A discussion about Transportation and Creativity

Enjoy this discussion about public transportation in Trinidad and Tobago with Transportation Specialist, Dr. Rae Furlonge. He noted that our inadequate transportation system negatively impacts women and children. Reflecting on the past he pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago’s only national transportation plan dates back to 1967 and that there is an urgent need to develop plans and policies which would regulate the nation’s transportation systems. In 1996, the government articulated a policy of cheap cars for the common man and this has fuelled the high level of road congestion being currently experienced. In looking at the future, Dr. Furlonge suggested we should intensify the work at home strategy which covid-19 has forced on us and maximize non motorized travel in our city centres. He also noted that government must become the regulators of public transportation. The discussion continued with Myron Bruce (Myron B) who commented on the current creative ecosystem where “creative hustlers”, hobbyists and professionals all function. In the same way that doctors, lawyers and traditional professionals need to grow their businesses, Myron observed that the most important task is for creatives to grow their audiences. He commented that self respect is needed before creatives could demand respect from other professionals. In the absence of a blueprint which young creatives could use Myron shaped his own journey and has been successful as a content producer. Looking to the future, Myron is convinced that digital education is necessary to transform our ecosystem to one which allows our creatives to thrive.

T&T must free collective imagination beyond ‘lower-level basic needs’

Originally published on wired868 Tuesday 23 February 2021.

Crime and the lack of personal security have featured in calypso through the years.  For example Caruso’s ‘Gun Slingers’ (1959) celebrates ‘beating them [criminals] with the cat’ while Sparrow’s ‘Royal Jail’ (1961) is about revenge as captured in the line ‘licks for them criminals’.

If calypso is the people’s commentator, the quality has evolved as has the nature of our problems. Unfortunately, the recurrent themes of crime and personal security are still present in today’s media headlines with the following added: water scarcity, a poor economy, rising food prices and inadequate transportation. 

Photo: Sparrow (right) looks to be in trouble in a memorable Guardian Life ad, inspired by his hit calypso ‘Ten to One is Murder’.

It’s almost as if nothing has changed in decades regarding these important facets of life. Interestingly these facets are almost exactly listed as the those described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

His theory is that for us to thrive our basic needs must be met and having satisfied them we are able to set goals and move on to other higher level needs and ultimately to self actualisation. Our continued focus on these lower-level basic needs prevents us individually and as a collective from striving to look upwards or outwards.

The mother who is struggling to make ends meet is focused on the next dollar and unable to be her best self and sometimes not even able to think beyond the next hour. The small business person is worried about which predator is waiting as he opens his business and there are several other scenarios outlining our focus on our basic needs.

As a collective, the more we focus on safety, security, our poor economic outlook and all the negatives of our society, the less time and energy we direct towards our growth needs.  

In our separate corners, some try to look away from these deficiency needs and look towards growth but it is difficult in this chaotic and uninspiring environment; and more importantly, we feel that nobody is listening or cares.

Image: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Think of how our collective imagination would work if we did not have to worry about a possible home invasion, whether there will be water when the tap is turned on or what the traffic will be like as we traverse the streets and highways.  

Once we are able to free ourselves from focusing on these basic things, we’ll have the mind space to be more productive and imaginative. The trouble is that these small things are not simple, they are the little things which make a big difference to our quality of life. They are also the issues which require collaborative efforts to solve; and that concept of collaboration is extremely challenging for us.

The seismic event of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic should have brought home the reality that, as island people, we need to develop the systems and structures to ensure our collective survival.  

It should have brought to the forefront conversations about sustainability, climate change and our psychological health. We should be having conversations about how to collaborate to thrive; how we should share our scarce resources for our collective benefit.  

We should be having conversations which take us to another level of existence and thinking.  

Photo: A resident speaks during a town meeting in Arima.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Maybe it is happening on small scales in individual bubbles, but if the space is to change we need big conversations about our future and how we plan to get there.  

I am reminded of the African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’  

It is now urgent that Trinidad and Tobago focuses on going far and therefore going together.

No nine-day wonder; Andrea Bharatt’s death must lead to action

Originally published on Friday 12 February 2021 Guest Columns Wired868.

