By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 29, 2010
It was one of the saddest days in the history of the PNM. Party members surrounding the political leader’s car and saying “Go!” It had come to that. As my mother would say in her own inimitable way, “Yo’ does do and do until yo’ can do no more.” And in his own bumbling way, Manning had brought disgrace unto himself and his party by believing that he was beyond the party and the people.
As I saw Manning, I remembered another day only too well: the day when Mr Manning fired Keith Rowley from his post as a minister of government. I was being interviewed by Julian Rogers of CMG television when the news came over the air that Mr Manning had fired Keith because of an infraction he had with Calder Hart. When Rogers asked how I felt about that firing, I made it clear that although Mr Manning was a good prime minister–and in many ways he was–he made a terrible mistake when he fired Keith Rowley, a black man and soldier of the party, for a white man whom nobody knew.
Thereafter, we spent approximately 45 minutes of that interview talking about the inappropriateness of Mr Manning’s choice of Mr Hart. The interview must have been interesting because it ran two or three times on the station within a 24-hour span. That night Mr Manning called me at my home to explain why he had fired Keith. He tried to convince me that Keith had grown uninterested in his job and did not really want to remain as a minister anymore.
In that conversation I brought up the fact that Mr Manning had given Mr Hart too much power and there seemed to be no one to whom Mr Hart was accountable. Mr Manning indicated that a committee of the Legislative Council was in place to do just that and had control over any excesses of Mr Hart. He also indicted that he takes two drinks with a man–that time he was a drinking man: the first when that man is hired and the second when he had completed his job.
I would never know if Mr Manning took his second drink with Mr Hart but it became apparent to me then as it became more apparent as we went along that, in the pursuit of whatever dream he had, Mr Manning had forgotten the first cardinal principle of the PNM: the struggle of a whole cadre of Trinidadian and Tobagonian leaders over the last century to replace foreign men in positions of power with local men and to give the latter as much responsibilities as possible.
When Dr Williams left the Caribbean Commission in 1955, he made it clear that he had done so because of the inability of that important body to recognise and to reward the work of Caribbean men. At his first speech, “My Relations with the Caribbean Commission,” in which he made his entrance into local politics, Dr Williams averred: “I stand before you tonight, and, therefore, before the people of the British West Indies, the representative of a principle, a cause, and a defeat. The principle is the principle of intellectual freedom. The cause is the cause of the West Indian people. The defeat is the defeat of a policy of appointing local men to high office.”
In 1936, Captain Cipriani, a Corsican man of impeccable Trinidadian credentials, opposed the Government vociferously when a measure came before the Legislative Council to grant the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture–the forerunner to the University of the West Indies–8,500 pounds a year for five years. Cipriani indicated that he would vote for the grant if he could be assured that there would be no discrimination against local men in filling positions of leadership at the ICTA and in the economy as a whole.
Like every other progressive member of the society, Capt Cipriani knew that the ICTA, like the oil companies, discriminated against local men. CLR James noted in The Case for West Indian Self-Government that “the oil companies would as sooner appoint a Zulu chief to some of their higher offices than a local man of colour, whatever the qualifications he had gained at the Imperial College?” Even then, it was important that local men be empowered to run their societies.
This was certainly the policy of Dr Williams and the early PNM: localisation, localisation, localisation. Somehow, when Mr Manning came to power, in his quest for speedy development, he forgot that principle. In the course of his rule he seemed to have lost all confidence in local men and their abilities. Very soon it appeared that to be qualified in T&T meant to be white and to possess a foreign accent.
In this denigration of local men (read black men and women), Mr Manning seemed to have forgotten the original pact that the PNM had made with its members. So that when he threw away the government, two and a half years into governance, the wrath of the members descended upon him. In his letter of resignation he tried to assume responsibility for the defeat of his party but, as in so many other things, it was a case of too little, too late and hence the party’s General Council asked him, in the words of a placard, to “step down now,” “PNM is not yours.”
As Keith Rowley assumes the mantle of leadership, it would be wise of him to remember always that the PNM belongs to us. Leadership consists of a dialogue between a leader and his publics. A party atrophies when the leader (or the leaders) forgets this major principle. At this moment of the party’s history, it would be better if we remove ourselves from the one-manism that characterised the tenure of Mr Manning to a broader form of collective leadership that utilises the best talents of the party.
If it is handled well, the departure of Mr Manning can herald a new day for the party and the nation. Somehow, I believe that it will.