By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 19, 2018
I sympathize with Camille Robinson-Regis’s concerns about the inability of some commentators “to declare their political hand” before offering their scathing criticism against the PNM or even their reluctance to mention some of PNM’s achievements (see Letter of the Day, Express, March 10).
Full disclosure. I am a member of the PNM but do not consider myself “PNM ’till ah dead.” I have supported the PNM since its inception in 1956; have voted for no other party, although I abstained from voting in 2010.
In 1989 Professor Joel Krieger and I sat with the late Patrick Manning for about ten days and wrote Vision 2020, a signature document of the party. I worked with Keith Rowley when he challenged Manning’s leadership of the party in 1996, and avidly supported his quest to defeat the People’s Partnership in 2015. I wrote the introduction to his book, From Mason Hall to Whitehall, because I believed that he had the potential to be a great prime minister.
Having disclosed my party affiliation, I do not feel compelled to support PNM ’till ah dead, if in my considered judgment, it does not live up to the promises it made to its people in 2015 and if the country continues to be an unsafe place in which to live.
So when Camille Robinson-Regis points out the accomplishments of the government—and we can be proud of some of them—she fails to understand the more substantial point: people feel unsafe and afraid in their communities and that is the biggest negative against the government.
A week ago I listened to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia, outline her accomplishments over the past twelve years. Listening to her and examining her accomplishments, I was convinced anew that Dr. Rowley’s style of leadership leads to a dead end.
I am aware that there are different theories of leadership, many of which are generated by a people’s culture and their social interaction. Max Weber identified four types of leadership: charismatic, transactional, transformative and servant.
Over the years we have grown accustomed to the “the great man theory” of leadership in which there is a pretension that one person (usually, a man) has all the answers to all our problems. We, as followers, only have to follow the leader and all other good things will follow therefrom. Most of all, never question his wisdom nor his leadership.
Dr. Williams presented himself as a combination of the great man in history and a schoolmaster who was always solicitous of his charges. Sometimes he also had to deal harshly with errant students. He blended an authoritarian personality with messianic zeal and rousing oratory that allowed for people’s participation through the various party organs, his “Meet the People” tours, and noninterference in their daily lives.
In 1961 C. L. R. James broke with Dr. Williams’s style of leadership even though he understood his accomplishments. After citing the achievements of Captain Arthur Cipriani and Uriah “Buzz” Butler, he declared: “Dr. Williams introduced party government into politics. But the people who crowded to hear him were not primarily concerned with a form of government. They were ready to form a new and modern society” (Party Politics in the West Indies.)
Dr. Williams arrived at a particular moment in our history, which encouraged a heavy-handed form of leadership that has outlived its usefulness. He was successful because, as Lloyd Best said: “People trusted Williams. They always felt he had the interests of the country at heart” (New York Times, November 5, 1981)
The present PNM government is mired in a form of governance that has outlived its past. The party leadership (and by extension, the government’s leadership) has become ossified. While the great man/schoolmaster type of leadership was adequate during the last fifty years of the 20th century it’s not good enough for the second decade of the 21st century.
A form of transactional leadership that utilizes the talent of all the party and government members might be more appropriate to the present moment. Such an approach sees the leader as one who guides, motivates and inspires his troops; adapts one’s leadership style to the different elements within the party; involves all segments of the party in the governance of the society; encourages creativity and provides intellectual stimulation among the party members; and is not afraid to be vulnerable.
Leaders lead by example. They do not insult women, call on their opponents to come outside Parliament to settle a score, or devalue the contributions of team members.
The most nauseating thing to this party member is the sight of Minister Stuart Young speaking on every conceivable subject as though the government is a two-member team. When I voted for the PNM I didn’t know that in so doing I elected Young as deputy Prime Minister.
A backward party cannot lead a forward people. Like James, I would like to believe that building a safe, modern society where people can realize their personhood without fear still remains the goal of the PNM. The list of accomplishments that Robinson-Regis puts forward may be the necessary conditions for our happiness. They are far from being a sufficient cause to celebrate ourselves.