February 21 will mark nine days after the burial of Andrea Bharatt, and it is likely that the marching, candlelight vigils and accusations of ‘shedding crocodile tears’ will no longer be at the forefront of our minds. We will retreat to the burglar-proofed boxes we call homes and cautiously peer out, waiting for the next uproar.

Just as we forgot Akeil Chambers and the hundreds of persons who have been brutally murdered since his murder, Andrea Bharatt will recede to the dark spaces of our memories, forgotten forever. That is what our politicians expect and that is a reasonable expectation based on our past behaviour.

Photo: Mourners at a candlelight vigil.

However, something about this spate of protests feels different to me. It does not feel as if we will get bored with it after nine days and move on. I sincerely hope that my instincts are right.

My instinct is fuelled by the mix of people with whom I rubbed shoulders (from the prescribed socially distanced two metres, of course) at the peaceful protest around the Savannah on 7 February. It comprised mainly young women, and while many were of Indian descent, there were sufficient black, ‘red’ and white Trinidadians to neutralise any thoughts about it being racially motivated.

It was a similar mix of people who turned up in June 2020 for the #ttblm protest in the Queen’s Park Savannah. At that protest, the sea of young people took a knee for nine minutes and communicated a message of solidarity with their American brothers and sisters. That effort has gone quiet except for attempts to jail some of the leaders.

In the lead up to Sunday’s peaceful Bharatt protest, many of us had to decide on which protest we would support because of the range of options available. The norm is for a protest to be held in one particular place where interested persons turn up.

But since the discovery of Andrea’s remains, protests have been organised all over the country including Tobago.  Just the availability of different options makes me feel that the population has reached a tipping point in our tolerance of crime in general, and gender-based violence in particular.

Photo: A woman marches to highlight gender-based violence.
(via Amnesty International)

My sense that people will not easily walk away from this one is also fuelled by the quality and quantity of recommendations being made to bring an end to violence in our communities. For example, Nikoli Edwards has publicised his party’s 10-point plan and the Joint Trade Union Movement has expressed their dismay and anger at the many deaths of women and girls in our country.

Since 4 February, more than 25,000 people have signed a petition calling for the death penalty for the murderers of Andrea Bharatt and more than 40 candlelight vigils have been organised in memory of Andrea Bharatt.

On Facebook, there is a post on the Trinidad Declassified timeline saying that over 400 businesses will close on Friday 12 February in protest. The post also lists the names of the businesses. These are just a few examples of actions that people are taking to protest against gender-based violence.

I hope that my instincts are right and that this issue will not fade to the background but will continue to place the government under pressure to take action that will make our women feel safer. But more importantly, the time has come for us to take a whole of society approach to reducing crime and placing our society on a trajectory towards peace and civility.

Discussing Digital transformation and Creativity with Maria Daniel and John Michael Thomas

Maria Daniel – Digital Transformation Strategist at EY. She comments that Trinidad and Tobago is about 10-12 years behind the curve in terms of digital development particularly towards becoming a cashless society. For Maria Covid has acted as an accelerant on our digitization journey. For example, the acceptance of electronic signatures has been advanced but Trinidad and Tobago needs to leap frog to get on the same page with the rest of the world with regard to digitization. She commented that it may not always be beneficial to rely on the western world for digital solutions but with enough research similar solutions from Eastern countries can be available. John Thomas – Teacher/Vocalist/Impresario. John sees art as life and wishes that we could focus greater effort on education including story telling and art appreciation which goes beyond drawing and painting. His discussion has an underlying theme of appreciation and the need for our society to move away from the culture of competition to an approach which focusses on sharing our experiences and stories. His Covid story is that because singing requires the expulsion of breath, he has had to re-imagine the possibilities of using technology to collaborate and change the way voices are brought to the world. John is heavily reliant on the spirit of community to bring us through what he described as this “failed state that we live in”.

What is our comprehensive Covid-19 immunisation plan?

