At the mention of the Caribbean Twin State of Trinidad and Tobago, the thoughts that run through the mind of an average Ghanaian is perhaps regular participation in world beauty contests, deep blue seas, pretty ladies and an oil producing nation.
However, as fate would have it, a stopover visit to Trinidad and Tobago would unearth a totally different story about who the Trinidadians really are and the general orientation of their mindset. In one word, my natural choice would be PREJUDICED.
Time check and it is 21:00 hours on the 10th of June, 2019 and in typical airport style the announcement is made, “Passages travelling on KLM flight KL 590 to Amsterdam should please complete departure formalities and proceed to boarding gate six (6).”
The pages of the travelogue are thus opened and this time round, it is destination Trinidad and Tobago for the third stopover of the President of the Republic’s five-nation Caribbean tour to promote the proclamation of the year 2019 as the “Year of Return”.
At about 22:00 hours local time in Ghana, the team of three, Nelson Awuku Mensah, Eric Acquah and yours truly, Wilberforce Asare, are airborne enroute to Amsterdam, then to New York and finally to Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago. After seven (7) hours of travel, we safely disembarked at Schiphol International Airport and connected on Delta Airline flight DL 312 to New York City.
The 8-hour flight was smooth and the team successfully got admitted into New York City. Our four and a half hour connecting flight on Caribbean Airlines from New York to Trinidad and Tobago was some five hour away. We were thus offered a brilliant opportunity to explore the JFK International Airport and also to grab a bite before the last of our three flights from Accra to Trinidad and Tobago.
17:00 hours local time in New York, the team of three were aboard Caribbean Airlines flight BW 525 for our four and a half hour flight to Port of Spain.
At about 21:45 hours local time in Trinidad and Tobago, on the 11th of June, 2019, we got off the flight to complete our 30 hours of travel from Accra to Trinidad and Tobago. The next step was to complete arrival formalities, get a visa on arrival, pick our bags and proceed to the Hilton Trinidad Hotel, but here comes the defining moment.
Upon presentation of our passports (Regular) to the Trinidadian Boarder Agency officials at the Piarco International Airport, they questioned our mission in Trinidad and Tobago and demanded to know where we would be staying during our visit. The team indicated to them that President Akufo Addo was visiting their nation and we were part of the team he was traveling with. At this point, the immigration official, from all indications, had become suspicious of us and the claims we are making of being a part of a team traveling with the President of Ghana, much to our surprise.
The boarder officials then asked us to take a seat as they went ahead to verify whether or not we were indeed part of a team traveling with the President. After two hours of waiting, we were called to the desk and told that the Trinidad and Tobago immigration and airport authority have decided to refuse us entry into Trinidad and that at the next available flight, they would be sending us back to the last place we were before coming to Trinidad. O yes, total shock and dismay at the level of prejudice and unwillingness on the part of the boarder officials to give us a fair hearing and to even confirm either their Foreign Ministry and the Ghana Mission in Cuba who have concurrent jurisdiction in Trinidad and Tobago on who we really are and what our mission was.
The officials proceeded to complete their documentation for purposes of deporting us from Trinidad. When they demanded of us to sign the deportation documents, we refused to do same. Realizing that they were in for a standoff with us, they decided to detain us at a detention centre at the airport until they could get us on a flight back to New York which was our last port of entry before we arrived in Port of Spain. From about 12:00 Midnight (04:00 hours GMT) to 9:00am (13:00 hours), all three of us were locked up at the detention without anyone saying anything to us.
With the aid of the Wi-Fi connection at the airport, we managed to make contact with officials of the Foreign Ministry in Ghana, our colleague journalists and some government officials to get the word out there about our detention and possible removal from Trinidad. After 10 solid hours in detention, it took a call from the National Security Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to get the immigration officials to rescind their earlier decision to refuse us entry and admit us into Trinidad.
