ENTERTAINING, ECLECTIC, EXUBERANT EZINMA: From Cornhusker to Classical Bae, she’s merging the sounds of violin and hip-hop By Angel Jennings in Nebraska - Lincoln Alumni Quarterly Fall 2021
In a tiny Manhattan apartment, Meredith Ezinma Ramsay propped her iPhone on an Ikea shelf and pressed record. She stepped back, cradled her custom Italian violin under her chin and allowed the melody of Future’s 2017 trap hit Mask Off to wash over her. Her bow jumped across the strings to the rhythm of the song as she jammed out, putting her own classical flair to the hip-hop beat. A mountain of golden curls stacked atop her head bounced along. Satisfied, she uploaded the one-minute video to her 5,000 followers. The next day, her Instagram following grew to 22,000. Then 100,000. Now more than 360,000.
“What do I share? What do I post to all of these fans?” she recounted during a video interview from her hotel room in Mexico in early June, where she is working on new music. “Now I have fans. Before I just had friends.”
That viral video commanded an audience that could have filled a concert hall or arena many times over — and catapulted her from an unknown violinist to the Internet-crowned “Classical Bae. “Her sound reached the ears of megastar Beyoncé who invited Ezinma to join her all-girl band at the Southern California music festival Coachella in 2018. She has toured Europe, played with Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar, SZA and the late Mac Miller. This spring, she released her debut EP Classical Bae.
At first glance, it appears Ezinma’s success happened overnight, but it has been decades in the making. And it all started at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where her parents met and fell in love, where a community embraced, nurtured and challenged her and she gained the skills and confidence to upend the classical music world.“UNL genuinely prepared me for life,” Ezinma said, reflecting on her time on the sprawling campus. “I feel like I was given a really safe incubator to be myself. After that, I felt like I could do anything.”
Ezinma has been a fixture on Nebraska’s campus since she was a baby. Her mother, Dr. Lisa Knopp, would rock an infant Ezinma in her arms during her office hours in Andrews Hall when she was a Nebraska doctoral student earning her Ph.D. in creative nonfiction and American literature. Her father, Colin Ramsay, would strap a toddler Ezinma on his back as he taught actuarial science courses in the College of Business Administration. She would peer out into the class of students and wave, her father recalled. They would wave back. “I remember drawing on the marker board in my dad’s class,” she said. “In many ways, I feel like I grew up at UNL.”
Back then, everybody knew her simply as Meredith. She fell in love with the violin when her teachers at Prairie Hill Montessori School brought in violin instructors who taught the Suzuki method. “These little kids were playing these tiny violins and she bugged us,” Knopp, now an English professor at University of Nebraska Omaha, recounted over the phone. “She wanted one.”
She was 3. Her parents assumed it would be one in a long line of interests their young daughter would take up as she explored and found herself. They conceded and rented a miniature version of the string instrument that could fit her tiny fingers. Practice, for preschoolers, consisted of learning how to hold the instrument, playing the musical scales and learning to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It would take a young Ezinma five minutes to complete. Her mother got an idea. Knopp, who studied the piano and flute as an undergraduate in Iowa, would pull out her flute and join Ezinma in her practices. The time would fly by as they played folk music, soulful church hymns and freestyled. “She and I would just screw around and have fun,” Knopp said. “I think she had the association that music could be really enjoyable. Then to go from five minutes to 30 minutes (of practice) when you’re six, that’s a huge deal. At a very early age, she was practicing way more than the other kids.”
By the sixth grade, Ezinma’s skill had outpaced her mom and Knopp could no longer keep up with her on the flute. Others began paying attention to Ezinma’s musicality. She had a big sound and knew how to make mundane pieces musical and expressive. “There was something kind of extraordinary. She could really make her violin sing,” Knopp recalled. When Ezinma was in the eighth grade, she was yearning for a new challenge. Her parents signed her up to study under David Neely, a Nebraska professor of violin. She took lessons from him for five years. “She was skilled like any athlete would be and very focused on her routines,” Neely said. “She practiced very hard and I always loved that about her. She was very diligent about her music making.” “But now she’s doing it. That’s what happens when you really follow your heart and put the work in.” –Dr. Lisa Knopp
Additionally, Ezinma attended national and international music camps to sharpen her skills and challenge herself. She was often the only Black musician in the room. It was at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a prestigious music program in Michigan, where Ezinma encountered another Black string player for the first time. She was 14 or 15. “Seeing that I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a deficiency,” Ezinma said, reflecting on that moment. “I didn’t realize how underrepresented I was until I finally saw somebody. It’s kind of interesting. You don’t realize you’re lacking until you’re finally given water. And you’re like ‘Oh my God, I’m thirsty.’ That was a big moment for me.”
She called her mother. “It was like naming some obvious thing that you’ve never paid attention to,” Knopp recalled. “For the first time she saw another Black violinist. Doesn’t that make you want to weep with joy and sadness?” Ezinma would return from these prestigious training camps, eager to show others her growth. “She would go away to these international camps and come back and not be seated very high in the orchestra,” Knopp said. “So, I’m like ‘what the hell is going on here.’ ”
Ramsay, her father, who was raised in Guyana, a country on the Caribbean coast of South America, knew what it was. Before he had Ezinma, he had considered America the land of opportunity and said he did not fully understand the role racism played in the lives of Black people in America. Ramsay would have spirited debates with the late Michael Combs, a political science professor who taught at Nebraska for decades, about race and identity. But raising Ezinma showed Ramsay another side of his adopted home country. He saw, in ways large and small, how some minimized Ezinma’s talent, questioned her abilities and tried to chip away at her confidence. “It was like somebody breaking your legs, crippling you so when you’re an adult you can’t even walk,” Ramsay said, who is still an actuarial science professor at Nebraska. “Working hard is not enough. It’s necessary but not sufficient.” He would speak up for her, questioning the motives of her teachers. But at home, he would pull Ezinma aside and issue hard truths, “You’re Black. You just have to be better.”
When it was time to apply to college, Ezinma only submitted one application: To the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She had graduated from Lincoln Southwest High School a year early and at 17, she didn’t want to go too far from home. At this point, she was 14 years into a love affair with the violin. She could see herself pursuing a career in music but her dad pushed for her to study medicine. “I came from the Caribbean and in our culture, you only have three choices if you’re smart: doctor, lawyer or engineer,” Ramsay said. “Music felt like entertainment. That was never part of the equation.” Father and daughter reached a compromise. To make sure Ezinma was not attempting to shy away from the harder STEM courses, Ramsay said she could major in music if she took math and science courses.“ “After you get an A in all of these subjects then you can make a decision based on love and not fear,” he told her.
