Reign of the Hyenas


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 13 Oct 03


It was hours before the budget was to be read. The former Finance Minister, Selby Wilson, an amenable and bright man, sitting under the hot lights of CCN’s studio, was speaking of “transformation”.  It’s a word often used by technocrats and I don’t always understand what they mean by it. I asked him to explain.


As he spoke, images filled my head – not of budgets and Ministers and the price of oil – but of a children’s film. “This cannot be happening” I berated myself, trying to steady my mind, trying to visualise what he was saying, “It’s about bringing about change”.


The stored image in my head moved in slow motion. I saw a baby cub frolicking through a village where the grass was green, the hills rolling, streams bubbling. Nearby, its fond parents gesticulated proudly towards their son. This was a contented and prosperous kingdom.


With the coming of the hyenas everything changed. In their myopic and obsessive thirst for power they ran ramshackle throughout the land, grabbing at precious resources, living for the day, failing to plan for the next, clamouring over one another for power, slaughtering the innocent, creating a wasteland.


I came back to life with a start. “Transformation”. So that’s what he means. I thought of the coming of the hyenas. In order to understand how the hyenas destroyed an entire kingdom you have to study the character of the pack. They are menacing, greedy, unimaginative, with a flimsy intellect but also flashy and charming because power is attractive. They are utterly indifferent to those sharing their environment and lack empathy. They are self-seeking and wily and stupidity only makes them more dangerous.


The hyenas have been running wild amongst us for decades as we watched helplessly. You may not see skeletons on a desert land, but it’s close. In a country of 1.3 million people more than 300,000 live on less than US$2 a day. Only one out of two people – that’s over 600,000 amongst us – are capable of reading and understanding a newspaper. Twenty-six percent of all our people – that’s 338,000 people - are completely illiterate.  That is, some 338,000 can’t read and write at all. They can’t sign their own names, fill out a job application, read signs, or do a simple eye test.


The hyenas did more damage with their stupidity over the years – they created an education system that spews out a failure rate of over 50% at CXC so that thousands of children join the work force every year without passes in English and Math. And although we have a University campus here, and although we are part of the University of the West Indies, only 7% of our student population makes it to University.


Imagine this landscape – of the hundreds of thousands of the impoverished, of the illiterate amongst us – and the talk is of vision 2020. The figures come out of an ALTA study – the only adult tutor literacy programme in the country. A University of West Indies study confirms these numbers. And really, do you need to look at statistics to know that hundreds of thousands of our people are illiterate and impoverished? Listen to the young girl who says she wants show her HIV/AIDS infected boyfriend she loves him by having unprotected sex. Listen to the young man saying he dosen’t care if the baby is born HIV positive, he just wants to leave “something behind”. Listen to the young bandit who, not content with robbing two men at a taxi stand, urges his accomplice to “pull the trigger, pull the trigger”. Listen to the barely articulate voices, unthought out thoughts.


How do I know, you must ask, how can one tell that the hyenas have been gnashing their teeth and rushing into caverns with the spoils? Did I mention the stupidity of the hyenas? They build shells, symbols of modernity and success and house them with the wretched of the earth. There’s the National Library, built with millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. And lo and behold the students who go there don’t understand its purpose. They don’t know how to use a library. They don’t care for books. They don’t have discipline, or love of knowledge, or an understanding of how books can open up whole hemispheres for them. Neither do most of their parents. And many teachers don’t read either. Just go into an average home in Trinidad and Tobago and examine how many books you will find there apart from technical or academic books people are forced to buy. Listen to the noise in our homes, offices and cars every day – the blabber, blather of televisions, radios, CDs. We are afraid to be quiet because then we’ll have to acknowledge that we are turning into empty shells.


The illiteracy and poverty created by the hyenas that mask themselves as politicians is criminal.


Did I mention the stupidity of the hyenas?


Now they are asking questions. Where is the crime coming from? Why are children partying and swearing and going on to porn websites in libraries? Why are young angry men without humanity? The answer was there all the time. Poverty. Illiteracy. The figures are here to see. We don’t need grandiose buildings or bridges across the sea. We need to pump more than half of that $22 billion budget into educating our children and adults. Will it happen? No. Hyenas – it dosen’t matter what political party they belong to, rarely read.


Transformation – I heard that word again. We all recognise the need for it, but the hyenas rule.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur