The sitting Member of Parliament for St Philip North, Dr Sonia Browne, is to be greatly admired.
Since defeating Democratic Labour Party heavyweight Michael Lashley to win that seat in the 2018 general election, Dr Browne’s public comments and parliamentary contributions have suggested she is guided by personal convictions first, and then politics. This will serve her career well as her utterances suggest that she can be trusted.
While some of our politicians always stick to their career-serving, political script, or go with the popular view of the day in their quest to curry favour from voters, Dr Browne has demonstrated a propensity to call it as her conscience sees it. She is a rare political breed.
Following on from her position with respect to dismantling any blocks that provide breeding grounds for lawlessness and criminality, Dr Browne has once again incurred the wrath of many naïve souls with her latest piece of well-intentioned advice.
During yesterday’s debate on the amendment to the National Council on Substance Abuse Bill in the House of Assembly, Dr Browne had this to say: “I don’t think we quite understand the seriousness of the drug use and abuse. Let me clear it by saying I am a fan of Buju Banton. I admire his music, but when we got a society that more or less romanticises a gentleman coming out of prison after spending a decade of incarceration on drug charges, when on his Long Walk to Freedom, I am not so sure from where, but when we can romanticise that and greet somebody like this at the airport and give them one of the biggest concerts . . . we need to change the perspective of our young people with respect to our heroes and heroines, we need to change the focus.”
Almost predictably, her comments have occasioned much debate and she has been especially pilloried on social media. But Dr Browne is correct in her assessment. We often find heroes on the sports field, on the performing stage, on the pulpit, in several spheres of activity and we hold dear to this human worship even when history or their subsequent actions suggest that our adulation is misplaced. We do not seek to rehash Buju Banton’s court case but suffice to say that history shows he was convicted by a court of his peers for conspiracy to import cocaine into the USA. Of course, it is human to err and everyone is subject to forgiveness, redemption and reintegration. His promoters are entitled to use all legal means to sell tickets for his shows across the Caribbean and lovers of his music have all rights to enjoy and dote over the man and his music.
But, Dr Browne, in the midst of the sentimentality directed towards the Jamaican dancehall star, is on point when she infers that if young Barbadians are in need of role models, then only persons worthy of emulation by their deeds and what they stand for should fit that bill. Buju Banton, based on what transpired in the USA ten years ago, is not the individual to be mimicked at this stage. Indeed, the still unapologetic star might be the first to suggest that he is not presenting himself as anyone’s role model. Some in our midst have compared errant politicians, priests, schoolteachers, et al, to Buju Banton, with the suggestion that these individuals are no better than the artiste, and thus no stone should be cast. It is an argument dipped in buffoonery by those who have misinterpreted Dr Browne’s point or allowed their emotion or love of music to overrule common sense.
Even those who promoted the show appreciated the importance of genuine role models. It is for this reason that they deliberately used the emotive sales pitch of Long Walk To Freedom, unashamedly borrowed from the late, great Nelson Mandela, to put some gloss on the Caribbean tour of Buju Banton. And the promoters have done an excellent job.
Dr Browne has not criticised the artiste or promoters, she has not criticised those who forked out up to $450 to attend the show. She simply sought to insert a cautionary note into any misconceptions that might be attached to the actual non-existent Long Walk To Freedom by Buju Banton and posited some advice on drugs and drug abuse for impressionable young minds.
But the criticisms which Dr Browne have copped are in keeping with our human history past and present. Right can so easily be portrayed as wrong, by those too swift to resort to emotion rather than reason. Members of the Royal Barbados Police Force were recently criticised for reporting motorists who attended the Buju Banton show and parked on the sidewalks, thus depriving pedestrians of their use and safe passage amid the traffic. Well-sounding excuses were presented by sober minds to justify breaking our traffic laws.
But, according to that biblical tale we are a race that made Barabbas a popular choice ahead of Jesus, thus nothing surprises.