Ezinma arrived as a freshman in 2008. She declared a double major in biochemistry and violin performance and a minor in mathematics with a pre-medicine emphasis. She aced her courses. When she wasn’t studying, she was practicing at Westbrook Music Building into the wee hours with her musician friends. “We were really intense,” Ezinma said. “We would be there until the janitors came in and closed the building.” At the end of her sophomore year, she confessed to her dad: “I’m a musician.” He conceded.
“You don’t choose to do music. Music chooses you,” said Neely, Ezinma’s former violin professor. “There’s something inside your soul that you just can’t put it away. It just draws you back no matter what you do.” “Music called her and she couldn’t not do it.”
Glimpses of Ezinma’s talent in her interpretation "Ode to Hustle" https://youtu.be/n6q7QJOPmnU
About the author Angel Jennings, a Nebraska-Lincoln Alum is Assistant Managing Editor for culture and talent at The LA Times. She oversees our Metpro and internship programs as well as works closely with HR and department heads to help manage a broad range of responsibilities, including tracking, recruiting, interviewing and selecting diverse candidates for job opportunities and advancing the company’s efforts to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and access.
Image: Jeanne Menjoulet/Flickr
One joke making the rounds in Kabul’s diplomatic circles these days is that the power transition in Kabul from the Ghani government to that of the Taliban was smoother than the one that took place in Washington D.C. earlier this year. That may be a (slight) exaggeration, but there is little doubt that the swiftness with which the Taliban entered the Afghan capital caught most observers by surprise.
After twenty years, the notion that a decision to end America’s longest war was due is uncontroversial. Beyond Afghanistan, however, the question is what will happen next in Central Asia, and how will the security deficit there be addressed. Who wins and who loses with the U.S. withdrawal from the “graveyard of empires”? What will its effects be on China and on India, the two “Asian giants” whose own bilateral links have been on a downhill course recently?
A standard rationale for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is that it was done to end the “distraction” of a war in a “secondary theater”, so that Washington could focus on its main concern – that is, China. This would be in line with the U.S. shift in emphasis from NATO to the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (the “Quad”), whose inaugural summit, in March 2021, was the first international meeting hosted by President Biden after he took office. It would also correspond to the recent AUKUS deal to deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, creating a major diplomatic rift with France.
If Afghanistan were to become a hotbed of international terrorism, and provide once again a base for the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of Uighur militants bent on Xinjiang’s secession from China, this could become a headache for Beijing. This was one reason the PRC never recognised the previous Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Yet if, as all indicates, China reaches an agreement with the Taliban, both sides have much to gain. Afghanistan has enormous mineral riches (valued at up to US 1 trillion dollars), mostly in copper and lithium (some refer to it as “the Saudi Arabia of lithium”), both in high demand by China for its E-V industry. China could also build much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure. If the Taliban government is able to guarantee security and law and order (a big if), it is possible to imagine an influx of Chinese mining and construction companies that could do much to bolster the Afghan economy – exactly what the new regime in Kabul needs.
China’s long-standing partnership with Pakistan, the country where the single biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, the US$ 46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is located, and whose intelligence services created the Taliban in the first place, also gives Beijing some leverage. India, on the other hand, may find itself holding the short end of the stick. Having bet heavily on the Hamid Karzai government first, and the Ashraf Ghani government later, it has had a rocky relationship with the Taliban from the word go. India was left out of many of the recent multi-party negotiations regarding the future of Afghanistan, and New Delhi will not find it easy to reclaim its diplomatic footing there again.
The larger issue, though, is the changing configuration of Eurasia, what Kent Calder has referred to as the “Super Continent”, rejoined by the technologies of the new century, including bullet trains and mobile telephony. The return of the Taliban opens new doors to the two players that have been reshaping it over the past decades, that is Russia and China. Seeing the writing on the wall, Moscow carried on talks with the Taliban for years, and its Embassy in Kabul is open for business. As the newly independent “Central Asian Five” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), the old former Soviet republics, struggle to find their place in the sun, Moscow and Beijing vie to establish their predominance in an area where Afghanistan is at the very centre. China’s BRI was initially all about connecting the world’s fastest growing region, East Asia, with the world’s biggest market, the European Union, while bringing into play these new, until now marginalised countries, rich in natural resources, thus recreating the old Silk Road.
Russia, though uneasy about it at first, as it saw BRI encroaching on its own turf, has ultimately played along, as a way of consolidating a condominium of sorts with China in what has traditionally been considered the geopolitical centre of the world. A rich panoply of regional entities, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), aim to redefine a space that Russia considers its “near abroad”, and China sees as critical to its New Silk Road.
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the earlier closing of U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, means that China and Russia will now have more of a free hand to proceed. India’s putting all of its eggs in one basket in Afghanistan, and its early rejection of the BRI, leaves it with a weak hand to help shape the new regional security and economic architecture in Central Asia, though its membership on the SCO and old ties with Moscow mean it is not totally cut off from the action.
For much of human history, Eurasia, which Halford Mackinder referred to as “the world island”, has been at the very centre of geopolitical conflicts and contests. During the 20th century, it disappeared from our vocabulary, but has now made a triumphant return. As we brace for what Kishore Mahbubani forecasts will be “the Asian century”, there is no reason to think Eurasia will recede from view. In that perspective, the fall of Kabul may be more than a historical footnote.
Let us recall that the Afghan capital was once a key caravan stop of the Silk Road traversed by Marco Polo. It may yet become one once again, this time of the New Silk Road being forged these days across the vast expanses and indomitable mountains of Central Asia.
Jorge Heine, a former Chilean ambassador to China (2014-2017) and to India (2003-2007) is a research professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, and a Wilson Center global fellow.
This week GOFAD shines a light on His Excellency Kevin Isaacs, St Kitts/Nevis High Commissioner to the UK. While being a Diplomat is his designated occupation he has a passion for poetry and is quite accomplished. I have attached a link to his Podcast of what he calls verbal photography. Out of his vast collection on a variety of subjects, I am fascinated by the one entitled, “Paper Cup. “ It prepares me fully for my immediate future. I invite you to explore the link to Kevin Isaac's website after listening to the Podcast and get acquainted with this fascinating artist and his work. https://verbalphotography.com/2021/03/28/paper-cup/
Over the past year, other poets from among GOFAD readers have sent copies of their work. It occurred to me that I could share these from time to time since some among you may find them a diversion that is soulfully fulfilling.
