By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 22, 2021
During my late teens, I was a passionate consumer and participant of the wisdom that was dispensed, free of charge, at the University of Woodford Square. I remember the atheistic comments that erupted from John Craig’s mouth and I was afraid of and for him. How could someone so blatantly berate a God who controlled our destiny and even knew that we would bounce our feet before it happened? Although these discourses and diatribes were conducted in a sarcastic manner, they were always humorous, non-threatening, and tolerant.
Today the members of our society, even at the highest levels, act in an aggressive, intolerant and rude manner. They lack civility and respect for one another. When a junior senator calls the president of the nation “an insipid jack… [who] has facilitated what this bully, this coward, called Keith Rowley, has done” and this said prime minister advises a citizen, “Kiss my ass,” then, as the old people used to say, “We reach way we going,” no matter where our destination is.
T&T is in crisis. Our political leadership is fractured and faith in our leaders leaves much to be desired. I cannot recall when last the prime minister took his citizens into his confidence, leveled with them, and explained where he or his party wants to take the nation. The Tobago House of Assembly’s elections will be held within the next two weeks. However, it received “a further $50 million from the government to assist hoteliers and displaced workers in the accommodation sector still reeling from the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic” (Newsday November, 19).
Nothing is wrong with the central government assisting the THA at a time of peril. However, dispensing such largess two weeks before the election suggests a certain amount of political panic amongst the PNM leadership. Winston James calls it “an act of political desperation.” Vanus James opines: “The PNM is just desperate. They think they can buy out the people of Tobago and this is as big a bribe you can think of.”
The PNM should go back into its political history to find the leadership its people desire. It may even want to see what has worked in the past and how it can speak to the better instincts of its people. Buying out people or exploiting their animal desires works only for the moment. It does not ensure the long-term well-being of the party or the development of the society.
Simon Kuper, a columnist for the Financial Times, identified three types of political leaders in democracies: The first are the managers who promise “to conserve existing structures while making better, non-ideological decisions. They generally emerge in good times, such as the 1988-2008 era” and include leaders such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Secondly, there are the opportunists who just want to win elections, politicians such as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.
The third type are the transformative leaders who “focus on one or two cherished priorities. They will trade away all other aspirations to achieve them. Nelson Mandela…prioritized one-person-one vote for South Africa [while] Winston Churchill prioritized beating Hitler, and left behind a debt-ridden, improvised but victorious nation. His successor, Clement Atlee, prioritized building a welfare state” (FT, November 13).
Transformative politicians are usually charismatic leaders. T&T had its own transformative leader in Eric Williams who prioritized the achievement of national independence over everything else. Many citizens identified with his goals and embraced his objective as their own. They were willing, literally, to die for him and the cause he represented. In the early sixties I heard one of our elders say: “Is three people ah willing to kill for: ma mother, Gary Sobers, and Eric Williams.”
Afro-Trinbagonians saw Williams as an intellectual genius and identified him as one of the brightest men in the world. We even compared him to William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England. Thus, the Mighty Sparrow sang: “Praise little Eric, rejoice and be glad/ We have a better future here in Trinidad/ PNM, it ain’t have nobody like them/ For they have a champion leader: William the Conqueror.”
David Bell, a professor at Princeton University, examined the careers of five of the most outstanding leaders of the 19th century (Pasquale Paoli, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture, and Simon Bolivar). He noted: “Each of these men was widely hailed as a redeemer who had arisen in the midst of frightful crisis and supposedly saved people from otherwise certain destruction….In each case, salvation was credited both to the men’s supposedly extraordinary military skill and also to their ability to inspire and unify entire populations behind them” (Men on Horseback).
Williams began his political campaign in 1955 by drawing on the wisdom of Booker T. Washington, the great African-American leader, who advised his people to “lay their buckets down” where they were and to act in their best interest.
In 1929 Wallace Thurman, an African-American novelist, was afraid that his major character that was “running up blind alleys all of which seemed to converge and lead her ultimately to the same blank wall.” He warned her: “Find—not seek…. Life was most kind to those who were judicious in their selections” (The Blacker the Berry).
Great leaders seek to unify their people and give them a reason to struggle for something bigger than themselves. Perhaps the time has come for PNM and UNC to sit down and find out what their people need rather than vooping all over the place and bringing their followers to grief.
What are the one or two cherished priorities of our leaders?
They should also determine how to be respectful to one another and, by extension, to the nation?