Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom that chronicled his life’s journey, including 27 years spent behind bars for agitating against an oppressive apartheid system in South Africa, has been an inspiration for oppressed people worldwide. It has also provided a valuable lesson to oppressors that the indomitable spirit of man, fighting for a just cause, can be an overwhelmingly powerful thing.
Throughout our history, there have been others who have taken that “walk” in the interest of fellowman and country, putting their lives on the line willingly and selflessly. Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States of America, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea and Cape Verde, Thomas Sankara in Upper Volta – now Burkina Faso, Clement Payne in Barbados – are all names associated with struggle in the interest of oppressed people. Through their words and deeds, they spurred and led millions towards self-actualization and great achievement.
For persons of African ethnicity, the term “freedom” carries great historical and cultural significance. In King’s famous I have a dream speech, he mentions the word “freedom” approximately 20 times, all within the context of uplifting the prospects of blacks who lived “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” in America. King also used the term within the context of bringing hope to blacks “seared in the flames of withering injustice”. In Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom, the term “freedom” is frequently used in the unmistakable context of agitation against an oppressive regime legitimized by unjust laws. When Payne spoke to black Barbadians in the 1930s about social justice and urged the working class to embrace trade unionism, the term “freedom” was used and its context was pellucidly clear to those of his pigmentation as well as the white planter class.
Today we are faced with another imminent Long Walk To Freedom to be played out undoubtedly before thousands of adoring fans in a few days at Kensington Oval. We wish all success to the musical extravaganza and encourage those with the wherewithal to support the occasion with their presence in an atmosphere of togetherness and enjoyment. But lest there be any misconceptions about this particular Long Walk To Freedom harsh context is required.
The marketing strategy of the promoters to sell the Buju Banton Show to fans in Barbados and the other islands in which he has performed or will perform is one to which they are freely entitled. Indeed, the 2011 Grammy Award-winning Jamaican artiste’s absence from stage for about ten years gave promoters a head start on selling tickets to his legion of devoted fans.
But impressionable young Barbadians and Caribbean youth in general, whether they be dancehall devotees, black conscious spirits or just simply anti-American, must understand that Banton’s “Walk of Freedom” is neither heroic, in the interest of furthering the cause of those of African ancestry, a struggle against oppression or a response to unjust laws that need to be exposed, explained and expunged. On February 22, 2011, Buju Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence and using communication wires to facilitate a drug trafficking offence. Included in the evidence against Banton were video images of him taste-testing cocaine. We welcome him back to Barbados and the Caribbean with open arms in a spirit of forgiveness and in the knowledge that to err is human.
But at a time when guns and illegal drugs are causing so many social problems in our island, young Barbadian men and women must appreciate that Banton’s “freedom walk” in absolutely no way resembles that of the Mandelas, Kings, Lumumbas, Bikos or Bussas of our history. There must be no romanticism associated with Banton’s “walk” from jail. Forgiveness? Yes! Acceptance? Yes! Sympathy? Yes! Reintegration? Yes! But this is no hero’s walk to freedom.
If anything, let this particular “freedom walk” be a lesson to our nation’s young people that involvement with illegal drugs and guns, at any level, whether actual or conspiratorial, can derail and ruin lives, careers and families. Irrespective of who you are.
It is not an easy road!