Dudley Thompson's contribution


Thursday, January 26, 2012

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Dudley Thompson's passing at a very senior age is nevertheless a bit early for two things. First, his contribution as a Pan Africanist should be highlighted in February when we observe Black History Month. Second, his apology for the statement "No angels died at Green Bay" should be a reflection for Lent, which does not start until Ash Wednesday.

Dudley Thompson confidently tried to shock Jamaicans into having African pride. This he did by informative lectures and by wearing African regalia most of the time, much to the chagrin of some who wrote letters to the press. Between 1972 and 1976, Thompson was leader of government business in the Senate, minister of state in the ministry of foreign affairs (1972-75), minister of foreign affairs (1975-77), minister of mining and energy (1977-78) and minister of national security (1978-80). Dudley Thompson was also a vice president and later chairman of the People's National Party.

Dudley Thompson made his apology in August 1999 (not 2001 as you may have read). In my column "Go thou and do likewise" in the Jamaica Observer of September 2, 1999, I wrote (sic), "No angels died at Green Bay" were made to cloud and block every achievement Mr Thompson has ever made. Very few remember Dudley Thompson the Rhodes scholar and a flight lieutenant in World War 2 and a Pan Africanist. As a lawyer, he defended Jomo Kenyatta. In the days before Independence in that country Kenyatta, later Kenya's first president, had been charged with being the chief instigator of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in 1952."

I have argued that in this jubilee year of the 50th anniversary of political independence, there should be a negotiations symposium. This could be a great way of earning foreign exchange if it is promoted as part of the tourism product. There are students all over the world who just might be interested in how a nation without gold, diamonds, silver, uranium, platinum or oil now has about 90 per cent of its infrastructure in place. Jamaica borrowed money and also got grants. This can only be done by the skill of negotiation.

The role of Dudley Thompson as a negotiator in the 1970s as Cabinet minister and 1990s as an ambassador should be highlighted. He was also instrumental in getting the United Nations to declare Jamaica the seat of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. His role in clinching the bauxite deals has been mentioned by others.

If a negotiations symposium becomes a reality, Jamaicans should also attend it. If properly done, it would educate our own people, especially the young as to what has actually happened since political independence in 1962. The truth is that the only thing that is worse today is crime and even that has its genesis in the era of the pirates. In the last 50 years since political independence, others brought crime to another level with the illegal distribution of guns and cocaine and its dire consequences.

Dudley Thompson advocated for reparations for slavery while he was an ambassador in the 1990s. Reparation is about repairing damages while repatriation is about returning to one's fatherland. Reparation has nothing to do with the Back-to-Africa Movement (or repatriation). The Japanese got reparation when the atom bomb exploded on Hiroshima. This was one of the arguments Dudley Thompson used when arguing for reparation.

In 1978, David D'Costa, then a Gleaner columnist, wrote that he had a tape of the proceedings of the confidential meeting of the Jamaica Defence Force Officers where the "no angels' statement was made, but in 1999 wrote that he was bluffing. Dudley Thompson took no chances, he never denied it". In my column "Go thou and do likewise" in 1999, I also wrote (sic)" it is important to note that Mr Thompson has been a retired politician for many years and is therefore not seeking anyone's vote."

Around the time of the apology there was a cartoon with a caricature of Dudley Thompson in a confessional saying "Father forgive me for I have sinned". I wrote in that same 1999 article that the cartoon might have been prophetic because Dudley Thompson was Roman Catholic, although I was unable to say whether he practised his faith. On the morning of the publication of that column in 1999, I received a telephone call from Dudley Thompson who told me quite firmly that he had always been a practising Roman Catholic and had absolutely no intention of being anything else.

Thompson's Pan-Africanism is supported in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. After leaving politics in the 1980s when the PNP was no longer in power, his concern for the plight of former Governor General Sir Clifford Campbell led to the provision of government-paid chauffeurs for former governors general.

Dudley Thompson's life from start to finish was symbolic of his internationalist outlook. He was born in Panama, grew up in Jamaica, worked abroad, returned to Jamaica and died in New York. May his soul rest in peace.


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