Off to the Hilton Hotel
The Three Detainees take a selfie after we were cleared
After cancelling the refusal stamp in out passports without prejudice (CWP), we were cleared to exit the airport. It took us about 30 minutes of waiting to retrieve our bags as they had been processed and tagged as a “Special Case” for deportation. When our bags were finally delivered to us, the three would-be detainees jumped into a tax for the 30 minutes journey to “hilly” Hilton Hotel. Our intended 12th of June, 2019, 10:00pm arrival at the hotel had effectively changed to 11:00am, 13th of June, 2019 arrival.
Upon arrival at the Hilton Hotel, Ghanaian officials from the Cuban Embassy were readily available to assist us. We were first ushered to have our breakfast while we waited for our hotel rooms. Having had very little sleep over the challenging period since our arrival in Trinidad, the “three detainees” obviously had need of sleep and that we did.
Arrival of Mr. President
President and Commander in Chief of the Trinidad and Tobago Armed Forces, Paula-Mae Weekes, was at the Airport to receive President Akufo Addo
President Akufo Addo and his entourage were scheduled to arrive at the Piarco Airport at 11:00pm (03:00am GMT). After our much needed rest, the entire ground force comprising the officials of Trinidad and Ghana moved from the Hotel to the VIP section of the Trinidad airport. At about 23:10 hours GMT, President Akufo Addo and his entourage touched down at the airport. In-spite of the late arrival, a guard of honour was formed and the President of Trinidad and Tobago and other high ranking officials of state came to formally welcome President Akufo Addo. After the inspection of the guard of honour and the playing of the national anthems of Ghana and Trinidad, President Akufo Addo’s motorcade departed the VIP section enroute to the Hotel. Effectively, the first day of the Trinidad and Tobago stopover had ended.
The Busy Day Kicks Off
President Akufo Addo laying a wreath at the Memorial Park in Port of Spain
Having proclaimed 2019, as the “Year of Return” to Ghana, the 400th anniversary of the commencement of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, when the first 20 West African slaves landed in Jamestown, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the commemoration, according to President Akufo-Addo, “is a statement of our determination that never again should the African peoples permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanizing conditions, sold into slavery, and have their freedoms curtailed in order to build up forcibly, countries other than their own, and create wealth for the peoples of unknown lands to which they were sent, wealth from whose enjoyment they were largely excluded.”
The events of the “Year of Return” are, above all, aimed at solidifying relations with descendants of Africa resident in the Americas and the Caribbean, who have been defined as the Sixth Region of the Africa Union.
What President Akufo Addo wrote in the Visitors book at the Office of the President of Trinidad.
During the Trinidad and Tobago stopover, the President on the 13th of June, 2019, laid a wreath at the Memorial Park in the capital city, Port of Spain. He subsequently paid a courtesy call on the President and Commander in Chief of the Trinidad and Tobago Armed Forces, Paula-Mae Weekes. He proceeded to the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, [the Diplomatic Centre], Dr. The Honorable Keith Rowley, for a private meeting, a bilateral session and a luncheon, signed the Visitors book after which both leaders addressed a press conference.
A Case for the “Year of Return”
President Akufo Addo, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Tourism and Creative Arts in a Picture with the President of Trinidad and Tobago after their meeting.
President Akufo Addo during the joint press briefing with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, at the Diplomatic Center in the capital city, Port of Spain, called on the peoples of Trinidad and Tobago to come over to Ghana and join in the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the start of the Trans-Atlantic Slavery dubbed “The Year of Return,” to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Africans both on the continent and in the Americas have overcome slavery.
“The commemoration should enable us and the African Union to consolidate and strengthen our links with our sixth region, that is, the African diaspora. As we mark the 400th anniversary, come and visit and let us together demonstrate that we have overcome. It says on the last door leading out of the dungeon from the slave castles that dot our coastline, “Door Of No Return.” Let us show we can return, we have returned, and we have conquered the humiliation and degradation of four hundred years ago,” President Akufo Addo said. The President added that he looked forward to many Trinidadians taking up the invitation extended to them by Ghana to be part of the celebration.
