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NJAC Rededication: Daaga goes from student guild to movement leader

“[…] Makandal Daaga placed great emphasis on people and the indispensable need for the participation of the population in the building of any new society.

“[…] It was on this premise that he mobilised the nation, not just to change social, political and economic conditions, but above all to enlighten, empower and elevate the population to become the masters of their own destiny. Hence the demand was for Power to the People.

The following is the fourth column on the ‘Birth of a Mass People’s Movement’ in an NJAC series on their contribution to Trinidad and Tobago society, after the ‘Black Power Revolution’ of 1970:

Photo: NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (centre) holds a press conference in 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

Chief Servant Makandal Daaga ORTT had emerged, by 26 February 1970, as the people’s leader for the national transformation of Trinidad & Tobago. Makandal Daaga led the great Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970 from its inception.

His years of service to Pegasus in the 1960s taught him much about the nature of governance and politics in T&T. It also allowed him to lead many of T&T’s most brilliant young minds of that era, as well as several leaders in the public service, business, culture and the arts, the military, the professions and sports administration who served with Pegasus.

During this period, he entered the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine and was elected president of the student guild. This provided new avenues to serve and provide leadership for the elevation of the people.

With Brother Daaga as president, the guild became very vibrant and active in a range of national and Caribbean issues. For instance, an outreach project was launched, having students do voluntary work to improve the conditions of life in various communities.

The work of each student was usually related to their field of study at UWI so that students gained practical experience and love of community by sharing their skills. They also provided free classes to assist students in need. One lecturer, Dr Brinsley Samaroo, assisted and participated in this project.

Photo: Dr Brinsley Samaroo.
(Copyright Bocas Lit Fest)

The guild took serious positions against acts of injustice. One case was the banning of Guyanese historian, Dr Walter Rodney from Jamaica in October 1968. Dr Rodney lectured in African History at the Mona campus of the UWI in Jamaica.

The Jamaican government was very displeased with Dr Rodney taking some of his classroom messages related to ideas of black unity and economic independence into poor and Rastafarian communities. This he called ‘The Groundings With My Brothers’, which is the title of a book he later published. It is considered a seminal work by black power advocates of the time.

Dr Rodney was dismissed as a lecturer in African History while attending a writer’s congress in Canada. On his return to Jamaica, he was declared ‘persona non grata’ and denied re-entry. Daaga contacted Dr Ralph Gonsalves (then president of the UWI student guild at Mona, Jamaica) and they planned joint action against the banning of Dr Rodney by the Jamaican government.

They hosted protest marches in Jamaica and Trinidad. Following this, the Chief Servant and Dr Gonsalves continued to collaborate on other joint efforts for the benefit of Caribbean students and citizens in their positions as guild presidents of their respective campuses.

The impact and influence of the Chief Servant were felt internationally, even before 1970. While visiting the US in 1969, he was approached by the ambassadors of six African nations and offered state visits to their respective countries. Given that state visits are reserved for heads of state, heads of government and persons of exceptionally high esteem, this certainly spoke volumes of the respect he enjoyed internationally.

Photo: Students join demonstrations in Port of Spain on 9 April 1970 during the 1970 movement.
(Copyright Apoesho Mutope/NJAC)

Makandal Daaga placed great emphasis on people and the indispensable need for the participation of the population in the building of any new society. The ideological basis he defined for the new society attest to this. This he outlined in November and December 1972, at three massive rallies, ‘All North’, ‘All South’ and ‘All Tobago’.

He stated: “We want a society whose ideological basis must be MAN. We do not want a society whose ideological basis is the machine, whose ideological basis is money, whose ideological basis is profit … We want a society built on the psychological basis of Man so the old person who has given his life to the society can be cared for; the child who is coming up will be seen as the fruit of the nation to be nurtured; the man and woman would be provided with food, shelter, education, clothing and employment. And in return, we demand of that man that he gives of his best.”

It was on this premise that he mobilised the nation, not just to change social, political and economic conditions, but above all to enlighten, empower and elevate the population to become the masters of their own destiny. Hence the demand was for Power to the People.

He saw the people, collectively, as the ‘National Executive’ of the nation, with supreme authority above all, including parliament. Parliamentarians merely ‘represent’ the real government— the people. This has since been documented in NJAC’s Blue Book, The People’s Declaration of Policy for a New Trinidad and Tobago. With Brother Daaga’s vision and unyielding love for his people, he inspired the nation to rise and reject the colonial legacy of our slave and indentured past and seek the restoration of our dignity, pride and humanity.