See Kwame Ryan Conducing on YouTube
You would recall that in last week’s blog that featured Maestro Kwame Ryan, it was indicated that the premier of the opera, “Time of our Singing” may be viewed on YouTube. For those who are interested, please subscribe to opera vision (link below) for notification and access to Time for our singing on Friday 24, 2021. https://youtu.be/HuA7CX4QFYA
This Blog is being written after the incredible opera conducted by Kwamé Ryan has been premiered in Brussels on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 and may be viewed via web stream online from Friday, September 24 at 1.00 pm EST (March 2022). According to the text of the programme booklet, The Time of Our Singing, published in a Dutch and French translation, the Opera is based on “a magnificent, multifaceted novel about a supremely gifted―and divided―family, set against the backdrop of postwar America, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning and bestselling author Richard Powers”
In celebration of this occasion, GOFAD had intended to review the novel, but having read the amazing connectedness of Maestro Ryan to this novel-opera, thought it best to let readers experience his unadulterated views of what he labels of “Mixedness - Unified in Time”
The Essence of the Novel
Glimpses of the novel’s power and meaning should be a further enticement.
You may read the documentation of Kwamé Ryan’s connectedness as a conductor to the orientation of the novel in this link: https://www.lamonnaie.be/en/mmm-online/2141-mixedness---unified-in-time
An Eloquently Profound Preview of the Opera
It is further worth your time to listen to the YouTube preview of the opera, by conductor Kwamé Ryan, whose production was delayed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Bringing to life 'The Time of Our Singing', Kris Defoort's latest opera based on the novel by Richard Powers, Kwamé states: “This production would have been immensely relevant one year ago, and it's even more important to create it today". See link https://youtu.be/v8A9O0Ye1J0
Who is Kwamé Ryan?
Kwamé Ryan was born in Canada and grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where he received his early musical education. He completed his studies reading musicology at Cambridge University, and specialising in conducting at the International Eötvös Institute. He held the position of General Music Director of Freiburg Opera between 1999 and 2003, and that of Musical and Artistic Director of the National Orchestra of Bordeaux Aquitaine between 2007 and 2013. When not on the podium, Kwamé Ryan dedicates his time to educational and community development work as Director of Trinidad and Tobago’s Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) and Chairman of the youth art Non-Profit Organisation Searchlight International.
For those wanting to connect more directly with Kwamé and his work, you may explore his new website www.kwameryan.com
I am sure Kwamé would appreciate your comments.
Africa-CARICOM SUMMIT A Landmark Bridge of Hope
CARICOM Secretary General Dr. Carla Barnett provided the context for evaluating the virtual historic Africa-CARICOM Summit held on Tuesday September 7, 2021. She said: “We have had our moments of acting together to protect and advance our mutual interests, but today we are committing to forge a new more permanent alliance that has the potential to open new vistas of collaboration and cooperation". This aspirational goal was endorsed from the opening statement by the current Chair of the Caribbean Community, Hon Gaston Browne, Prime Minster of Antigua and Barbuda to the closing statement by Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, President-in-Office of the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). A preview is presented in this link: President Kenyatta Roots For Closer Cooperation Between Africa And The Caribbean In Confronting Common Challenges.
As we await the official release of the Summit's Communique, GOFAD highlights some of the main issues advocated by the speakers from both Africa and the Caribbean and offers some speculations about the prospects of future African Union-CARICOM relations. Underlying these speculations is the hopefulness that the takeaways from the Summit would stimulate a bridge of hope to a more viable Caribbean Community.
Exploiting the Geopolitical Environment “United, we have Known Success”.
The two regions account for approximately 1.4 billion people with great natural and wealth creating resources, supplying vital commodities to the global community, and offering a strong market for the goods and services from Europe and North America. This is enriched by the bonds of cultural, historical and political relations and bolstered by the prospects of combined voting power of 69 nations in the United Nations and all its subsidiaries including the World Trade Organization. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, St Vincent and the Grenadines aptly summarized the potential: “We have global bargaining power but only if we use it effectively.” The general agreement was that new relationship emanating from the Summit must also extend to increasing trade and investment between Africa and CARICOM. Preliminary figures for 2020 indicate that total trade between Africa and the Caribbean, estimated at approximately US $29 Million is a drop of $10 Million from 2018. While the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can explain this decline, rebuilding the economies in both regions require that the private sector on both sides with the requisite support from the public sector must become alive to the opportunities to expand investment and trade in both regions. Mutual membership in organizations such as the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States, can be leveraged to the mutual benefit of both regions. From the perspective of the Caribbean, Africa has been CARICOM’s invaluable partner in several platforms such as at the UN, within the Group of 77 and, in our dealings with Europe under the umbrella of what is now the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).
Post-COVID-19 Recovery and Debt Sustainability
Debt sustainability has been a big concern for the African Union and CARICOM, whose member states are among the world’s most highly indebted nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted structural weaknesses of countries in both regions and amplified the debt problem. In 2020, public debt reached 70% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa and 83% of GDP in CARICOM. Both Regions face the unusual conundrum of striving for debt sustainability while seeking to generate adequate fiscal resources to build resilience. The common view is the need for a forceful message on issues relating to rescheduling of loans, debt financing, access to capital in rebuilding efforts. An evaluation of the global vaccination system along with its failure to respond to the most vulnerable in the world is an illustration of the inequities that the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals seek to resolve. But this dilemma is largely a spinoff from the historical legacy whereby interests of both Africa and the Caribbean have not been protected in the Bretton Wood institutions established prior to acquisition of independent status by countries of both regions.
In addition, the two regions suffered immensely from the fallout in the rising cost of commodities and transportation services during the pandemic. It has reawakened the vulnerability of both regions to food supply, fragility of markets, and sensitivity to price changes. But most of all, the African Medical Supplies Platform emerged as a quintessential example of cooperation coordinated by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is a response to the vaccine apartheid that provided for significant amounts of vaccines for CARICOM Member States out of the quota allocated to Africa. An evaluation of the global vaccination system along with its failure to respond to the most vulnerable in the world is required. It should not happen again.
