Military & civil society in Wonderland…and Seun

My world went down a rabbit hole last week. I woke up and was living in a militarised state. I was chatting with a friend in Couva about his wife and child, and suddenly he was looking out his window at soldiers surround a neighbour’s house and stop vehicles driving down the street.

I’m in Wonderland, because the whole thing remains glassy. No one in authority has provided clarity, censure or punishment for what we know was an unauthorised army manhunt for Dillon Skeete. Some political pundits, the Law Association and Opposition members eventually expressed pause; but daily life continues with no collective sense of outrage. For my part, no work I’ve been able to do, no words I’ve been able to write, no pleasure, has escaped that shadow—a sense that everything I held true about my own power as a citizen has disappeared.

I used to joke how a certain “Acting” Police Commissioner would comment to the media about the brazenness of criminals: “Is like a movie”. But, despite our recurrent sense of powerlessness about crime and blurring lines between politicians, police and criminals, there was a moral certainty about bandits, about what was injustice, and that there was some framework of accountability, however bungling, for bandits, bobolists, even drugpins. During the 1990 coup, even, one trusted order would be restored.

When soldiers with high-tech weapons appear to go on manhunts across borders, media houses and busy Port of Spain streets are shut down, and national security officials waffle, legislators continue dollyhouse debates about DNA, I don’t see my sense of scandal at the death of democracy mirrored in editorials or public chatter, and Kamla and Spiderman are off having tea with Dilma and Putin, I think I’m living inside a Karene Asche calypso. It’s one thing when corrupt, incompetent politicians we elected are in charge. It’s another when no one clearly is.

The day after the soldiers invaded my morning chat, a two-page spread in some daily papers threatened to restore some sense of my agency as a civilian. It advertised elections for a national Civil Society Board, a representative coordination mechanism for civil society views and priority-setting on policy, governance, social service delivery and matters of importance, and for strengthening organisations.

This process, initiated over three years ago by the PM’s Office under Min. Rodger Samuel, is now managed by his Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration. Sexuality NGOs weren’t initially at the table; but it’s opened up. Though problems remain. Gender, originally missing, was added to focus areas the Board represents—then changed to “Family Affairs, including Men’s and Women’s Affairs” based on “input” nowhere documented for the public. Human rights—the most fundamental area where citizens hold their state accountable—isn’t included.

Notwithstanding, I had thought to run. Nominations were to happen last week, with meetings in seven designated regions among potential nominees. Details published Thursday included a 1:00pm meeting the same day; and three sites, not seven. Nominations are delayed to August. E-mail to policyunit@ndsi.gov.tt, listed in the notices, has been bouncing. Some registered NGOs never received e-notices about the election. Nothing’s on the website either. A convoluted “regional-sectoral approach” will elect 210 delegates, who pick a 15-member Board among themselves. Aimed at achieving geographic diversity, it won’t; regions with more NGOs will dominate

Right back to Wonderland.

A young Nigerian musician is threatening to restore my sense of justice. I’m proud T&T’s the first nation to make Emancipation a holiday, but I’ve never had anything to wear to the annual costume parade, and always wondered why what’s in fact a celebration of Africanness is hinged to enslavement. But this Thursday, Afrobeat star Seun Kuti will headline the Emancipation Support Committee’s concert in the Savannah. Like his father, legendary Fela, who stood up to Nigerian dictators, Seun is a human rights activist, and has spoken out bluntly against Nigeria’s draconian new anti-gay law. “Nigeria’s senate has just sanctioned pedophilia…(girls…as young as 9 years old can continue to be married…if they are ‘physically developed enough’ according to their parents or prospective husbands)—so this the ban on homosexuality can hardly be a so-called ‘moral’ issue”, he wrote on OkayAfrica.com. “This is simply a move for cheap political points.” He also told the media, “contrary to what people think, if my father was alive, he would not have supported the law too. I know him more than all the people saying otherwise. In our house in Kalakuta, there were gay people living there.”

“I believe the gay community should come out!” Seun says. July 31st at 8pm might be a great time to come up from my rabbit hole.

Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith

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