Possible Air Services Agreement
Logo of the Caribbean Airlines
In response to a question posed to both President Akufo Addo and Prime Minister Keith Rowley, on whether or not there is a possibility of an air services agreement between Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago that will serve as a direct link between West Africa and the Caribbean which is currently nonexistent, Prime Minister Rowley indicated that during the bilateral discussions he had with President Akufo Addo, it did come up and he is optimistic that further consultations will be carried out in that regard to work out modalities for a possible Air Services Agreement that would see Caribbean Air flying directly to Ghana as well as other parts of the African continent.
President Akufo Addo, welcomed the idea of a possible Air Services Agreement between Ghana and Trinidad. He indicated that within the frame work of the ongoing discussion between Ghana and Ethiopian Airlines, a direct flight route between Ghana and the Caribbean world will be given consideration to explore the possibilities of having same.
The Ghanaian Community
Some Members of the Ghanaian Community in Trinidad and Tobago
A meeting with the Ghanaian National Association in Trinidad and Tobago at the Hilton Hotel was the last event that effectively climaxed the President’s day in Trinidad and Tobago. President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, in his opening remarks indicated that he had brokered a deal with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. The Honourable Keith Rowley, for a Ghanaian who had been in detention for over five years in Trinidad to be released and reintegrated into the society of the twin state Caribbean nation.
President Akufo Addo said in his private meeting with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, it had been resolved that the Ghanaian who was in jail for immigration problems, was to be released in honour of his visit.
“There are one or two Nigerians who are also going to benefit from the gesture,” President Akufo Addo said.
According to Peter Johnson, a member of the Ghanaian National Association in Trinidad and Tobago, the Ghanaian in detention is known to the Association as Musa Ibrahim. He was arrested by the border agency officials of Trinidad and Tobago when he tried traveling by sea with his child to neighboring Venezuela.
Upon his arrest, they requested that he called his wife to show up at the immigration office to prove that he had ties in Trinidad and Tobago. When his wife responded to the demand of the Trinidadian officials, they handed over the couple’s daughter to the wife and took custody of the Ghanaian and he had been in detention since then.
Mr. Johnson expressed great delight in the efforts of the President to get their friend not only released but reintegrated into society. He urged Ghanaian officials to follow up and ensure that the pledge of the Trinidadians is carried out fully.
President Akufo Addo in his address cautioned the Ghanaians resident in Trinidad and Tobago to do all within their power to observe fully the immigration laws of the country they are domiciled in currently.
“You can come into this country visa free, there is no need therefore to get on the wrong side of the immigration authorities. If you come in and you want to stay, go through the process and stay,” the President advised.
In his travels around the world, the President said he had observed that one of the things that is always very satisfying is when his host tells him how Ghanaians living abroad are law abiding and hardworking.
“It always encourages me when I hear that information. Let us try and maintain this reputation,” the President admonished the Ghanaians resident in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Ghanaians resident in Trinidad and Tobago raised several issues such as their immigration challenges in Trinidad, the spate of armed robbery and kidnapping cases in Ghana and challenges they have had with the judicial system in Ghana. Their concerns and issues were documented by the officials of Ghana’s Mission in Cuba as well as officials from the Presidency with the assurance they would be addressed forthwith.
A member of the Ghanaian Community in a discussion with the Minister for Tourism and Creative Arts
Benjamin Afotey, one of the several Ghanaians resident in Trinidad and Tobago beseeched the President and for that matter, government, to facilitate his return to Ghana in order to access health care. He said he had been taken ill for a long time now and was practically unable to get proper medical attention in Trinidad. President Akufo Addo assured him that government through the foreign mission in Cuba will certainly facilitate his return home for same.
