Eric Williams was right
GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, August 15 2012
The decision in 1964 by Dr Eric Williams, then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, for this country to seek to develop closer economic and social ties with several African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika, et al, was a demonstration of the foresight of the man who led his country to Independence 50 years ago.
It laid the groundwork for later trading links and initiatives to assist Nigeria, for example, with its natural gas industry. To better appreciate the significance of the tour, what should be clearly understood is that at the time the economies of these African countries were controlled by France and the United Kingdom, their former colonial masters. As difficult as it may be to accept today is that the former British and French territories had formed themselves into separate groups which were largely influenced by their colonial past. For example, the previous French colonies, save for Guinea and Mali, formed themselves into the Brazzaville Group. Nigeria would later join this group.
Williams during his tour would meet and hold talks with Tafewa Balewa, Head of Nigeria; Kenya’s President Jomo Kenyatta; Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; Leopold Senghor of Senegal; Milton Obote of Uganda and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Williams, in his talks with them, advanced the idea of the need to strengthen their economies by moving away from colonial thinking. Although the African leaders would tarry, Williams’ views fell on relatively receptive ears, largely through the earlier impact made by the celebrated Trinidad and Tobago thinker, George Padmore.
In the meantime, one of the leaders, Ghana’s Prime Minister, Nkrumah, had posited the idea six years earlier of a Federation of African States. However, the stranglehold which Britain and France had on the economies of several African nations, through ownership and control of their raw materials, which would be shipped to the metropolitan countries, refined and reshipped to these States, among others, at considerably higher prices, was immense.
This neocolonialist strategy would keep them as mere producers of raw materials and effectively block industrialisation of these countries.
Williams’ African tour would last from February 14, when he and his party touched down at Dakar, Senegal, to March 22 when they left Cairo, Egypt for Trinidad and Tobago. The more than five-week tour would be unthinkable today and this is understandable. Nevertheless, those were the early days of Independence, not only for Trinidad and Tobago, but most of the Caribbean States, which are now free, and many African countries.
George Padmore had been a hero in many African countries with his Pan African crusade still lingering in their minds, yet, ironically, little being done to put it and what it stood for into effect. Yet, in a larger sense, it would be a dismissal of history to condemn African States which although having won political freedom remained economic prisoners. The formation of the neither pro-West nor pro-Soviet Union non-aligned movement would later be a step forward, but even this was bitterly attacked by Western powers. Some of us would remember the destabilisation of Jamaica, when Michael Manley was Prime Minister, in an effort to have him lose the General Election because he had dared to espouse the non-alignment cause.
In this setting, Africa’s enforced raw materials’ economies, it is not surprising that what Williams sought in 1964, the strengthening of African economies, greater South-South cooperation and, specifically, the structured growth of TT’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are today bearing fruit and that Williams was right.
Although, the People’s National Movement and successive administrations later found themselves in positions where, for reasons forced on them by history, they had to accept, as other Caribbean, African and Pacific States had done, the iniquitous 1975 EEC-ACP Convention of Lome and the successor Convention of Cotonou, another position would have been adopted today.
Meanwhile, not only because of increased national pride, but in addition rapidly growing economic links with Latin America, the emerging trading force of the 21st century, Trinidad and Tobago is today moving away from traditional close economic links with, for example, the UK and Western Europe. This has been hastened by Trinidad and Tobago’s growing close economic ties with Latin America as evidenced by its admission to the recently formed Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the worsening impact of the drawn out international financial crisis on several European countries, notably France, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the UK.