By Bumpy Walker
Marcus Garvey called the post-World War I Paris Peace conference of 1919 “The Pieces Conference”. Given that colonies located in Africa and Asia was divided among the victors, it could be seen as an extension of the Berlin conference of two decades earlier. The victors, mostly western national leaders, self-righteously announce without a hint of irony or guilt declare that they have solved a problem they created.
Back then Garvey’s intentions, however valid and future focused, far exceeded his capability to deliver. His organisation’s sole representative at Paris in 1919, Lecba Elizier Cadet, was ignored, unrecognised by the official delegates, belittled by a number of African ambassadors present, while sending back to Marcus reports that seemed less and less based in reality. Cadet alleged that he was being sabotaged by the black Yanki leader W.E.B Dubois.
The recent conference on the environment, COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland could be similar in perspective with analogous outcomes. The world faces an existential threat. Solutions are available, that would need to decouple economic development from the ever increasing presence of volatile carbon compounds in the atmosphere. European, western governments, who are principally responsible for the impending disaster, seem determined to impose their environmental solutions on all. Once more they are ignoring the economic needs of the rest of the world while demonising those who are trying to lift up their peoples to an ecomic level of comfort that is a fraction of that which the creators now enjoy.
Environmental Potemkin Villages
At Glasgow, most world leaders gave navel-gazing, nationalistic self-aggrandizing speeches that delivered an almost standard line in national self-absorbed, delusional deflection. Each seemed more or less cookie-cut from the same dough, with only variations being nation and economic self-interest. A summary of what each nation said was: We are working hard; it is not our fault, others are responsible. Each leader then highlighted any local small scale environmental initiative, trumpeted it, and presented it as the totality of their nation’s effort while ignoring their historical role and present environmental degrading activities.
This allowed an agreement, outstanding only in blandness, to be signed then trumpeted with great fanfare. It was so ineffectual it made the meeting’s chairman literally weep in frustration. It all brought to mind, Peter Tosh's aphorism “Every Body wan fi guh heaven, but no one wan fi dead”.
It wasn’t like all the leaders’ speeches were bad, just average. Take Jamaica’s contribution; it was in line with the majority of the speeches. Prime Minister Holness’s speech was up there with the best international leadership standard. No, I don’t think that Golding, PJ or Peta would have given a better presentation. I do think that Portia Lucrecia would have given a more personal empathetic speech. Seaga of course would have overwhelmed the world with his mastery of facts and figures.
Step Up Mia
Fortunately for the world, forward stepped an intellectual giant of a national leader, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley. She up ended all the above mentioned tired tropes, by applying the Caribbean remnants of Ubuntu and to a speech that looked at the threat, analysed it then articulated a way to the future. She once more brought pride to the Caribbean, by punching above our collective weight class.
Mia Motley’s speech was a tour de force. Unlike any other leader, she kicked aside the restrictions of nationalism, while squarely facing the economic challenges. She cast aside the standard self-aggrandisement, xenophobia-lite of literally every other leader with the simple rhetorical device of name dropping other more environmentally challenged nations before she mentioned her own country. It was filled with some of what is commonly acceptable from our archipelagos: our survival instincts, the idealism of hope of Rastafari and other local religious forms, our sense of light collectivism, the intellectual abilities of the independence leadership, with the empathy of Portia Simpson-Miller. Thankfully she did it succulently without the need to go “Fidel” in length!
Listen to the speech with your back turned to the screen; let Mia wrap you in the warm and tender love like a Dennis Brown song, while inspiring with the moral activism of Peter Tosh. Politically, it was a finely tuned presentation with stiletto like precision. It identified the historical causes, acknowledged the failures of the good and the great leaders present. Her stage presence made me think that the spirit of Nanny Gregg was in the room, inspiring with the same intellectual fervour. I wanted to grab my figurative machete and go “Bussa” on saving the planet!
Watching the faces of the leaders, I noted envy and disappointment at their own anaemic speeches. Given their considerably greater resources, their contributions paled to insignificance besides what Mia did. Oh the poetry of it was analogous to Sobers at the crease; Marshal on delivery or timing, elegance, the grace of Sir Everton Weekes!
Mia at Glasgow exceeded what Garvey tried at Paris. She didn’t send a representative; she went herself. Then, like a poker player, she went all in. Unlike Garvey’s representative, I don’t expect that Ms Mottley will end up as a Voodoo Hougun, an adept of Damballa, as worthy a profession as that is.
I confess I am not a fan of Greta Thunberg, the media's favourite environmental paper warrior. Thunberg’s attraction is that she makes her target demographic feel there is an easy solution without changes to their comfortable, convenient lifestyle. This is impossible.
The fact that leaders from small Island states and developing nations were saying the identical things, only better, less shrill for decades along with practical proposals. At Cop 25 in Paris they, including the Jamaica delegation, were behind the scene lobbying. The world’s press and social media influencers studiously ignored this, choosing rather to focus on a blond Swede.
History won’t record a British Prime Minister or a US President as the driving force at COP 26. Greta won’t be as the moral conscience. No, both these pivotal roles will be filled by Mia. There is the possibility that at the next climate talkfest in COP27 Egypt, Mia may not be the Bajan Prime Minister as Barbados will have an election this Wednesday (January 19th). If that is the case then the soft power that Mia generated should not be wasted. My suggestion is that CARICOM not send a multitude of small island nations’ head of governments, rather a single delegation, with Ms Motley as the leader. At a minimum this will cut down on the fares and air miles. (I also noted she dressed elegantly, in what I hope were outfits designed by a local Bajan!)
ABOUT THE WRITER: Bumpy Walker is a Jamaican based in Scotland.