Climate Change and Climate Resilience
But even as the recovery from COVID 19 is an uncertain contemplation, the development prospects both in Africa and the Caribbean as it is, across the globe, are further buffeted by climate change. The countries of the two regions are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Presentations from both African and CARICOM Leaders, reiterated how countries in both regions, are less able to resist, adapt to, and recover from the effects of sea-level rise, prolonged droughts, and extreme weather conditions. Natural hazard events have repeatedly resulted in adverse environmental, social, and economic consequences. Projections also suggest that the two regions will face more exaggerated climate risks for the remainder of the century. This poses a serious threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Hence there was unanimity of the need to speak with one voice at the UN General Assembly later this month and at COP 26 in Glasgow in November-December on mainstreaming the International Climate Development Strategy (ICDS) including the Blue Economy, Climate Resilience, Forests and Low Carbon Development priorities.
Just as there is merit in developing joint approaches to debt, so too is it necessary for the climate change challenges. The presentations from the Presidents of both the African Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, indicate that both regions are well placed to engineer innovative financing approaches. This requires advocating for access to lower cost of finance based on an imperative for development that distinguishes pre-event vulnerability, magnitude of impact, and post-event persistence and duration of impact. These effects, evidenced by our repeated natural hazard events and the Covid-19 pandemic, present strong arguments against the inadequacy of per capita income as a measure of classification and access to concessional finance. In this respect, Africa is described as "a fountain of knowledge" on innovative financing for the private sector, especially youth entrepreneurship. Consequently, the Caribbean can adopt the "Boost Africa" model, the joint initiative between the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, that offers an innovative way to de-risk private investment.
Pillars for a Sustainable Future
The issues that emerged from this historic Summit help to establish to what extent Africa- CARICOM can adopt strategies to achieve the expected outcomes associated with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In many instances, global solidarity resonates in the takeaways from the Summit:
As Health Care Systems reach Breaking Point UG Alum Vidia Roopchand Provides Clues: Take the VaccineRead Now
As the coronavirus continues to take its toll on health and welfare globally GOFAD, this week focuses on the situation in the Caribbean and a fascinating and informative presentation by Mr. Vidia Roopchand, UG Alumnus and lead COVID 19 Vaccine Researcher at Pfizer.
The seriousness of the situation in the Caribbean Region, is best illustrated by recent decisions taken by the political, education and health authorities in the English, French and Spanish Speaking Caribbean to postpone the start of the school year which is normally scheduled for the first two weeks of September. In view of the rising number of positive cases, the governments of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have imposed lock downs and the doctors and nurses in Guyana have initiated strikes and sickouts against government mandates for the vaccination of health workers. In preceding blogs, we referred to the suggested results of "nudges" combined with mandates as policies to combat vaccine hesitancy which contributes to much of the problem. In the CARICOM Member states, vaccine hesitancy is compounded by the lack of adequate supply, conflicting information and in some cases unscientific and fake news. The stark reality is demonstrated in the official figures which reveal the dramatic health situation in the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Martin) in proximity to the Eastern Caribbean states, with COVID deaths ranging from between 108-120 per 100,000. Suriname with 121 per 100,000 being the worst case scenario for CARICOM, while Guyana (71); St Lucia (56); Jamaica (51); Barbados (49) and Antigua and Barbuda (45) are indicative of the challenges that are being presented. At the same time, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (the CDC of the Caribbean) has illustrated that vaccination take in the region is relatively low. This partly due to lack of access and availability. Through the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS), CARPHA apples its verification of vaccines safety based on the authorization for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). While countries are at liberty to undertake their own assessments of the quality, efficacy and safety of vaccines, it is understandable how vaccine hesitancy can be sustained especially in cases where vaccines are not duly authorized.
It is under these circumstances that the University of Guyana hosted a virtual seminar on August 27th on virology and the COVID Vaccines. It was presented by Mr. Vidia Roopchand, Principal Scientist for Vaccine Research and Development at Pfizer. He has been with the company for 28 years and spent his career supporting the efforts of the research and development team in formulating innovative vaccines especially for immunization of children in Africa and including the research to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. He was particularly high in praise for the high quality of Education he received at the University of Guyana, graduating with a degree in Chemistry which was the solid foundation for his professional development.
The Fundamentals of Mr. Roopchand's Presentation: This is a Great Time to Learn
Mr. Roopchand's presentation illustrated how it was possible for Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies to develop the respective COVID-19 vaccines. The ability to fast-track research and clinical trials for example, was a direct result of the worldwide cooperation as the researchers quickly mobilized to share their coronavirus data with other scientists; made
advances in genomic sequencing based on previous results of researchers that successfully uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2. Fast tracking was also facilitated by numerous previous studies done since the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa (2014). As a result, WHO prioritized 11 pathogens most likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future. In addition, research findings on Hemorrhagic Fever, Chikungunya, Zika and respiratory syndrome coronavirus, all combined and contributed to the quick turnaround of results with respect to COVID -19. See The Lancet Global Health Trusted Source.
In the U.S., Operation warp Speed (OWS) was responsible for fostering partnerships with multiple institutions including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million doses of vaccines. By investing in multiple companies and vaccine platforms at once, OWS increased the odds of having a vaccine, or vaccines, available by the beginning of 2021. Simultaneously, The European Commission also funded several vaccine candidates and worked with others in pledging $8 billion for COVID-19 research. The UK government Vaccine Taskforce was a significant contributor to a wide variety of vaccine research. Its funding helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the designers of this vaccine were the first to publish peer reviewed efficacy results.
Mr. Roopchand provided a glimpse into the future of vaccine research. He describes himself as a "vaccine farmer", stating categorically, “I’m from the developing world and I’ve seen what infectious disease can do.” He proposes to continue dissecting the data, to try and find other indicators of effective defenses. He indicated that this involves a greater understanding of T cells produced by the immune system to destroy virus-infected cells, and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). This is, a specific immune response whereby a cell is covered in antibodies then destroyed by white blood cells, have largely been neglected in immunology research and may play a significant role. His optimism is illustrated in a response to a question raised by Dr. Ulric Trotz, one of his former UG Chemistry lecturers to whom he gives credit of his scientific beginnings. “This is a great time to learn.”
An appreciation to Mr. Roopchand given during the proceedings is worth quoting :
“ we salute you , grateful that you grace us with your wonderful presence and your bountiful gifts as a scientist with roots that are riveted in the University of Guyana; mindful that you help to shine a light so brightly on the University. You are an exemplar of the fact that UG is the highest and most recognized institution of higher education in Guyana and the reason why we can aspire to be a world class university. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the University in 2023, we look to you and others of your ilk to help to continue to forge partnerships, to attract endowments, to build a residential cadre of future graduates who aspire to your achievements but always remembering that we must help to build an institution that reaches back into the community, and whose research, teaching and practice must continue to inspire young Guyanese and young people from this region to make meaningful contributions; and like you, make the world your stage for transformative change.
As we salute Vidia Roopchand, it is to be hoped that the lessons he presents and a multitude of suggested remedies that have emerged would help to inspire actions at the level of CARICOM where CARPHA, in this field, continues to play a vital role. Especially aware of the upsurge in several variants and the evidence that the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are increasingly among the unvaccinated, there is need for adherence to the following among others:
In the final analysis, all creditable reports and scientific recommendations point in the directions that taking the COVID -19 vaccination is the best insurance against hospitalization and death.
This week GOFAD further highlights some of the main issues in the book, Nudge The Final Version referred to in last week's Blog. Then, we explored the characteristics of people who insist on their rights not to be vaccinated and provided some conclusions, among others that:
It was therefore quite heartening to listen to an exhortation (below) from The Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, which by coincidence or design fully reflects the views in Nudge The Final Version. Co-authored by Richard Thaler one of the most important behavioral economists in the world and 2017 Nobel Prize Laureate and Cass Sunstein, it is a follow up to Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness written in 2008 that has sold millions of copies worldwide and influenced governments and businesses alike. It has given rise to more than 200 “nudge units” in governments around the world and expanding groups of behavioral scientists in every part of the economy. It has advanced the idea “choice architecture” to help us make better decisions for ourselves, our families and our societies.
More specifically, the first four chapters of the book have changed little between the two versions. They set out the basic framework of an approach, referred to as “libertarian paternalism” by which consumers and citizens can be “nudged” to make decisions of their own that guide them and society toward a more perfect union.
In this final version there are many new themes, and some surprises. The authors advance the thesis that one way to nudge people to do something is to make it easy to do. The opposite is sludge when institutions try to prevent people from doing something by making it hard to do. They advocate that every organization should create a seek‑and‑destroy mission for unnecessary sludge.
This Final version is chock-full of new ideas. Two important topics are given new chapters. The first what they call Smart Disclosure. The idea is that governments should consider the radical thought of moving at least into the 21st century in the way they disclose important information. In their view, the Internet is not exactly a cutting‑edge technology. Widespread use of Smart Disclosure makes it possible to create online decision‑making tools called "choice engines", which can make many tasks as easy: for example, finding the best route to get to a new restaurant.
The second is their effective argument against “required choice”, preferring instead for vendors and governments to provide transparent information, such as labeling products that contain shellfish or peanuts so that those allergic to them can avoid buying them. Still, they allow that there are instances in which required choice is the best solution. One should be able to choose whether to buy one kind of canned soup over another but perhaps not to dictate the ingredients of every restaurant meal. Thaler and Sunstein deliver a spirited argument to enable well-informed people to overcome various biases and “probabilistic harms” to do what is best for them and, in the present case, their fellow “Humans.”
The authors devoted a chapter responding to objections to nudges. However, Instead of pursuing each criticism they used them collectively as an opportunity “to offer a book that will feel fresher, be more fun, and less dusty to those reading it for the first time, or even to those returning for another look, at the application of nudges". To say the least, among the major happenings in the intervening years, COVID and Climate change are among the most destabilizing to human development. But Nudge continues to attract interest, and the empirical evidence indicates that there is little value in tinker with it , even though status quo bias remains a strong force.
The book offers fresh looks devoted to helping consumers make better choices with their money; prod more in-depth discussion of issues like climate change, education and health that provoke behaviorally informed policy changes in an assortment of domains not previously explored.
In a recent interview, Thaler found it necessary to stress that no attempt was made to bring readers up to date on the remarkable nudge‑related activities, reforms, and research that have come about in recent years. Governments all over the world have been nudging, often for good, and the private sector has also been exceptionally inventive. Academic research has grown by leaps and bounds. “To explore these developments would take an entirely new book, and in fact many such books have been written, some even by Sunstein. Indeed, Sunstein has co-edited a four‑volume collection of papers on this topic”
This Blog has barely tapped the fringes of this fascinating work, whose essence I believe is even more relevant as our public health officials and political leaders confront the pervasiveness of COVID-19. Nudge The Final Version brings to the forefront the value of social and behavioral scientists. It touches on a wider issue to be further explored. It shows how studies in fields dedicated to social and behavioral phenomena, are in the unique position of helping policy makers to understand issues from a scientific perspective, while also navigating their inevitable impact on society. This dynamic brings up questions about the role of scientists in a changing world. To what extent should they engage in advocacy or activism on social and political issues? Should they be impartial investigators, active advocates, something in between?. It helps in understanding the ways in which science and advocacy are coming into contact in practice : more specifically, in this case, is of the balance between nudges and mandates. Indeed from the perspective of the small states of the Caribbean, Prime Minister Mottley's approach appears to be spot
Prime Minister Mottley's Conversation with Barbados - YouTube
As the world is confronted with the phenomenon of people who insist on their rights not to be vaccinated, several questions are being raised: Who are they? What are their reasons? Why their resistance to what the science is saying? How to achieve national and global solidarity?
This blog is being written when the Delta variant among others is leading to an upsurge in the incidence of the coronavirus, globally. According to the latest CDC projections, the US is poised to achieve the single worse week with 200,000 COVID cases per day, leading Dr. Saju Mathew, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, to pronounce that “the Unvaccinated are sitting ducks”. In the Caribbean, The Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Chair of the Caribbean Community, speaking at the Inauguration of the new CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Carla Barnett of Belize, said that in many of CARICOM member states, the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated remains unacceptably low. The latest figures from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) suggests 23 percent. In addition, inequitable access to vaccines has been further complicated by pervasive vaccine hesitancy.
GOFAD combed the literature for empirical research on vaccine hesitaters that would help in the response to the who, what, why and how raised above. The most enlightening analysis was a interview by Ed Yong, a staff science writer in an article America Is Getting Unvaccinated People All Wrong in The Atlantic July 22, 2021 with Dr. Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and public-health advocate. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/07/unvaccinated-different-anti-vax/619523/
The conclusion to be drawn is that ‘the unvaccinated’ are not a monolith: “they’re not all anti-vaxxers, and treating them as such is making things worse.” They are a diverse group with many reasons for avoiding vaccination. Some are concerned that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t safe or that potential side effects aren’t worth the risk of taking them. Others think the risk of getting COVID themselves is low; so, why bother?. Still others have a resistance to government intervention and see taking the vaccine as capitulation to government overreach and a bane to personal freedoms. Othersare skeptical of taking vaccines that have not been officially certified by WHO. A small number are simply opposed to all vaccines. What is more, public opinion about vaccination include varied and deep-seated beliefs. These are a result of the tension between divergent cultural viewpoints and value systems. Several key cultural perspectives stem from individual rights and public health stances toward vaccination, various religious standpoints and vaccine objections, and suspicion and mistrust of vaccines among different global cultures and communities.
