Unless I am mistaken, Barbados’ Nation newspaper once carried a photograph of Nigerian-American basketball star Hakeem Olajuwan seated between former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur and local public relations guru Al Gilkes.
As I recall, there was some suggestion in the related news item that Arthur and Gilkes were competing for the attention of the prominent, wealthy African American star, who was on the island exploring investment opportunities.
Is Olajuwan among the African Americans who have been investing in Barbadian real estate - especially on the island’s pricey “Gold Coast”?
He might be. Olajuwon is known to have significant real estate investment in Houston Texas, where he is also a sporting icon, from his days with the Houston Rockets.
According to Wikipedia, the almost 7 foot tall former Rockets center “has had great success in the Houston real estate market, with his estimated profits exceeding $100 million.”
The article notes that Olajuwon, a devout Muslim, buys in cash-only purchases, in keeping with Islamic law, which forbids the payment of interest.
This financial fact would have been welcome news I am sure for those in Barbados who were keen to have Olajuwon invest in the island.
I would wager that Barbadian real estate has also been exciting the acquisition appetites of a number of American Rap singers and other musicians. A number of them have been visiting the island for some years now, attracted perhaps as much by its good governance reputation (endorsed by influential Black Americans like Andrew Young) as by its association with glamour and stardom, compliments that local girl who has become an international pop music icon: Rihanna.
Actually, while employed as a time share Sales Consultant with the popular American hotel chain Divi Resorts, I had a role in brokering one deal with a Black American congressman.
That transaction, with Georgia based politician Randall Mangham, was mainly an investment in family holidays. I do not recall it being seen by Mangham as a source of financial returns.
As I recall, Mangham unlike fellow Atlanta politician Young, was not as familiar with Barbados and its reputation of good governance. Based on our conversations – including those at a post-sale dinner to which he, his wife and his mother treated my wife and I - I got the impression that this lawyer-politician was more familiar with Jamaica, and its reputation for corruption.
I recall him expressing a concern about the diversion of funds intended for Jamaican charities: a concern that middlemen were depriving Jamaica’s neediest people of resources intended for them. I seem to recall seeking to assure him that that kind of thing was less likely to happen in Barbados.
Coming a relatively short time after the 9/11 tragedy, as I recall, Mangham’s visit to Barbados may have been linked to the island’s afrocentric advocacy at the United Nation’s World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
Readers of my missives here and elsewhere will know that in my mind these two landmark historical events are fundamentally linked.
I believe that it was the performance of the Barbados delegation – led on the government side by then Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles and Pan African Commission Director (CPA) David Comissiong; and on the NGO side, incongruously, by the Commission’s messenger Aaron “Buddy” Larrier – that prompted then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to declare that in the realm of international affairs, Barbados punches well above its size.
As noted by the international media, the Durban Conference ended amid controversy because of delegates’ inability to reach consensus on two volatile issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reparations for African descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
It was Barbados that put slave trade reparations on the UN’s agenda officially. And I think it reasonable to assume that this diplomatic achievement was critical in attracting the attention of Olajuwon, Mangham and many other wealthy and influential African Americans to the island.
United States President Barak Obama, then a US senator, would probably have been following developments in Durban with keen interest. And in my mind, at least, his choice of Barbadian-descended African Americanas his Attorney General can also be traced to what Barbados did in Durban, on behalf of Africans everywhere.
That achievement also attracted the attention of the CIA – as I have previously noted. I remember raising this with Mangham during one of our several conversations.
As I recall, when I quizzed him about the possibility that the CIA might think me a person of interest because of my involvement with members of the Barbados delegation to Durban (I attended several planning meetings but didn’t attend the Conference), he said that possibility could not be dismissed.
Barbados’ achievement in Durban certainly stands out as a tribute to the island’s good governance. However, having participated in the government-NGO inter-face planning for the Conference myself, it also serves as a reminder to me of the corruption, incoherence, incongruity and silliness of which Barbadians are capable.
