What do we do for Africa?

Franklin Johnston

Friday, March 24, 2017

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Jamaicans say they love Africa but are absent when Africa needs help. With Ebola rampant we wrung hands. When girls were kidnapped, we bawl the living eye water. Now famine stalks Africa, we do nothing.

Once we were in tune with roots; black Americans had no glossy picture books about fictional empires to balm racial hurt, but we needed no opiates. The West Indies (Anglophone Caribbean), aka Caricom, is the largest body of black nations outside Africa (all islands 90 per cent black). We run things. We are blessed as our poverty is small to Africa’s. We led anti-apartheid, black power, Third-World issues. We are large yet oblivious of Africa’s famine. Where is our leadership? Have we no compassion?

The University of the West Indies (UWI) students were keen and we led the islands in vision, passion and action. Back then, churches, unions, entertainers, and pressure groups extended freedom; some now cauterise them. We had conscious politicians who stood firm and defied the cookie cutter mentality and UWI teemed with intellectual energy. Journalist were no echo chamber for politicians mouthing bumper sticker clichés; they bruited issues of gravitas — not always right — but spoke for the small man and paths less travelled as the worn ones got us nowhere. We owned African issues. UWI balanced activism and academic excellence, and we were better for this. So what happened to us?

Today Ethiopia, East Africa is in the throes of famine and starvation yet we have no fund-raising, volunteers or food banks. British media appeals are in high gear, and as I write a London radio station asks £5 from every listener. Our diaspora is inert as "some 800,000 kids in East Africa, aged six months to five years, need life-saving treatment for acute malnutrition" (
ITV News).

The UK Cabinet is in relief mode despite Brexit, Scotland and the Westminster terrorist attack by ISIS — four killed, 40 injured. Is our Cabinet, Caricom too busy? UK Disaster Emergency Committee is raising money to help over 16 million people near starvation in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan ( ITV News). Last week’s campaign raised £15 million from the public in one day. Nigeria, well-endowed in minerals, oil, farmland, manpower is facing famine in the north-east with 17 million at risk; 75,000 kids face starvation and some 10 people a day die of hunger in camps near State capital Maiduguri (
The Guardian, UK). Wealthy Nigerians hold back fearing corrupt use of their cash, but in London some £24 million was raised up to Friday. Do we care?

Rastafari, Africanists, academics glorify Ethiopia to enhance causes and careers, but don’t care a damn for Africa — all PR! In the UK charities work in Africa, white people give millions, and students take a gap year to help out. We see nothing, hear nothing, and have not one "live aid" concert for Africa. Our entertainers, cultural activists "eat a food" on the back of Africa, yet are insensitive to its trials. We exploit Brand Africa for enrichment but, "Oh, we poor what can we give?" Anancy lives!

We are part of but not the Caribbean, and many brands which say "Caribbean" are West Indian. Core Caribbean peoples in large islands are excluded from Caricom by closet racists, so we imagine blacks, as in Africa, are their priority. But, no, play the race card to keep power black. To them Africa is image and convenience — get reparation from white buyers not black sellers of slaves. Africa still sells people yet starve; Europe no longer buys people and prosper — retribution?

Some say the white man caused famines in Africa but Ethiopia, the home of Rastafari god, which was never a colony, had famines since pre-history. The images of skin-and-bone kids, as in the 80s, with whites distributing aid are suppressed, but our media must expose them. Black Americans are invisible; Caricom and Rastafari too, yet Trinidad and Guyana Indians were generous when their fatherland had floods. What do we do for Africa? Will we send Red Stripe cassava, Trade Winds oranges, JP bananas? What will Cabinet send? What will Caricom? Sympathy? I am ashamed for Jamaica.

Derek Walcott is dead

St Lucian, Nobel laureate 1992, and Caribbean man Derek Walcott is dead. He was a global icon who I studied, acted in his plays, met in my youth, raved about "Ti-Jean and his brothers"; his love affair with himself was patent. I was gutted when, in 2009, he missed the Oxford chair in poetry. He withdrew after sexual harassment accusations in Boston went public. Curiously, self-confessed sadomasochist Vidia Naipaul (Nobel laureate, 2001, Trinidad) makes "Fifty shades of Grey" pale — violence to his mistress for "carnal pleasure" was his thing. Geniuses in literature are not like us. Walcott’s canvas was the West Indies, Britain, its diaspora. His muse was not in our big islands — icons of miscegenation which make the Caribbean unique. The English were not as Spanish, French and Portuguese men who came to stay and sowed seed. Walcott was not the first Caribbean laureate in literature as many think. Our news is restricted by what Ronald Thwaites calls "the arrogance of English" and Cabinets post-colonial prejudice, so we know little of the non-English speaking Caribbean. Our media must get with neighbours and give us real Caribbean news; break apartheid and proclaim one Caribbean for the 21st century. We be ignorant!

Saint-John Perse (Alexis Leger), Guadeloupean born, 1960 Nobel laureate for literature and near polymath was unknown to my students as he was not from the West Indies and near white. Happily, business is bringing us closer to the core Caribbean (French, Spanish) as they export and expand — these firms are true heroes. We are de facto leaders in Caricom, so as trade engulfs the Dominican Republican, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc, the racial confection created by that body will fail and market forces, indigenous cultures will open our great sea to each other and we will be truly free. Our space is not black Africa or white Europe but many shades of brown — our unique Caribbean identity! One day we will praise laureates Alexis Leger, Arthur Lewis (St Lucia) 1979, Derek Walcott, Vidia Naipaul (2001) as Caribbean men in this English, French, Spanish space — no racism, no political union, no bull! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or

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