Protecting Individual Liberties vs Safeguarding Public Health
Two studies advance the need to understand the difference between the individual and public health stances. Helen Riess argues for building empathy in health care, requiring public health officials to recognize and respect diverse social and cultural perspectives toward immunization policies, and help support their success and acceptance.
https:greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/building_empathy_in_healthcare. Many countries for example require citizens to receive certain immunizations such as those required for children to enter school. Historically there have been controversies over the efficacy, safety and morality of these mandatory vaccinations stemming from these two divergent goals.
Another perspective is presented in Hendi Larson’s recent book, Stuck: Why Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Won’t Go Away. She advises that a more understanding view around vaccine hesitancy is to approach people with respect and dignity, even if you disagree with them. Her main conclusion is to build empathy in health care requiring good public health policies to balance both individual rights and community needs. These are best illustrated by religious objections to vaccines and suspicions and mistrust of vaccines and even political leaders who advocate for their use. Religious objections are based generally on the ethical dilemmas associated with using human tissue cells to create vaccines, and beliefs that the body is sacred, should not receive certain chemicals or blood or tissues from animals. They believe it should be healed by God , prayer or natural means. However in most recent statement Pope Paul captures a different spirit when he states that “vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other. It is an act of love“ https://www.today.com/health/pope-francis-urges-people-get-vaccinated-calling-it-act-love-t228635
At the same time, suspicion and apprehension about vaccination are best understood in a social and historical context of inequality and mistrust. For example, the legacy of racism in medicine and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a clinical trial conducted with African Americans who were denied appropriate treatment opportunities, are key factors underlying African Americans’ distrust of medical and public health interventions, including vaccination. https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/index.html
How to get the Vaccine Hesitant to change their Minds : Nudge not Sludge
The question, how to resolve this public health dilemma is not straightforward. In a fascinatingly engaging book by Professor Richard Thaler (University of Chicago), 2017 Nobel prize in Economics and Professor Cass Sunstein (Harvard University) entitled Nudge: Improving Decisions About Heath, Wealth, and Happiness (reviewed by GOAD May 25, 2019) they make the essential point that most human beings do not make decisions in the way that is often characterized in elementary economic text books. In a follow up publication, Nudge - Final Version release August 3, 2021 they provide some interesting recommendations for policy makers intent on combating the coronavirus to “nudge for good” with well-designed warnings using the power of social norms. This approach they argue will blunt the “sludge” (barriers, fake news etc.) by “choice architects” that sponsor the cause of antivaxxers out of self-interest or even malicious intent. Reject mask mandates and social distancing despite scientific evidence of their absolute necessity are the most obvious examples. https://bookshop.org/books/nudge-the-final-edition/9780143137009
When anti-vaxxers sow distrust about vaccines they successfully sow distrust about unvaccinated people as a whole. This is the reason why it is necessary to ensure that credible and consistent scientific information reaches everyone since what is becoming more evident is that the information gap is driving the vaccination gap. The language of policy makers that blames the unvaccinated is sludge because it misses the critical point that structural barriers maybe a major reason. So for example, Black people in the USA are one of the least vaccinated groups, in part because they have the least access to preventive health-care services. On a global scale the comparison is "vaccine apartheid" between the developed and the developing countries.
Yet those who are unvaccinated should not be made a protected class nor should governments be nudged into giving their personal choice the same anti-discrimination status as race, gender and religion. Instead the emphasis should be to nudgerather than mandate people toward an intervention that maintains freedom of choice and steers them in a particular direction.
There is so much more to Nudge Final Version to be explored further (in another blog). However the lessons learned are that nudges targeting vaccine hesitation should aim to:
In the final analysis for nudges to achieve their objectives they must be compatible with human dignity. They should make people feel safer, better and agree that they have individual rights but also obligations to their communities, nations, and regions to bring an end to the pandemic. There will however always be those "beyond nudging". Imposing sanctions may yet be the only alternative. Above all nudges must be aimed to achieve global solidarity in recognizing that this worldwide pandemic will further disrupt the lives of the most vulnerable, and countries will see a rise in extreme poverty and malnutrition, shattering all hope of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.
Navigating the Opportunities and Imperatives in Guyana’s Oil and Gas Economic Part 2: Report on Queens College Alumni Association Symposium, by Dr. Terrence R. BlackmanRead Now
We express gratitude to Dr Terrence Blackman, Guyana’s Queens College Alumni Association of New York Chapter (QCAANY) and Oil Now(August 1, 2021) for allowing GOFAD to reproduce this report as this weeks blog. It is a follow up to Part 1 the carried by GOFAD on July 22, 2021
In a recent news report, CGX Energy Inc announced that the drilling of the Kawa-1 well, the first well at the Corentyne Block offshore Guyana, is set to commence before August 15. This undertaking is reported to cost close to USD 85 million. The Corentyne Block is 200 km offshore Georgetown, and these operations will take place at water depths of 355 meters (1,174 ft). The expected total drill depth of the Kawa-1 well is 6,575 meters (21,700 ft)!
For perspective, the Kaieteur Falls is a massive waterfall that is roughly four times higher than Niagara Falls in Canada and twice as high as Victoria Falls in southern Africa. The Kaieteur Falls is considered the largest single drop waterfall in the world—”single drop” means that the water does not flow over multiple tiers as it falls; in other words, there’s one massive drop from the top waterfall to the bottom. The Kaieteur Falls is 741 feet tall. Guyana’s Oil and Gas explorations take place at depths of 30 Kaieteur Falls beneath the sea! Given this reality, it is instructive to note that ExxonMobil, operator of the Stabroek, Canje, and Kaieteur blocks, is the only company thus far who has commenced production offshore Guyana. ExxonMobil has made twenty discoveries since May 2015 and began production in December 2019 at the Liza project.
This, welcome news, once again highlighted the key theme, Guyana’s Oil and Gas opportunity is a high-risk, high-capital, and technologically-intensive endeavor, that emerged at the recently concluded Queen’s College of Guyana Alumni Association, NY Chapter (QCAANY) symposium on Navigating the Opportunities and Imperatives in Guyana’s Oil and Gas Economic.