A Treat by Republic Bank
President Akufo Addo Receiving an Artwork from the group chairman of the Republic Financial Holdings Limited of Trinidad and Tobago
The last event of the day was a dinner organized by the majority shareholders of the Republic Bank in Ghana, (Republic Financial Holdings Limited) Trinidad and Tobago, in honour of President Akufo Addo. The Republic Bank Ghana Limited, formerly HFC Bank, is a commercial bank licensed by the Bank of Ghana. In May 2015, Republic Financial Holdings Limited (RFHL) became the majority shareholder in HFC Bank with 57.11% equity stake following the Mandatory Tender Offer (MTO) to shareholders with the approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Bank of Ghana.
President Akufo Addo in a brief address at the dinner congratulated the bank for their success in the Ghanaian financial space. He challenged the ownership of the bank to venture into new and innovative products that will shore up the business of the bank even higher.
The President Departs
Early the following morning, 14th of June, 2019, at about 8am, the motorcade of the President departed the Hilton Hotel to the airport. The President and his entourage were all set to depart Trinidad and Tobago to Barbados for the last but one stop of his Caribbean tour.
The T&T Love for Art
Some Artworks on display at the foyer of the Hilton Hotel
Trinidad and Tobago has a prolific history of art and many internationally recognized painters and sculptors call this islands home. All through the stay in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), I noticed the Trinidadian love for art. At every turn and in every space, you are invited to admire one artwork or the other. Perhaps, it was not surprising that the Hilton Hotel was awash with multiple artist impressions for the guests who were visiting the hotel the week in question.
T&T and Music
A Steel Pan Player entertaining guest at the foyer of the Hilton Hotel
At the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, the love for music by Trinidadians was visible. What caught my attention more was the instruments that were used by the artists to generate quintessential rhythms to entertain guests everywhere. No recording can match the pure adrenaline of hearing the instrument that was designed and perfected in Trinidad, the “Steel Pan”.
The NAPA Building
National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) classic edifice
At the heart of the city of Port of Spain is the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA). The classic edifice depicts the level of importance the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago attaches to the arts. It is not surprising that the carnival season in Trinidad is the tune-up, rebalancing and release that according to Trinidadians, “must be mandatory for all human beings”.
The team of three Detainees at the Airport for the return journey
Due to the visa requirements for travels out of Ghana and flight arrangements, the advance team for the visit to Trinidad and Tobago had to depart with multiple flights. The three detainees however had to depart on a Caribbean Airline flight to New York and subsequently on a Delta Airline flight to Accra.
After a smooth flight to New York City, our Delta Airline flight was over booked and the team of three were put on the waiting list. Eventually, we got rescheduled on a Delta Airline flight to Amsterdam and subsequently a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Accra. Tentatively instead of our 2:30pm 15th of June arrival in Ghana, we arrived on Sunday the 16th of June, 2019.
The Writer of the Travelogue, Wilberforce Asare
The trip to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean can best be described as “OH WHAT A JOURNEY!” For the long hours of traveling, to the 10 hours of detention, the busy and tight schedule of the President, revelations about destination Trinidad coupled with another long and winding return journey, it is true when they say, ” travel and see.” A strong case has been made for the “Year of Return” initiative. The Ghana Tourism Authority together with the Ministry of Tourism have a duty to ensure that the country’s doors remain open to all persons who will be making the “Year of Return” journey to Ghana.
The quest to foster a good relationship between Ghana, and for that matter Africa and Caribbean is a welcome call. However, the nonexistence of direct flights between virtually the whole of Africa and the Caribbean world is a big worry. A direct flight for example between Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago would have been an eight and a half hour journey but it however took me and my two colleagues some 28 hours of travel to make the same journey. On the “suspect everything and everyone” attitude of the Trinidadians, it is obviously an unfortunate phenomenon for a country whose motto is “Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve”. Very little is achieved when a relationship is premised on Suspicion ab initio.
The pages of the travelogue takes a bow for now. Watch the space for where next the pages will be flipped open.
Me thank y’all!