I may be late to the party, but MX Prime has nailed it with his recent release Torture. He has demonstrated how our music has told our stories and records key moments in our history. When the history is written, this will be the defining story of early 21st century Trinidad and Tobago and how we dealt with Covid-19.

In one song he has captured the strong emotions of many of us who feel locked in jail since March 2020. His song comments on the deep inequalities which exist in our society. Almost every bar is analogous to real experiences we encounter daily.

Photo: A vendor wears her mask at the Penal Market on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

From the ‘who know whom’ contact to receive an exemption to return home, to the allegedly ‘normal’ application process to bring in workers to provide labour for your business. When he sings about ‘justice and liberty’, he is singing about our inability to earn a living as the economy slowly grinds to a halt and we continue to pin our hopes on fossil fuel.

We are not seeing the plan about how to live with Covid-19 but how to run away from it.

He sings about locking the ‘carnival in a cell while all the criminals are doing well’.  Isn’t that how we feel when we return to our burglar-proofed homes or clutch our purses closer when we have to walk through certain streets or see certain stereotypes approaching?

I certainly feel that the wrongdoers have an advantage over me. It sometimes feels like I am a sitting target waiting for an assault.

The commissioner of police continues to reference the downward trend in our crime statistics, but do we feel any safer? The North West Regional Health Authority boasts in their print advertising campaigns about no maternal deaths, while we read daily about the massive backlog in surgeries in all our health institutions.

Photo: A family wears masks on a visit to the Penal market for fresh fruits and vegetables on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

We keep focusing on the optics and the pretty wins and not on what is required for us to collectively thrive as a people. Until we are Covid-immunised and we have systems and processes in place to ensure our collective safety, we are all at risk.

Columnist medical doctor David Bratt, president of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago Patricia Ghany and several other influencers have all had one question: what is our comprehensive plan for immunisation against Covid-19? How are we purchasing the two million doses we need and where are we purchasing it from?

The population is awaiting a clear, comprehensive response to the primary question about the immunisation plan. We are awaiting the press advertisements advising of the details. We are hoping that it will not be a situation similar to the testing in which you can pay for your tests.

The prime minister’s uncertainty about the number of Covax vaccines does not inspire confidence in the population. Indeed, our notoriety for designing ineffective systems is likely to play out once again and those with the means will have access to a vaccine while others languish.

This will be disastrous because herd immunity requires that the majority of the population be immunised, and that will only happen under leadership that is forward-thinking and collaborative.

Governance and Technology will ensure a Positive Future

Jamaican Governance expert Dr. Vindel Kerr shares his views about governance in the region and the operations of State Owned Enterprises. He brings to the discussion the possibility of establishing a Common Caricom Corporate Governance Code which would articulate a model for the appointment and operations of State Owned Enterprises. He makes the case for public sector reform in Trinidad and Tobago and suggests that board members should be appointed political activists in preference for young, agile, competent persons. Media Insite’s leader Allison Demas is the second guest. She focusses on regional media monitoring and makes the case for digital media monitoring which can aid strategic decision making. Her research indicates that advertising is moving rapidly away from traditional media to the digital sphere where messages are being consumed. An interesting statistic which came out of the discussion is that 95% of the employees at Media Insite are millennials.

Politicians should collaborate across the aisle for the common good


Published on Wired868, Wednesday 27 January 2021

A friend recently lamented the advantages people who live in the north of our island have over people who live in the south. My impatient response showed my disgust with these silly discussions about north v south, Indo v Afro, prestige v secondary schools, Westmoorings v Beetham and the full range of divisive discussions we have about a number of topics.

The futility of these binary discussions came to mind as I reflected on the deep wound inflicted by the people of Tobago on the leader of the 65-year-old People’s National Movement via the tied results of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

Photo: PNM Tobago Council political leader, Tracy Davidson-Celestine shows off her ink-stained finger after voting in the THA elections (via Facebook)

The fact that 50% of the population rejected the leadership provided by their own homeboy or ‘ah we buoy’, as they say, it sends a powerful message of discontent.

Sir Winston Churchill is credited with the saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ This provides the opportunity for the spotlight to shine on our leaders and beckon them to show their minions, and all the world, that we don’t have to like or agree with each other to work towards the common good.

