stabroek news letters February 23, 2017

I have known Mr Ifa Kamau Cush for many years beginning from when he first surfaced in Guyanese public consciousness in the mid-ʼ90s after he returned home and led a grass-roots movement in the African community that was responsible for restoring the 1763 monument.  I cannot recall all the circumstances that led to his exit from Guyana shortly after that successful endeavour. If my memory is anything to go by, his hasty departure in part had to do with the hostility directed against him by the then PPP/C government.

In his recent return to Guyana he emerged not as an African activist but instead as a businessman promoting ‘white capital’, which took the form of convincing leading officials from the Georgetown City Council to sign on to a parking meter project with Smart City Solutions Inc (SCS). In spite of the fact that Cush tried to give the impression that he was the instigator and leading financier of the project it became increasingly clear as time went by that he was in fact, the front man for the company. Cush’s success with the Cuffy monument might have played a role in him winning over key council officials to ink the contract with his business interests, thereby sidelining Mr Saratu Phillips and his Astroloble Technology Inc that had a contract with the council since 2007 for the establishing of parking meters in Georgetown.

While this observation I am now about to make is not directly related to the parking meter project, I think it is worth making since it will help in developing an understanding of the rise and fall of Cush.  In my view he made some impact on public consciousness when he appeared on Mr Christopher Ram’s show, ‘Plain Talk’. In that interview he shocked the moderator and many viewers by his passionate support for Mr Donald Trump and more so, his eventual prediction – to the dismay of Ram ‒ that Trump would win the US presidential elections. As matters turned out he was proven correct. Knowing Cush as I do and taking into consideration his personality, I am convinced that he consciously sought to exploit the renewed attention he got in local political circles, after his ‘Plain Talk’ engagement and successful prediction of a Trump victory in the US presidential elections. In some quarters he was now seen not only as Kamau Cush, an African nationalist, but also as Kamau Cush a US-Guyanese businessman and member of the powerful Republican Party with possibly strong connections in Washington.  Given the above I was not surprised that he continued to find favour with the powers that be, both in City Hall and presumably, by some in central government, and this in spite of the controversy which had already emerged over the parking meters contract.

The parking meter fiasco has been mired in controversy from the inception. Its existence is characterized by secrecy and lack of transparency. The details of the contract were never made known to the full council or to the public whose interest the council was charged with protecting. Only Mayor Patricia Chase Green, Town Clerk Royston King, Chairman of the Finance Committee Oscar Clarke, and Councillor Junior Garrett knew the full extent of the commitments made in the contract. It is clear that these four officials of the city’s administration, in keeping the details of the contract to themselves in the early stage of the project, have done a serious disservice to the citizens of Georgetown whom they have sworn to serve faithfully. This approach to the council and city’s business resulted in opposition in the Georgetown City Council to the behaviour of the four. Led by Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan, demands were made on the Town Clerk and Mayor to make the contract available to councillors. It is widely known that this met with resistance from the Mayor and her Town Clerk. When information on the fees for parking was made public it led to a public outcry that the cost of the parking meter project to Georgetowners and to Guyana on the whole was prohibitive, it forced the intervention of the Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General. The Ministry of Finance condemned the contract and said that it should be renegotiated. This was not done; instead there were several amendments to the original contract and a reduction in the price for parking. Even these changes failed to get the support of the public. A citizens group, MAPM, was formed and the organizers mobilized a successful boycott of the parking meters and also staged protest demonstrations outside City Hall which were attended by hundreds of citizens across political persuasions.

A photograph in one of the daily newspapers showed Mr Cush and the manager of SCS mingling with the protestors in front of City Hall, apparently, trying to convince them to support the project.  However, it was on his Facebook page that Cush vented vicious abuse on those protesting, accusing them of having a slave/indenture mentality and much more. In spite of the public backlash he received and a statement from the company condemning and distancing SCS management from his reprehensible and toxic remarks, he subsequently posted on his Facebook page another statement in which he stated that he stood by his previous remarks, showing neither remorse nor common sense and certainly, no political or business savvy.

While I was not surprised by his stubbornness in not retreating on what he had said, I must admit that I was flabbergasted on two scores:- (1) That Mr Cush who prides himself as a Pan Africanist would have chosen to invoke the question of a slave mentality, which he is aware has its roots in white racism; and (2) in spite of living and doing business in the USA he displayed that level of contempt and disrespect for Guyanese in a politically sensitive, business controversy without any consideration for the consequences on the company and himself.

A second presidential intervention led to an announced 50% reduction in fees, a temporary relaxation of punitive measures for violations of the parking system, a 50% drop in fines and the offer of consultations with stakeholders by the Mayor and Town Clerk. These initiatives have failed to defuse the public outcry against the parking meters. Evidence of this fact was demonstrated by yet another successful demonstration outside City Hall last Friday.  It is now anyone’s guess when and how the protest will end and whether the parking meters project would ever have public acceptance.  Politically, as Mr Desmond Trotman pointed out on Walter Rodney Groundings, a WPA TV show, Mayor Chase Green and Town Clerk Royston King in imposing the draconian parking meter project have succeeding in doing what the opposition PPP failed to do, ie mobilise the citizens of Georgetown in protest in the heart of the APNU+AFC support base. Kamau Cush must be seen as one of those responsible for these series of protest actions in Georgetown.

The announcement that the Smart City Solutions board has demanded and got the resignation of Mr Cush from his position in the company is not surprising. It was in keeping with the practice of companies embroiled in controversy over their business dealings. In those instances they move very quickly to rid themselves of officials who they believe have the potential of worsening their situation. The Board of Directors of SCS, faced with Cush’s defiant cussing out of the citizens protesting the parking meters project, acted in what they concluded was in the best interest of the company.

In closing, Mr Cush’s sudden rise and his subsequent fall from grace is a result of his own doing. However, from the perspective of business and politics the developments surrounding SCS have interesting lessons for those overseas Guyanese who, because they enjoy some leverage with local officials, are anxious to align with foreign investors and introduce them to Guyana’s landscape in conditions not conducive to advancing Guyanese political, economic and social interests. It also challenges local officials who are zealous to ink deals with these foreign-based companies that they have the duty and moral obligation to ensure that from the outset, everything that will ensure transparency and legitimacy of a ‘deal’ is done. Only time will tell whether Guyanese at home and abroad have learned any lesson from the missteps of Mr Ifa Kamua Cush.

 

Yours faithfully,

Tacuma Ogunseye