MAKANDAL Daaga, the person who led the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) into the People’s Partnership coalition in 2010, has had to step back from the front-line of the party due to a diagnosis of ill-health, ahead of a very important year which sees the party, for the first time, assuming leadership of the coalition’s chairmen’s caucus.
NJAC last December elected a new political leader, Kwasi Mutema, 53. Daaga did not seek re-election but is said to still play an advisory role in the party and still voices support for the People’s Partnership coalition Government. He has not relinquished his post as Cultural Ambassador to Caricom, party officials said, and remains an NJAC member.
Mutema tells Sunday Newsday Daaga was advised by doctors last year to slow down.
“He was ill some time ago,” Mutema says. “It was just a case of him pushing himself too hard and of over-fatigue. The doctors told him he had to take it a bit easier. For some time now he had been focusing on the issue of succession and transition in relation to the leadership. The doctor’s advice hastened that process.”
Efforts to contact Daaga were unsuccessful, but Mutema insists Daaga, or Geddes Granger, still functions as a party adviser and shares a close relationship with the current leadership.
“As far as I am aware he is a supporter of the coalition still,” the new NJAC leader says. NJAC was one of five parties which signed on to the Fyzabad Declaration establishing a coalition in 2010. The other parties were the United National Congress (UNC); the Congress of the People (COP); the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) and the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ). The MSJ later left the coalition mid-term.
Last week, in an exclusive Sunday Newsday interview, the TOP political leader Ashworth Jack expressed some doubt over whether the party would remain within the coalition mantle, saying it would be a matter put to the rank and file. In contrast, however, Mutema remains committed outright to the coalition.
Will NJAC stay?
“Yes at this point, from where we are now, I would say yes, we are committed to being a part of the Partnership,” the NJAC political leader says. “Unless there are any major eventualities we are committed to remaining within the partnership”
Mutema, formerly Kenrick Pascal, is a Barataria resident. He was born on March 21, 1961 and attended the Barataria Boys RC School, Fatima College, Port-of-Spain, then Polytechnic Sixth Form School. He holds a masters degree in Business Administration from Heriot-Watt University, Scotland. In the 2010 general election, he unsuccessfully contested the Laventille-East/Morvant seat. Asked last week how many members there are in the NJAC, he could not say.
The NJAC does not have any presence in the House of Representatives, though its deputy political leader Embau Moheni holds a seat in the Senate as a back-bencher. Moheni serves as Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security, a post which does not see him sit in Cabinet. He has, however, participated in Parliament debate of 22 bills.
But while NJAC has not been a front-line presence, it is set to this year yield more influence as it assumes the rotating chairmanship of what is referred to as the chairmen’s caucus, an inter-party body which meets to coordinate coalition matters. The last chairman was Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, the former chairman of the COP, and before that the UNC’s Khadijah Ameen. The caucus is due to meet in coming weeks, though no set date has been appointed.
And while the NJAC does not have a big presence in the Parliament, it is still seeking to make an impact, even if by simply endorsing coalition politics.
“Coalition politics, we feel, is a trend both nationally and internationally,” Mutema says. “Populations are calling more and more for this type of political development. It is not just more democratic, but it is a situation where you will be able to bring about, through the parties coming together, unification of society. Politics have tended to be divisive and to fragment society. A coalition could be a movement towards lessening that degree of fragmentation of society and uniting society. That is one of the major reasons for us staying in the partnership.”
Biggest problem now
“Yes there are challenges,” Mutema also admits. “Previously, at one point we competed against each other. We were all opposing each other. Here, now, you are expected to come together. You are expected to move from competition to cooperation. There are challenges within that journey. You have seen over the last four to five years evidence of these differences, you have had members getting up and voicing their differences and voicing views but these are expected over a point in time.”
Mutema continues, “The bigger matter is how it will be dealt with. There will always be differences in any form of governance. What the Partnership has to be careful about is the management of these differences.”
Will the NJAC consider partnering with the People’s National Movement (PNM)? Mutema does not hesitate.
“No we would not,” he says. “At no time. The approach of the PNM to politics and political activity has not changed over the years. It is one that is more destructive to the development of our society. The PNM have shown over the years that they are very dependent on a very powerful propaganda machinery that is prepared to go to any means to get political victory. Distortions, untruths and fabrications: that is not the way a political party should go.”
The NJAC was at the forefront of efforts to reform post-colonial society in the form of activism in the 1970s, most notably leading the role in promoting Black Power. The party has a history of activism on a national and communal level.
But though the party has been involved in General, Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly elections, in recent years it has not had mainstream appeal. Some argue its value to the coalition comes from what it represents. Others question NJAC’s relevance.
Mutema still sees things in terms of the long ball. Society, he says, has come a long way since the 1970s, but more needs to be done, including in the area of addressing crime.
“There has been a lot of gains for the population and region coming out of 1970, both ethnic and otherwise. The impact was more widespread than ethnicity,” the NJAC leader says. “It was economic, social, cultural. But we feel there is still need for much to be done.” Crime is a prime example.
“For example, the situation relating to crime sees most of the young males involved — victims and perpetrators — being African males and it is something we feel the society as a whole needs to be concerned about,” Mutema says. “We intend to hold a national discussion and conversation where we can bring the country together regardless of ethnicity to engage in a discussion on the question of the African family and what is happening to the African family. Yes, we have come a long way, but there is a lot to be done.”
‘The Long Ball’
Mutema also says the idea that the country is independent is also one which is more complex that at first sight.
“I do not think we can consider ourselves truly independent,” he says. “There are certain fundamentals of independence which I think do not exist.
“For example, the food import bill is still way too high. We are spending millions in food and other imports. If we are to speak of true independence, we must adjust our taste patterns. We believe that what is foreign is better from food right up to services. This is a legacy of colonialism that still prevails which we have not paid attention to over the years.” There are deeper political implications, he adds.
“We are vulnerable to outside forces, particularly the larger economic powers,” Mutema says. “They can use these economic areas as a source where you can easily manipulate a country. For example they can use the supply of food as a weapon.”
Also installed on the NJAC executive last December were: Embau Moheni (deputy political leader); Ife Alleyne (deputy political leader); Aiergoro Ome (president); Peter Caesar (first vice-president) Farouk Hosein (second vice-president); Clyde Slinger (general secretary); Moriba Kwamina (treasurer); Stephenie Charles (president, women’s committee) and Akehenton Daaga (marketing and media relations).