Here is an opportunity for collaboration in the best interest of Tobago, but it will take maturity and commonality of purpose for egos to be set aside and a common agenda and road map to be established. Such an outcome will change the ‘winner takes all’ strategy that has over many years resulted in wastage of resources and animosity in political discourse.

It will break the facade of the public hate that our politicians display, while they privately share a beverage or two. It will signal that once the elections are over, the vitriol should end, and politicians will collaborate across the aisle in the interest of the citizens of our country.

Photo: Former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and her successor, Prime Minister Keith Rowley, share a cupcake.
(Copyright Marcus Gonzales/Trinidad Guardian)

This idea that opponents can achieve a common purpose is informed by the work of author, academic and peace negotiator Adam Kahane of Reos Partners and the University of Oxford. For two decades they have successfully worked on troubling global issues like democracy and climate change and Kahane has concluded that ‘to get something done that really matters to us, we need to work with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.’

We hasten to reject ideas from other cultures and talk about our unique culture, but it is worth remembering that culture is learned behaviour and can be unlearned. If our population sees our leaders working towards a common good, the behaviour and ideas may trickle down and positively impact all, including trade unions, civil servants, gang leaders and every person who holds leadership positions at every level of our society.

Maybe this is the game-changing opportunity our society needs to wake up and reinvent ourselves with renewed vigour and vitality. Here is an opportunity for Prime Minister Keith Rowley to signal the very positive message that we can work together even if we disagree.

Does he have the courage to dare to be different? To quote young American poet Amanda Gorman: “To put our future first, we must put our differences aside.”

‘Covid Carnival’ a second thought; T&T can show world we aren’t cowering from virus

So Gregory Aboud jumped out of his corner and suggested that we have a carnival celebration and everybody wants to kill him because, primarily, they say it is too little too late. 

Is it possible that he is too far away from our perceptions of who can speak about carnival with authority? Are we being biased?  

Photo: DOMA president Gregory Aboud (left) talks to Elizabeth Montano at TedxPOS in September 2019.
(Copyright TedxPOS)

On this occasion, I am jumping up behind the ‘Textile King’ because he has a point.  Trinidad and Tobago must put down a marker and establish a placeholder if we are to live up to our boast of being ‘The Mecca of Carnival’.

While the notion of curating our carnival history is admirable and necessary it is insufficient. We need to think through how to have a carnival which provides the annual catharsis that more than 300,000 citizens voluntarily engage in.  More importantly, how to retain our place as the world carnival leader?

The issue of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival has been at the back of our minds for many years now and Covid has simply brought it, so to speak, right to the stage. Instead of writing it off as undoable, let’s dream of how it can be done safely.

In the absence of guidelines or conditions under which to have our Carnival, I assure you that there will continue to be ‘zesser’ and ‘wesser’ parties and other forms of gatherings that could result in more community Covid spread.  

Photo: Partygoers held by police in Kelly Village in November 2019.
(via TTPS)

We do not have enough police to police the people. Our leadership has obviously not bought into the notion that form follows function and may have taken the view that it is easier and cheaper to just write off Carnival. But is it?

We are unlikely to ever be able to calculate the psycho-social cost to the country of doing so.

Here is an opportunity to engage the entire country, including businesses and schools, in addressing and answering the question: how can we celebrate Carnival 2021 safely and without government funding while following the rules of wearing a mask;  keeping sanitised; keeping in clusters of ‘x’ and maintaining a physical distance of ‘y’.   

We may not agree with the DOMA president’s view of two-metre-wide costumes, but what he is expressing is a feeling that many of us share. And that is our Carnival is as necessary as going to church.  

Let’s use our ingenuity to place a marker in the sand and really own the carnival space of the future.

Photo: Dancers parade during the Virtual Notting Hill Carnival in 2020.
(via The Blup)

The fly in the ointment of this kind of thinking is that there is no obvious way of making money and too many of our ‘Carnival czars’ can only create on the canvas of dollar bills. 2021 is not the year for making money. It is the year for making magic for future money.  