“Buddy Larrier?! Buddy Larrier?!” the near speechless expression of disbelief of prominent Barbadian man of faith, Monsignor Harcourt Blackett of the Roman Catholic church in Barbados. I had just told him that Larrier had led the Barbados NGO delegation to the Durban Conference.
My opposition to then CPA messenger Larrier’s Chairmanship of the NGO preparatory Committee was a multi-faceted matter of principle.
It was not about his then low status at the Commission. He was not made a Project Officer until after he had led the NGO delegation to Durban.
It was his “low mindedness” that concerned me. I found his keenness to resort to questionable means in the pursuit of his goals disconcerting.
Larrier had demonstrated this propensity when he offered a dubious financial inducement – which would ensure him personal benefit - to myself and Antara Gilkes, another local religious commentator, as he sought to enlist our participation in a religious colloquium that the CPA was planning.
And this was after he had already caused CPA Director Comissiong, Prime Minister Owen Arthur (the CPA is a department of the Prime Minister’s office) and others close to the CPA considerable embarrassment by using the CPA’s letter-head to embellish correspondence he issued in pursuit of one of his personal projects.
This had led to a public outcry by prominent white Barbadian businessman Sir John Stanley Goddard of Goddard Enterprises and others who questioned the work of the CPA.
The outcry was particularly damaging for Larrier, I felt (nothing seems to phase him), as it involved the revelation that he had both a criminal and psychiatric history, dating back to his sojourn in England.
Then there was the questionable circumstances in which Larrier came to be Chairman of the NGO Committee when those who set it up first met.
I had not been invited to that meeting – probably owing to my rebuke to Larrier for his religious colloquium offer.
I was told though, that well known local solicitor Ralph Thorne and Comissiong confidente David Denny had stormed out of the meeting when Comissiong appointed Larrier (there was no vote) to lead the Committee’s affairs.
It has been suggested that I opposed Larrier because I wanted to chair the Committee myself.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I already had enough on my plate, including my elongated pursuit of a bachelor degree in Linguistics (it took me 10 years, all told), my wider consultancy to the Commission, my ongoing work with Intelek International projects and my free-lance writing for the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).
I even suggested that Larrier be given a less pivotal, but similarly important role on the Committee – perhaps a PR role – that would satisfy his apparent appetite for publicity.
My main concern was that his reputation should not undermine the work and image of the NGO Committee. I was concerned that his instalment as Chairman was not done in the Barbadian people’s best interests.
Larrier ultimately succeeded in having me banned from attending the deliberations of the NGO committee.
In this he was probably aided by CPA Deputy Director Ikael Tafari, who at one time supported his accusation that I was spying on the CPA.
Larrier came up with this accusation in response to my insistence that the Committee had to confront and discuss the role of Africans as traders – not only slaves - in the slave trade, if we wanted our bid to have reparations considered by the international community to be taken seriously.
As I recall, committee member Philip Knight sympathised with my position. However, as far as I am concerned, his silence, abstaining when the vote to have me and the African traders issue banned from the Committee’s private discussions was taken remains a deplorable failing of diplomatic capacity.
I have told him this. He has apologized. And I have accepted his apology.
I bear him no grudge against Knight. Nor do I begrudge any other member of the NGO committee.
I only recount these events here in so far as they may serve as pointers to the kind of problems the Barbadian masses face when our just causes are hijacked – in much the same manner that Mangham suggested the most vulnerable Jamaicans’ causes are hijacked – by persons whose main motivation in life seems to be a sense of their own insufficiency.
It seems to me that Larrier, Basil Springer, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, David Comissiong and others typify this restless, rapacious sense of need, to some degree.
They strike me as persons who never seem to have enough of whatever it is they desire in life – famous Black American or other friends, power, money?
I am not denouncing ambition or “aspiration” per se, to use a term popularized by former BritishPrime Minister Tony Blair’s New Labour regime.
I am simply making a case for old, time honoured values and principles: like honesty and integrity.
I believe that good governance in any public sphere is fundamentally related to our personal, private capacities. There can be no authentic good governance, I believe in the absence of individual self mastery.
The autobiography of Barak Obama – “Dreams from My Father” – merely underscores this for me.