By: Hawa Wesseh
Little did American idol judge Nicki Minaj know that her comments praising Liberian native Zoanette Johnson on national television in Las Vegas would be so polarizing that Trinidadians would take to social media and the news circuits to denounce the rapper for daring to mention her country and war torn Liberia in the same breadth of sentence, but if they looked closer they probably would have seen a connection. Rolling Stone: “Ten more girls faced sudden-death elimination in Las Vegas last night as American Idol culled its top 40 down to a lean 20,” said America’s premier music magazine the night after.
Liberia’s Zoanette Johnson who brought the house down on season twelfth on the American Idol competition received kudos from idol judges, and particularly from Nicki Minaj who was teary eyes when she said, “Listen Zoanette, you make me so emotional; you came from Liberia, all those siblings, they are going to get a chance to see you on this show. I am so proud of you. I’m so proud that this place gives people like you and people like me, who came from absolutely nothing, a place that we didn’t think we’d make it out alive from, it gives us the chance.” This is what started all the fuss, and war of words.
Minaj comment and praise immediately sparked outrage within Trinidad &Tobago [T&T], and its greater diaspora, concerned that Africa’s first republic founded by freemen of color in the 1800s was too war torn a place and too backward an African country to be compared to her country which is competing with Jamaica and other Caribbean countries for tourism dollars.
In the eyes of her countrymen/women she did her nation of birth a disfavor, “never mind that Liberia has a strong tradition of welcoming Caribbean people of origin to their country and conferring citizenship on them before their national calamity,” said Moses Toe. “They need to read about Ambassador George Padmore and the Padmore family and others, these people,” he said in a rage of disbelieve shaking his head.
T&T Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz said he wasn’t sure what Minaj’s meant by her “nothing” comments. Cadiz said further explanation was needed. “I am not casting aspersions on Brooklyn [where Minaj grew up before leaving the T&T at age five ] but I don’t know if she had a hard life in the States…She would have to explain what she meant,” by the declaration, the minister said.
Although observers say Minaj meant no harm considering that both countries are considered poor by the United Nations Human Development Index, “the reactions of Trinidadians to Minaj statement were probably going a little bit too far,” said a sociology professor at the University of Liberia. “It is almost homophobic, and pathetic,” he said “when you read the things they are saying about another black country that has been through so much of suffering and war.
That another black diaspora nation like Trinidad will bad mouth Liberia given the turbulent history of this first independent country in Africa which welcomed many diaspora blacks at its foundation and still today including Caribbeans and Trinidadians is a shame!”
He said on the UN Human Development Index both countries had the same marks when it came to poverty. Trinidad is not rich, it is poor,” he said. Continuing further the professor told The Liberian Listener, that “Liberia have really been through some tough times, the Barclay family that ruled Liberia and give us two presidents came from the Barbados and many Caribbeans emigrated to this country including Padmores from Trinidad, I don’t see why the little island nation is hype over Minaj comments,” he concluded.
On the Trinidad and Tobago News Blog, Trinidadians had these comments about Minaj:
Said poster Mamoo “Liberia was ruled by Charles Taylor a Trini. That is the only connection Trinidad has with that nation. Nicki is reflecting on her own brush with death in Trinidad…”
Neal seems the most vocal of the bunch “Who cares?” he said. “Ain’t most of ur fellow citizens, did dat on a daily basis, up to two years ago, as they refer to it in the same derogatory breath ,as Middle East, war torn Gaza…” adding that she “uses every opportunity to put it down[Trinidad&Tobago] , as well as similar Caribbean nations , as a bunch of backwards, social pigmyes…Ain’t we experiencing similar tribal purges , akin to dat which had occurred in Oil/ diamond rich Liberia , under de noble European / Yankee, one time puppet, Charles Taylor? Ain’t we about to pass laws to give our military powers of arrest, just like Liberia…?”
Liberians spoken to for this article said no laws are passed in their country giving the military powers to arrest citizens either arbitrarily or constitutionally.
Another poster who goes by the name Kumara came out swinging, “How dear[dare] Nicki compare Trinidad to Liberia. I am ashamed that people like…her are even born here. Bringing down the name of a country you supposedly grew up in….she have no class, acting like a spoilt brat on American Idol…”
Liberia is building its own tourism industry, say observers. For example, former BET and Charlotte Bobcats owner billionaire tycoon Robert Johnson’s Kendeja Resorts is a five star beach hotel located near the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia. As investors confidence returns, so is Liberia also posting impressive annual growth rates under Africa’s first female President, Harvard trained, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, at 6percent consistently the last few years, reports say. Sirleaf is also co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
In five years under the leadership of Sirleaf’s Unity Party -led government, the country has attracted about 16billion worth of investments. Liberia is making progress say monetary experts. “Recent economic developments have been broadly encouraging…the US dollar has been broadly stable, and international reserves have increased,” said Christopher Lane of the International monetary Fund [IMF].
Even the Trinidad Guardian Newspaper joined the chorus positing somehow, that Minaj had not done her nation any favors by the comparison, when it said “last week’s commentary [by the idol judge], which paralleled her childhood experiences in T&T with a Liberia still recovering from bloody civil wars, are the flip side of depending on celebrities to promote a national image. In an editorial titled “Living in Liberia.”
“So what’s all the fuss about…?” asked Moses Toe, who shrugged his shoulders when The Liberian Listener asked him to comment further given the news out of T&T about Minaj. “Ask them,” he said. “If they don’t want Nicki in Trinidad she can come home to Liberia, we will take her.”