The first panel focused on the opportunities emerging in the Oil and Gas sector. The panelists were Dr. Dennis Pieters and Mr. Fareed Amin, and the moderator was Mr. Aftab Karimullah. The second panel, focused on the Imperatives, consisted of Mr. Edwin Callender and Ms. Abbigale Loncke. Ms. Rosalind McClymont moderated the discussion.
In Part I of my Report from the Symposium, I discussed the contributions of Dr. Dennis Pieters, an international Reservoir Engineering consultant, professor, and author who currently serves as a Director of Mid-Atlantic Oil and Gas Inc., in Georgetown, Guyana.
In this, Part II of my Report from the Symposium, we reflect on the presentation by Edwin M. Callender, Attorney & Energy consultant of the Callender Law Firm in Houston, Texas. He presented on the efficient and sustainable exploitation of Guyana’s Oil & Gas resources for the maximum benefit of the Guyanese People.
Attorney Callender is a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University, and holds graduate degrees in Chemical Engineering, Business Administration, and Finance from the University of Houston. He is an alumnus of the Bishop’s High School, Guyana and the principal consultant at EMC Energy Consulting LLC, an international energy economics, research, management, and process operations consulting firm. He is a member of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators (AIPN) and serves on the Board of Directors of the Houston Lawyers Association.
Mr. Callender began by reviewing the fundamentals of the Oil and Gas value chain for the audience. The value chain starts with opportunities associated with discovering oil fields and ends with provisioning of products to end consumers. I.e., opportunities related to the different stages of the Oil and Gas production process: exploration, production, storage and shipping, refining, and marketing. Attorney Callender argued that the essential role of the Guyanese socio-economic and political leadership was to create an environment conducive to the optimal exploitation of Guyana’s Oil & Gas resources for the maximum benefit of the Guyanese People. In short, Callender observed, the challenge for Guyana’s political leadership is to identify, define, locate, and facilitate opportunities for all Guyanese arising from oil & gas development.
To achieve this aim, he directs us to look specifically at the steps in the value chain and target our efforts at creating opportunities for Guyanese in each sphere of the endeavor. For example, he asks us to consider, say oil field services, and observe the numerous jobs in oilfield services ranging from Field Service and Maintenance Technicians. Guyana’s goal, he argues, is to develop targeted strategies and infrastructure for engaging Guyanese in the various oil field services jobs. The key for Callender is the crafting of concrete pathways to specific employment opportunities in these sectors for Guyanese while building skills that are viable beyond the Oil and Gas sector.
A second application of the Callender doctrine: As the plans emerge for the Wales Gas to Shore project, Attorney Callender would argue that Guyana develop a specific focus on jobs and educational training for Guyanese in oil and gas storage and transportation. Specifically, training in Urban Gas Transportation and Distribution, Design and Management of Oil Transportation Pipelines, Oil and Gas Storage and Handling Systems, Oil and Gas Gathering and Transferring, and the Design and Operation of Gas Pipelines as a means to engaging Guyanese in a meaningful and impactful manner in this area of endeavor.
Attorney Callender also addressed the issue of Local Content. He asserted that an effective Local Content Strategy (LCS) was critical to Guyana’s opportunity in Oil & Gas being a transformative one for Guyana and Guyanese. He posited that Guyana’s LCS ought to be crafted, implemented, and managed as an integral component of the nation’s development strategy. He argued, like Dr. Pieters, that the LCS should focus on the employment of locals and on building local capacity and skills development through education and training.
Mr. Callender also spoke to the crucial importance of developing Guyanese industrial competence and capability. In this vein, he argued for a Government driven policy to catalyze Guyanese industrial participation in the Oil and Gas economy. Attorney Callender noted in this regard the need for a national policy for Small and mid-size business enterprises (SMBEs), i.e., businesses with revenues, assets, and number of employees below certain thresholds. Alluding to SMBEs important role in the economy, employing vast numbers of people and helping to shape innovation, Callender pointed to the need for Guyana to clearly define what constitutes a small and medium-sized enterprise and to develop enabling incentive infrastructure, including favorable tax treatment and access to loans as appropriate, to stabilize and amplify this sector of the Guyanese business community. I add here a personal reflection that there is an opportunity for such a policy to diversify the economic landscape of Guyana and I note there are serious concerns that the government’s local content policy favors larger established businesses by requiring adherence to strict near term targets and government certification.
Attorney Callender also spoke of the need to update and make our environmental, health, and safety protection laws and regulations more robust. He noted that engagement and utilization of the diaspora could affect the repatriation of skills, capacity, and resources and he also noted the vital importance of protecting and preserving the health and safety of Guyanese and residents of the Caribbean region by ensuring a regulatory regime that enables practices that protect the environment, land, water, air, plants, and animals from degradation, destruction, waste, and contamination
A high point of the presentation and one which elicited great interest among the audience, many of whom were naturalized citizens, was Attorney Callender’s discussion on the laws governing U.S. citizens investing or operating companies in Guyana, specifically, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The FPCA, he noted for the audience, had two salient provisions: (i) an anti-bribery provision and (ii) an accounting provision. These components, he explained, are jointly enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The anti-bribery law prohibits the offering to pay, paying, promising to pay, or authorizing the payment of money or anything of value to a foreign official to influence any act or decision of the foreign official in their official capacity or to secure any other improper advantage to obtain or retain business. Critical to this provision, he notes, was that there is no requirement of materiality. Thus, it is sufficient to establish the intent of the bribery rather than the amount to run afoul of this law. He further shared that broadly construed, under the “alternative jurisdiction” provision of the FCPA there is no requirement for the use of interstate commerce (e.g., texts, email, telephone call, wire) for acts in furtherance of a corrupt payment to a foreign official by U.S. companies and persons occurring wholly outside of the United States. He strongly cautioned the audience to be mindful of the FCPA when engaging in business activity in Guyana. He noted that civil and criminal penalties for the violation of the FCPA could include hefty fines, disgorgement of profits, and imprisonment. The accounting provision applies to public companies, and it requires adherence to the industry standards for the maintenance of (i) Books and Records and (ii) Internal Controls.
Attorney Callender closed his presentation by drawing the audience’s attention to Guyana’s membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GYEITI). Member countries commit to disclose information along the extractive industry value chain, specifically, how extraction rights are awarded, how revenues make their way through the government and how they benefit the public. Through participation in the EITI, fifty-five (55) countries have agreed to a common set of rules governing what has to be disclosed and when. Guyana published, in April 2021, its second EITI Report, covering the fiscal year 2018. The report includes data on extractive activities such as mining, oil and gas, fisheries, and forestry. In 2018, according to the Bureau of Statistics, all extractive activities combined represented 17.7% of annual GDP, 74.2% of Guyana’s total exports, and 11.3% of government revenues. It will be very interesting to see how this distribution evolves over the next five to ten years as estimates for future annual revenues approach tens of billions of US dollars, several times the entire current GDP. GYEITI is expected to review the legislation that will determine the legal and institutional framework for public disclosure of information on the extractive industries. Attorney Callender urged civic-minded members of the audience to maintain constant vigilance on the workings of GYEITI.
We close by noting that during the Q&A session which followed the presentations and enquiries surfaced around Guyana’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and avoiding the Resource Curse. We will explore these two topics in our two upcoming essays.
About the Author
Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is an associate professor of mathematics, and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College. He is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Member of The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. He previously served as Chair of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Science Health and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for more than twenty-five years. He’s a graduate of Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School.
About QCAANY is the New York Chapter of the Queens College of Guyana alumni association. It is a registered non-profit corporation that has been incorporated for thirty (30) years. It furthers the academic, and extracurricular interests of Queen’s College, Guyana by way of scholarships to high-performing students and scholarships to financially challenged students. In addition, the group has conducted programs such as summer math camps and student conferences aimed at better preparing Queen’s College students for the world after graduation.
The symposium is a part of QCAANY’s effort to foster constructive civic engagement on matters of public interest throughout the Guyanese Diaspora. It aimed to educate the Guyanese Diaspora on the workings of the emerging Oil and Gas industry and to outline opportunities for private investment, workforce development and training, local content imperatives, and diaspora engagement.
Emancipation day was celebrated on August 1 by many former European colonies in the Caribbean. Other countries commemorate the emancipation of slaves of African descent on various dates. Most notably, in the United States both Congress and Senate this year passed an emancipation proclamation, declaring a Juneteenth holiday (June 19th) henceforth, commemorating that date in 1865 when Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. In recent years, and particularly following nationwide protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans, there is renewed interest in the day that celebrates freedom. Noteworthy also is that on August 1, 1985 Trinidad and Tobagobecame the first independent country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery. In addition across the Caribbean many who led slave rebellions are enshrined as national heroes of their respective countries. Among them are Prince Klass, Antigua and Barbuda; Bussa in Barbados; Cuffy in Guyana; François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines in Haiti; Sam Sharpe and Queen Nanny in Jamaica; Joseph Chatoyer in St Vincent and the Grenadines; and Kodjo in Suriname.
What continues to preoccupy the attention of GOFAD is the link between emancipation and reparations. In the 20th century, several countries most prominently post war Germany is credited with substantial payment for atrocities associated with the Holocaust. The US government too has paid reparations including U$1.6 billion to Japanese Americans interned during WWII and US$1.3 billion to Native American tribes for lands seized between 1946 and 1968. While the advocacy for reparations never died down especially among African-Americans, a cogent case has been put forward by Ta-Nehisi Coates. His landmark essay, “The Case for Reparations” shaped the current debate on redress not just for enslavement but for a century of systematic racial discrimination sanctioned by the state.
CLR James and Eric Williams Contribution to understanding the real History of Slavery
In an excellent lecture by James Heartfield, titled the Abolition of Slavery Debate Why C.L.R James and Eric Williams were right, he elaborated on the contributions of James and Williams to understanding the real history of slavery. They refuted the received wisdom that abolitionists like Wilberforce were liberationists. Instead James’ epic book Black Jacobins illustrates that the core story is that the Haitian people freed themselves - "they made their own freedom". And Eric Williams in his landmark book, Capitalism and Slavery projected the corollary to James. He revealed that the shocking origins of capitalists’ wealth of England was to be found in the slave trade. The thesis of both Williams and James parallels Karl Marx’s notion of 'primitive accumulation' in which the investment fund for England’s industrialization was built on theft and piracy of gold and people which no doubt inspired the work of the Walter Rodney, Guyanese historian, scholar and activist, How Europe Under developed Africa. However, it was Williams who first advanced the importance of the triangular trade which was initiated by British pirates like Hawkins and Rodney stealing people from Africa, selling them in the West Indies to work on the sugar plantation and selling sugar to the West for huge profits. He used empirical evidence to support the view that while abolition of slavery may have been accompanied by some moral and sympathetic feelings, it was mainly due to bankruptcy of the plantation system, resulting from the fact that the British planters had sucked it dry. It was no longer profitable. Therefore the great business plan justified abandoning the plantation taking the profits and investing them in the construction of England’s industrial development. See video of lecture by Heartfield on the GOFAD website https://youtu.be/wH_Yhz1jwtc under the Resource Page under photo and video gallery.
Taking Reparations beyond the Boundary: Sir Hilary Beckles' Advocacy
The CARICOM Reparations Commission has building blocks rooted in the historical moorings of CLR James, Eric Williams and Walter Rodney. It was mandated by CARICOM Heads of Governments to prepare the template for reparatory justice of the region’s Indigenous and African descendant communities. This mandate parallels the broad based demands of Coates with the emphasis on compensation for “victims of crimes against humanity in the forms of genocide , slave trading and apartheid". CARICOM’s ten- point plan for reparations is therefore the region’s Blueprint for action. https://caricom.org/caricom-ten-point-plan-for-reparatory-justice/
In a statement on Emancipation Day 2021 President Irfaan Ali, a new voice in the CARICOM movement pledged that Guyana will work towards international reparations for crime of African enslavement.
However it is Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University, chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission who provides a most comprehensive rationale. His interview on the Hard Talk issued by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) on August 2, 2021 is reproduced in the link below as much to highlight his takeaways as to invite comments and actions https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3ct1n61
There is need to confront the real justification for reparatory justice which requires taking heed of the unprecedented global project of European colonial expansion through the pillage, rape, and genocide of Native Peoples that shaped the nations and humanity that we have become today. While some Afro Descendants can be smug about their relative success against great historical odds, the contemporary challenges of structural racism, continue to cast a long shadow across class lines and individual achievement for most people of African descent. The struggle for reparatory justice requires more public messengers and what better time than now. The editorial in Guyana Stabroek News (August 3, 2021) fittingly helps us to connect the dots between emancipation and reparations, especially in multiracial societies that seek fusion into one nation: “when it comes to the past it should always be borne in mind that the history of one ethnic group is the history of us all”.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.