The generous tributes of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley and his stand-in Colm Imbert mark the first time the People’s National Movement (PNM) acknowledged and honored Makandal Daaga.
Rowley and Imbert were graceful and generous in their tributes to Daaga, after government and party spokesman Stuart Young had offered a stiff and generic statement.
The PNM had previously never formally recognized and saluted Daaga’s historic role in the emergence and development of Trinidad and Tobago.
As recently as 2010, when Daaga turned up on a political platform, he was derided by then-Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who questioned where he was “resurrected” from.
Notably, writer and commentator Raffique Shah said Daaga’s “significant contribution” is “why Manning and others with him can be where they are today.”
Shah correctly pointed to the social and economic change that Daaga help to engender.
Job opportunities and ethnic solidarity were among the priority items in Daaga’s agenda of change and social consciousness.
Indeed, Daaga led a popular and long-running campaign to get local control of the economy, to obtain more employment and to unite the races.
Trinidad and Tobago were eight years independent and many had felt the nationalistic movement of Dr. Eric Williams had not delivered the requisite transformation of the society.
The campaign prompted nationalization of the banking, petroleum and other sectors, more opportunities for work and upward mobility and improved race relations.
Williams never openly acknowledged the demands, but, in succeeding years, he made radical economic and social changes and empowered more people.
After a State of Emergency, during which Daaga and others were detained, Williams also spoke on Black Power.
But he never heralded Daaga.
He said Black Power was “the insistence on black dignity, the manifestation of black consciousness and the demand for black economic power.”
Williams added: “The entire population must understand that these are perfectly legitimate and entirely in the interest of the community as a whole.”
Interestingly, Williams also said: “Our goal has always been Afro-Asian unity.”
He went on: “We have consciously fought to promote black economic power.”
But Williams’ legacy on Black power includes attempts to introduce repressive legislations through then-controversial Attorney General Karl Hudson-Phillips, banning of certain literature, and, of course, the arrests and detention of Daaga and others.