Let’s not simply consign Mr Aboud’s idea to the dump heap but find a way for it to stimulate us into re-thinking Carnival as a one love experience in which we engage in mutual respect and love for each other; and demonstrate that we can be disciplined in our behaviour and still find a way to have the catharsis that the festival gives us.  

It can be our opportunity to show the world that we are living with Covid without cowering from it.

I am reminded of a scene from the movie ‘Matrix’ where Neo and Morpheus are in an empty white area and Neo asked where they were. Morpheus said it’s called a ‘construct’, and they can put into it anything we want. 

We need to view Carnival in that space. It’s a construct into which the stakeholders can put anything

Photo: A carnival masquerader at the Toronto Caribana.
(via Torontoist.com)

We do not have to be tied to the traditional forms of Carnival which may no longer be as valid as 100 years ago. Mr Aboud is simply asking us to think!

Use Covid-19 lockdown to re-imagine our creative economy!

It’s January 2021, and I can only reminisce and fill the silence of pan-less evenings with musings about what can be done to make magic in 2022 or possibly 2023. January is usually my month for late evenings filled with the repetition of steelpan notes and chords, deciphering the phrases of soca artistes and exchanging warm hugs with friends who are home for Carnival.

But the silence of these long Carnival evenings has provided an opportunity to weave a new tapestry for our future Carnivals and festivals.

Photo: The Chord Masters Steelpan Orchestra let loose.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Alas, the distant sound of the oilfield pumping jack and the muted hiss of gas lines drown out our capacity to think of the potential of the creative economy. Trinidad and Tobago must pivot away from oil and gas and embrace our only true resource—the creativity of our people.

How easy it is for us to ‘puff up’ our collective chests and talk about the talent which abounds in this land, from the visual arts to the performing arts and every category in-between.

However, the harsh reality is that there is neither respect for nor recognition of the value of a creative economy. At the governmental level, on one hand, we continue to intentionally starve the arts sector of funding and other resources, favouring the purely academic and industrial. Meanwhile, on the other hand, we view the arts and the persons who drive it as continually needing hand-outs.

At the personal level, we refuse to honour the work of our musicians and their producers by freely uploading their music online without permission, so that they get no royalties whatsoever from this form of theft. We still ask graphic artists and photographers to do work for free or ‘exposure’.

What is needed is a plan for the all-round development and sustainability of the sector. We know now that the late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had his finger on the pulse when he championed the creation of a framework for the development of the arts. Today, UTT and similar creations are rudderless and even being destroyed with little suggested as to possible replacements.

2019.01.13- Farmer Nappy and Machel Montano performance during Carnival 2019, TRIBE- Hydrate Wet Fete, at Five Islands Amusement Park, Chaguaramas. Photo: Allan V. Crane/CA-images

In this time of closed borders and an inward focus, we should be shaping the development of the creative sector and intensifying the programmes aimed at learning opportunities for teachers and students. The focus should be on evolving the creative sector into one which is sustainable and uses the talents of all of our people. We must be ready for business when the new world begins to open again.

Long before Covid and the isolation it requires, the UN General Assembly contemplated the rudiments of the creative economy. Indeed, it declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This declaration came in 2019 and today, we have an opportunity to live this pronouncement and make it our reality.

Traditional economies were built on the exploitation of land, labour and capital. We have oil and gas as natural resources, but although they have been a blessing by providing us with income far beyond our expectations, they’ve also been a curse because we were not grown-up enough to use the income wisely.

Thus its haphazard exploitation has shaped our current day reality. Sadly for us, the time for such fossil fuel use appears to be coming to a fast end.

Photo: Soca singer Nailah Blackman.
(Copyright Buzz-Caribbean)

It is time to pivot towards the development of the creative industries. This means exploiting the interplay between ‘human creativity, intellectual property, knowledge and technology’ to achieve and maintain sustainable development.

It may be difficult to conceptualise that creativity is an answer, but a rethink of the possibilities will open a new range of jobs and industries as we transform Trinidad and Tobago into a creative economy powered by people.

Let’s use the isolation of 2021 to begin the transformation to a creative economy powered by our people.