Black Power NJAC’s half century of failure

That exception is of course the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) of 1969-70 fame, the saddest of all political sad sacks in the country. 

Black Power NJAC’s half century of failure
Photo : Ramdath Jagessar

As Trinidad and Tobago does the run up to the 2020 general elections, many political parties except one are eagerly preparing with high hopes to throw their hats into the ring. 

That exception is of course the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) of 1969-70 fame, the saddest of all political sad sacks in the country. 

They appear to have learned nothing since their great days 50 years ago, and appear unable to understand why they can’t win any kind of election anywhere since their last try in 1991 when they grabbed an astounding 1.1% of the votes. 

Why has NJAC sunk so low in the last half century and become a group with zero political future? We might have to help them out. Remember these dashiki dadas had the ruling PNM ready to fall in 1970, with prime minister Eric Williams inches away from departing to exile in his airplane warming up at Piarco Airport.

In my opinion NJAC had it wrong from the very start and has never corrected that idiotic beginning to this day. For this I blame my old university colleague David Darbeau aka Kafra Kambon, the alleged ideologue of NJAC who forgot all the economics and politics lectures he heard at UWI St Augustine. 

Kambon allowed dimwit orator Geddes Granger aka Makandal Daaga (also I regret to say, my university colleague) to set the NJAC black power agenda. And what was this dumb agenda?

NJAC in its early days made much of the fact that most of the larger businesses in Trinidad were owned by a minority of white people, local French Creoles and white foreigners who controlled firms like Texaco, Shell, Grace Plant and the top ranks of the oil, gas and petrochemical sector. 

Black people meaning African people could hardly be seen in banks, department stores, shipping and insurance companies, and in positions of influence in companies like Neal and Massy, McEnearney, J. H. Harriman, Alstons, Geddes Grant and the like.  

NJAC felt this was not right and wanted to wage revolutionary struggle to change this, and transfer control of the commanding heights of the economy from white hands to black ones. 

It doesn’t sound too bad when I put it like that, wouldn’t you say? Not until we follow up what that mumbo jumbo means in practice, which Kambon and other “thinkers” failed to do, and what Daaga was incapable of understanding.

So NJAC in 1970 didn’t like white people owning and controlling the heights of the economy and wanted to nationalize these businesses so black people would have ownership and control, right? 

And who were these white people? The local French Creoles were Trinidad and Tobago citizens with businesses and themselves paying taxes into the Treasury. What reason could NJAC possibly advance for nationalizing the businesses of nationals other than they were white people? Were they thinking of the TT government buying out Neal and Massy and friends and handing these huge companies over to unqualified black people to run? Kambon never thought about that. 

If we turn to the foreign white companies like Texaco and Tate and Lyle the question of nationalizing them is even more embarrassing to contemplate, which is probably why Kambon et al never contemplated it. 

Taking over ownership of such companies in the seventies would be nothing less than suicidal, meaning that the Americans and British would never tolerate it after the Cuban revolution nationalized foreign owned businesses without compensation. The cost to nationalize with compensation would be horrendous and beyond the ability of any TT government.

Black people might want to own and control businesses but their ability to run such businesses successfully was not obvious in 1970 and is even less so today in the light of what they did with Texaco and Caroni. What do you say to that, brother Kambon?

But NJAC’s grossest error is in their claim that white people controlled the TT economy in 1970 and later days, and that black people should get that control. 

White people whether local or foreign were not the ones who had the most money to spend as they pleased. It was the government of TT, ie black people and specifically prime minister Eric Williams as corporation sole, who had absolute control of the tens of billions of oil revenue and local taxes paid by the Neal and Massy and all businesses and ordinary taxpayers. That still applies today when the TT budget is $50 billion, and no group of white businesses have that kind of money coming in every year. It was a similar picture in 1970. 

In simplest terms, Kambon and Daaga were so stupid that they didn’t see they were fighting for what black people already had, which was dominant control of the TT economy. I suspect Eric Williams’ boys tried to hint to Kambon and company that they had billions to spend, that they employed over 100, 000 people in the state sector, more than any white people could dream about. 

I trust I don’t need to continue. It’s really bad to have to tell Kambon, and Aiyegoro Omo and other earnest and self sacrificing individuals that they have wasted their lives chasing an illusion, something black people already had in their back pockets even in 1970. 

Eric Williams outsmarted them in the days following the 1970 upsurge. He told the white businesses to put a few token black faces in the banks and their companies and they could continue with their “little” businesses unmolested while he continued to lavish the big bucks on his black people. The white businesses gladly complied, ordinary black people realized their future lay with the PNM government that controlled the billions, and abandoned NJAC politically for all time. 

So what’s left for NJAC now? They have no choice but to abandon any political ambitions, any revolutionary agenda, and stick to cultural matters for black people. There isn’t going to be any Afro-Indian unity through NJAC. 

If black people want to own businesses they will have to do it the old fashioned way, by building them up through hard grinding work, and not by having ownership handed to them. 

Get a job like the rest of us, brother Kambon. You might get a decent job with the government if you stop bothering them with failed agendas a half century too old.