As an orator, the Chief Servant held audiences spellbound for hours. His objectives were to educate (to impart knowledge, principles and values), to elevate (inspire persons to become better human beings) and to agitate (stir them to act in their own interest and that of their population). He always told us that a good speech must achieve these three objectives.

Photo: Iconic late Trinidad and Tobago writer CLR James.
(Courtesy Thefamouspeople.com)

The late CLR James, historian and Pan Africanist leader, said his greatest experience in 50 years of politics globally was listening to Makandal Daaga at a conference in Guyana in 1973. This was in preparation for the 6th Pan African Congress (held in Tanzania in 1974). It was attended by leaders in the forefront of the movement for African liberation and advancement globally.

So moved was CLR James, that he promised to print a million copies of Brother Daaga’s speech to circulate the world (a four-and-three-quarter hours address, during which he was re-called five times to continue speaking each time he stopped). At the end of his speech, the Tanzanian Ambassador to the UN Salim Ahmed Salim and some of his associates gave the Chief Servant a ‘lap of honour’ around the auditorium on their shoulders. Salim later served as the 7th secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Brother Daaga’s speed as a mobiliser and organiser was phenomenal. In 1970, people were drawn from all walks of life in increasing thousands. His motivational appeal was so powerful that he removed all doubt and fear from the hearts and minds of his followers. No task was too difficult to attempt, nor any challenge too insurmountable to accept.

The movement quickly swept over the land, swelling the ranks of meetings and demonstrations and creating a chain reaction across the Caribbean. It is little wonder that the Chief Servant and Clive Nunez were banned from entering Barbados in April 1970.

Even though Brother Daaga was banned from travelling to most Caribbean territories (and from the US for 37 years), his powerful Caribbean vision and commitment saw him rise to the leadership of the regional movement for human dignity and justice.

In 1973, he was appointed to lead the three regions comprising the Caribbean, Central America and South America for the Sixth Pan African Congress (PAC) in Tanzania. However, the intervention of US President Richard Nixon, some collusion and the payment of aid money to Tanzania saw the Caribbean representation being questionably changed from non-governmental to governments only, thus scuttling Brother Daaga’s participation at the Congress.

Embed from Getty Images

The Chef Servant declined an invitation from the US delegation to go as part of their team, indicating that he had no intention of entering through the back door. There was widespread condemnation of the change in the Call of the PAC, with leading personalities and international sponsors withdrawing from the PAC. It was the most inconsequential of all the Pan African Congresses to date and a set back to the cause of African advancement.

Makandal Daaga also chaired the Caribbean Liberation Steering Committee. Two of the members of this committee, Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas and Maurice Bishop, later became prime ministers of Dominica and Grenada respectively. The committee also included Khafra Kambon (T&T), Eusi Kwayana (Guyana), Tim Hector (Antigua), Trevor Monroe (Jamaica), Raymond Charlotte (French Guiana), Bobby Clarke (Barbados) and Tony Ferguson.

Brother Daaga was totally fearless in his pursuit of the New and Just Society. The several assassination attempts on his life did not affect his spirit, commitment or mission. The Chief Servant’s powerful messages, his brilliant ideas, methods, style and his total commitment to people defined the character, substance and enduring nature of the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970.

The T&T Revolution became a model for change in other parts of the world. As a matter of fact, two European political parties (from Holland and Ireland) and one from the Caribbean (St Vincent) wrote for our blessings to use our policy statement (which is a universal document) in their campaigns.

Makandal Daaga’s unique ideas and methods also earned him a seat in the UWI senate, when, as student guild president, he put forward the unique position that the ‘the student is the university’. All others, he said, were functionaries (lab assistants, librarians, lecturers etc), for there was no need for lecturers or even a university without students.

He gained student representation on every UWI body of the university except exams. So while he was a UWI undergraduate student, he sat on the senate, the highest governing body of the University of the West Indies. Suffice it to say, his proposals and presentations astonished other members, including Edward Seaga, then prime minister of Jamaica.

Photo: Late former NJAC and Pegasus leader Makandal Daaga

The sterling service of the Chief Servant to Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean is reflective of his contribution in the following areas:

  • The development of true independence in Trinidad & Tobago, particularly through the Pegasus organisation which he formed in 1962
  • Politics and the growth of people’s politics
  • National, Caribbean and Black consciousness
  • The economy and development of a people’s sector
  • Arts and culture
  • Education
  • Race relations, the pursuit of national unity and creation of the Institute of Race Relations
  • Development of women
  • Development of youth
  • Labour and industrial relations
  • Spirituality
  • National recognition and the institution of our nation’s First National Awards
  • Caribbean development
  • International relations and the internationalisation of Emancipation Day.

 

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