 2008, President Kufuor, expressing his admiration, declared that he was indeed in love with traditions and culture of the people of Trinidad Tobago.
If the performance at the opening ceremony was impressive, then the show for the celebration of the Emancipation Day proper was a thriller. Hundreds of people dressed in different African costumes gathered at the very spot where Emancipation declaration was announced by the British colonial government in abolition of the slave trade 170 years ago, for a thrilling street procession.
The procession was led jointly by President Kufuor and Prime Minister Manning, followed by religious and community leaders, many people from different walks of life as well as cultural troupes who performed as they were driven along by the flat articulated vehicles. And according to the organizers, it was the first street procession for the annual event attended by many Ministers of State, religious and community leaders as well as many people from all walks of life. Before the end of the day, the people gathered at the national stadium for a cultural explosion which lasted deep into the night.
President Kufuor is the second Ghanaian Head of State to have attended the Emancipation Day celebration in Trinidad and Tobago. Former President J. j. Rawlings was the first to have attended the celebration and thereafter introduced the Emancipation Day celebration in Ghana. Now the celebration has been fused with the Pan-African Festival of Arts and Culture (PANAFEST) but does not enjoy much patronage now. Perhaps the experience of President Kufuor in Trinidad and Tobago would help rekindle the celebration of the event at home.
The event in Trinidad and Tobago this year was not all fanfare. Beyond that, President Kufuor took the opportunity to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries with his counterpart. President Kufuor said the only frontier to cross was mental and psychological slavery and called for the need for his host to concentrate on education to decolonize and liberate the minds of the people, particularly the blacks in Trinidad and Tobago.
Even though education is free from kindergarten to the university, some of the blacks is that country have still not sieved the education opportunity and are outside school system. The result is that some of the blacks are unemployed and engage in drugs, violence and crime. To reverse the trend, Professor Cudjoe has called for the establishment of radio station and schools for blacks. It, however, remains to be seen whether or not the government would respond favourably demand.
The President is about to leave office but if what he had started could be continued by the next President, some economic benefits could accrue from the bilateral relations.
 The discussions of the two leaders centered on energy, education and culture. Trinidad and Tobago is a leading producer of gas and oil in the Caribbean and has been in that business for many years. Although it has a small population of 1.3 million, the country’s economy is strong. In 2007, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $23.79 billion with per capita income of $ 18,300. (GDP is the value of the goods and services produced within that particular period, normally a year, and per capita income is the value of goods and services produced within that particular period, shared by the population of that country.)
Certainly, with such a rich experience in the oil and gas industry, it has a lot to share with Ghana which has just discovered the black gold. How can Ghana benefit from such experience? In many ways: One is in the area of building the capacity of Ghanaians in management of oil and gas industry. And President Kufuor and Prime Minister Manning agreed to co-operate in the energy sector. The first step is for Ghana to send students and lectures to Trinidad and Tobago on an exchange programme for training in the oil and gas industry in that country.
Such exchange programmes can also be extended to culture. There are similarities between the cultures of both countries, but there are specific arts forms and music such as the calypso and coca which could be learnt in Ghana as well. For start, President Kufuor committed the government of Ghana to send a cultural troupe to Trinidad and Tobago to perform at next year’s Emancipation Day event.
In view of the dominance of the oil and gas industry in Prime Minister Manning, its agriculture has suffered setbacks over the years and Prime Minister Manning said he would be grateful if Ghana could place its expertise at the disposal of his country to strengthen its agricultural sector.
The experience as well as the culture of Trinidad and Tobago has left an indelible impression on the President and his entourage but what would be more beneficial to Ghanaians and Trinidadians and Tobagonians are the economic and cultural benefits which would accrue from enhanced relations and co-operations of the two countries. The next President should endeavour not to forget to build upon these initiatives.
                 Daily Graphic          page 9       Thursday, August 21, 2008
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