Season of rising and falling
ALMOST a year ago, I was on a flight from Port of Spain to Kingston when I struck up a conversation with Minister Phillip Paulwell. He revealed that he was on his way back from a meeting concerned with Liquefied Natural Gas. He was hopeful about the possibilities of lowering the high cost of fuel and the implications for reducing production costs in manufacturing and domestic usage. No State secrets were revealed, I can assure you.
Instead, it was a brief, clinical mini-lecture, delivered with great enthusiasm on the minister's part and my attempt at looking enthusiastic. The minister's departing remarks were the most earnest of all: "Imagine if we were able to lower the cost of electricity -- what a difference that would be".
We landed at Norman Manley. The minister went his way, I went mine.
Then, sometime later things began to hit the fan over the EWI business. For the second time in his career, Minister Paulwell's handling of an assignment was not going well, to say the least. In recent days, as it spun rapidly out of control and began its rapid descent like one of those old fighter planes in World War movies, I remembered the enthusiasm with which Paulwell had spoken about the possibility for increased production and growth in the nation and the implications for prosperity. It had implications for the minister's political future also.
Politicians, especially on the government side at this time, are not particularly popular with the wider public. It is not only because there is electioneering underway -- and you'd better believe it is. Outtakes from social media reproduced in newspaper columns, reveal a vicious streak in the daily comments. There is little allowance for reasoning. Paulwell's fall from grace will not be softened in any way. The low esteem in which politicians are held leaves no room for error. Had Paulwell not messed up before, there might have been some possibility of forgiveness, but he blotted his copy book once before and now he has to face the humiliation of having to give up a project in which he fully believed. Not even his apology to the contractor general could have saved him.
The prime minister now has responsibility for the project, which means she will have to be on guard that not even a comma goes astray. There are many lying in wait for her to fail. A new management team is being put in place, with Dr Vin Lawrence recalled from retirement to see that there are no hitches this time. Dr Lawrence, like others, assumes office with public cynicism at his heels, waiting to diminish him. The cartoonists have already dusted off the nickname "God", which sets the stage for long-running jokes. It might just also end up getting on the nerves of religious folk who are already irritated by the supposed image of the Divine being ridiculed already. Batten down the hatches. More stormy weather ahead.
The world is taking keen interest in the story of the kidnap of 200 or so girls between early and late teens from a remote area of Nigeria, who have been spirited away by a group known as Boko Haram. This is not the first time that these kidnappers have made the headlines over their bizarre behaviour. Alleged to be members of the Muslim faith, the attack of Boko Haram on the schoolgirls is said to be because of their belief that women should not be schooled, especially in Western-type education. Instead, they should be sold into marriage and, we imagine, settle down to domestic drudgery.
That the kidnapped girls were seeking advanced education to equip them for a new world in a new time, as some news reports have said, seemed to have brought out the worst in the nature of the kidnappers.
Nigerians at home and abroad are demonstrating. The government of Goodluck Jonathan, the current president, has not escaped condemnation. The main question asked is why it has taken his Government so long to launch a search for the girls. Even now, as they have finally put some kind of search-and-rescue operation in place, there is reservation about what it will achieve, the kidnappers having been allowed a considerable headstart.
Here in Ja, some are asking these questions about our Government's silence. The answer could well be that in diplomacy, one country does not get involved in the affairs of another, which could give the impression of meddling. Jamaica has always enjoyed cordial relations with Nigeria. As recently as August 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan was here to celebrate our nation's 150th anniversary.
Many Nigerians are resident here. For this reason, there had been expectations that some form of communication would have already been sent from Kingston to Abuja, the Nigerian capital, by now, not in condemnation but in the best diplomatic language, empathising with the families of the missing girls, and the Nigerian nation as a whole, which must be deeply troubled.
If this has been done yet, we've not heard from our Government about this or anything else pertaining to the matter. Meanwhile, the protests have become more widespread, with the US in particular urged to lend its technological capacity to help the Nigerians comb the deep forests where the captives are supposed to be. Support is also expressed to the aggrieved families. Up to the time of writing, there has been no word from Jamaica House, and Nigerian residents are maintaining silence. If it ain't one thing, it's another... at home and abroad.
While we're at it, is our sense of kinship with Africa as strong as before? Has its light faded or gone out all together? A Rastafarian elder, from whom I tried to get an answer for this question, replied somewhat sadly: "Is we the older heads who remember dem tings. Di youngsters don't have the same spirit. We still respect Africa, but as to the young ones, mi nuh know. To some a dem, Rasta is mostly bout music and style. Some remember higher tings, but plenty forget."
WEIRDIE OF THE WEEK: A High, Exalted One goes to an event where he sees an individual who he believes should not be there. Did he leave? No. He expressed his disapproval. And before you know it, the offending one is asked to take a lesser position. People still talking about it.
Recommendation to all High, Exalted Ones: Same way people go up, same way they come down...while we're at it, let's look up the word hubris. "Arrogance resulting from excessive pride". Sounds familiar?