Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Cheque please? On the human cost of hosting POTUS

Published:Saturday | April 25, 2015 | 11:07 PMAdwoa N. Onuora

As I sat reading the article 'Gov't still calculating cost of Obama visit' published in The Gleaner recently, I recalled a song from my childhood that my late grandmother, Hortense Ellis, would blast ad nauseam whenever we behaved ungratefully towards her as children.

Growing up, gospel artiste Shirley Caesar's 'No Charge' was, as we say in Jamaica, her default 'throw wud (word)' song - one that would be played while she belted out lines that reminded us of the unquantifiable costs associated with her care work. Each time we asked for special treatment resulting from some good deed we had done, she would sing:

"For the nine months I carried you growing inside me: NO CHARGE

For the nights I sat up with you doctors who prayed for you: NO CHARGE

For the time and tears and the costs through the years

There is NO CHARGE

When you add it all up, the real cost of my love is NO CHARGE."

Yes. Shirley Caesar's words were an appeal to our conscience as children. It was an (in)direct consciousness raising tool; her attempt at centring what was often pushed to the periphery, negated in our demands for monetary compensation for sweeping the yard or washing the dishes or for giving her 'nuh talking' (abiding by the house rules) for an entire day.

More than two weeks has passed since President Barack Obama or POTUS' (president of the United States) stint on Jamrock and the Government is still calculating the financial cost of hosting his brief stay. Minister without portfolio with responsibility for information, Sandrea Falconer, told journalists at a recent Jamaica House press conference that there are different costs to be taken into account such as security, roadworks and television coverage. The expenditure for road repairs is estimated at J$200 million.

Not surprising, the human unquantifiable costs were not mentioned. Reflecting on our inclination to count (depend on) things and people that are not often counted (not given primacy in our governments' macroeconomic agenda), I decided to do a citizen's accounting. While our Government slowly crunches numbers, it is already clear to me that there are certain human cost that ought to, but that will not make the final bill:

America's economic stranglehold: For wilfully ignoring the role Obama's administration has played in sanctioning an IMF austerity package that is crippling Jamaica's economy. No charge?

The media, economic analysts and academics behind the ivory towers of the University of the West Indies (UWI) missed a prime opportunity to raise mass awareness of the detrimental impact of American imperialism (read: United States foreign policy) on Jamaica.

On the eve of POTUS' visit, a new report by the Centre for Economic Policy and Research presented findings that showed that the Jamaican economy is suffocating three years into a US-backed IMF austerity programme. While Jamaica has paid $138 million more to the IMF than it received last year, the country still owes more than $650 million to the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank through to 2018.

Public discussions before and after Obama's visit, however, centred around his palatial hotel suite at The Jamaica Pegasus, his visit to the Bob Marley Museum, and photo ops with young global celebrities like Usain Bolt, while little attention was paid to America as an imperialist state partly responsible for our dire economic condition, unbearable cycles of poverty, and high unemployment.

Michael Witter, a progressive intellectual and professor at UWI, makes a clear link between a shift from social development programmes that benefit the working class to policies that "promote continued dependence on foreign investment and imports for production and consumption" arising from the policy dictates of the IMF from the 1970s to today. Witter calls for "rebalancing the new [IMF] loan programme in favour of developing the human capital of the population and not only securing the financial capital of the lenders."

Freedom of expression is forbidden: For the trampling on civil liberties key to the functioning of a democracy such as freedom of speech and movement. No charge?

It was Voltaire who once said, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise." The value of dissent in terms of critical consciousness raising was lost in the fervour of Obama mania. Seduced by the 21st-century Pied Piper, those sipping the Obama Kool-Aid lambasted others who dared to frame him as an agent of imperialism or a useless political actor for the oppressed.

Reggae singer Chronixx has inspired severe public criticism for his reference to Obama as a "waste man". The term suggests that Obama is useless when it comes to issues of importance to African people or clearing Marcus Garvey's criminal conviction in the United States. Even Cabinet minister Lisa Hanna joined the hanging party and rebuked Chronixx for exercising his right to dissent from the party line on Obama.

In my mind, the commentators who presented opposing views on Obama's visit provided an alternative narrative to the mainstream public discourse glorifying POTUS. According to Dr Lisa Tomlinson, in a letter to The Gleaner, Chronixx is following the "tradition of his Rastafarian faith that condemns imperial and colonial systems. In other words, they mercilessly 'fyah-bun' and chant down Babylon!"

Class cleansing: For class cleansing of the workers, the homeless, hustlers and street vendors around Heroes Circle and other parts of Kingston. No charge?

The stalls of working-class street vendors who carve out meagre earnings selling products in and around the Heroes Circle were destroyed in an effort to sanitise the country of all its social impurities and security threats to the United States president. Some members of society might see the occupants of Gordon House as 'criminal elements' who 'threaten' the security of oppressed groups through repressive laws that infringe upon their freedom of choice as human beings.

When we add up all of the above, the human cost of Obama's visit -- much like the care work provided by grandmothers, mothers, and aunties daily, but whose material value is discounted by the Government will be -- No Charge.

Bob Marley was correct in demanding that we "chase those crazy baldheads out of town". Members of the working class continue to build cabins and plant corn and are only reaping the scorn of local rulers and their imperial overlords like Obama.

I join Marley's call for us to chase out of town Obama and his friends who are still reaping the benefits of the wealth created by the labour of enslaved Africans. The "waste man" and his confederates continue to extract wealth and power off our post-Emancipation wage-slave status.

Chronixx should have demanded reparations from the United States and other European powers for their enslavement of Africans and the underdevelopment of Africa and former slaveholding societies in the Americas. That would have probably created a media storm and public reaction of biblical proportions.

Adwoa N. Onuora, PhD, is a feminist and an educator in the post-secondary education sector. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and aonuora@gmail.com