By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 04, 2022
A few weeks ago, Express journalist Ria Taitt asked PNM political leader and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley whether he would be presenting himself as a candidate for the leadership of the party. He responded: “I was elected in a general election for the term 2020 to 2025. I have a responsibility to complete the mandate that the electorate gave me, but I can only do so by being the PNM leader. My term of office as PNM leader ends this year so there will be an internal election, and to serve out my mandate as Prime Minister I am obligated to seek an extension of my term as political leader of the PNM.”
The political leader’s response was “politically correct”, filled with the political niceties that one expects from the holder of these two important positions. However, it seems that Taitt was going after something much deeper; that is, how much longer he wishes to hold on to the leadership of the party, and why.
Some people were surprised by the evasiveness of this response since he had said on election night in August 2020 that he will be giving up the leadership of the party, declaring triumphantly: “I have places to go, people to see.” Endorsing this position, his wife said in a TTT interview that she was looking forward to his (their) return to private life. Bliss, it seems, was about to return to the Prime Minister’s private life.
Twenty months after that announcement, the political leader seems to be going back on his commitment. However, many people are convinced he is not as focused on the job as he should be. They are disappointed with his leadership style within the party and how he conducts himself publicly as the Prime Minister. Some party members speak in hushed tones about his rudeness and aggressiveness towards his colleagues and the perceived favouritism he shows towards certain Cabinet ministers, especially those of Indo-Trinidadian descent.
Many ardent members of the party recoiled in horror at the disrespect Rowley displayed recently towards the Speaker of the House (even though he selected her for that role); his haranguing of Rodney Charles; and his jeering of Wayne Mark’s physical disability. Only a bully behaves in this way.
This is not to say that picong is not an essential part of our culture, but there are limits as to how far a political leader can conduct himself or herself in public. He should not be seen as being petty nor as seeking vengeance against his/her opponents. A PNM stalwart says, to him, Rowley seems full of an aggressiveness that borders on the maniacal. “He never speaks in measured tones. He is quarrelsome, nor does he possess the savoir faire of his predecessors: Eric Williams, George Chambers, ANR Robinson and Patrick Manning. They had a calm about them. They used diplomacy to get their points across, especially when it came to controversial issues,” he says.
In a letter to the editor, Dennise Demming lamented: “If the Prime Minister can disrespect the Speaker of the House of Parliament, then what do you expect from the other members of Parliament?… If our Prime Minister cannot control his anger and violent behaviour, then what do you expect of citizens?… “The average citizen should look to the party in power for leadership and those who hold the reins of power are obligated to set a tone that is calming and collaborative rather than aggressive and disrespectful. Instead, we continuously witness tones of aggression, anger, and violence from all quarters” (Express, March 27).
Ferdie Ferreira, a faithful PNM member and Rowley loyalist, urged the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to seek common ground. He advised: “The Prime Minister, whatever the past, must take the initiative in changing the tempo [of their interaction] from unproductive and unnecessary confrontation to compromise in the national interest.”
At the First International Congress of Negro Writers and Artists in Paris in 1956, Alioune Diop, editor of Presence Africaine, reminded his audience that we often “lose sight of the natural bond… between politics and culture”.
In April 1959, at the Second International Congress of Writers and Artists in Rome, Williams expanded on Diop’s thoughts when he delivered his lecture, “The Political Leader Considered as a Man of Culture”. He reminded his listeners that culture “was not an embellishment but a way of thinking about one’s society and an integral part of the nationalist struggle for independence”. This vision still remains a challenge, 60 years after independence.
Although Williams was talking about culture in its larger context, he realised that a political leader must conduct himself in a way that reflects the cultural aplomb and social sophistication of his people. Nothing less is expected of him, especially when so many symbols of authority and decorum are breaking down around us. Even Guyana’s Vice President feels he can disrespect us with the least compunction.
Demming best described the nadir to which the Prime Minister has fallen: “Mr Prime Minister: when you asked for our vote, you implied that you would take leadership and show a different path. Instead we continue to be subjected to your language of violence and aggression whether it is in the Parliament, at a political meeting, or at a news conference [or in confrontations with your colleagues].”
The PM should keep his promise and give someone else the chance to lead us to a higher, more dignified ground or what the Rastafarians call “higher heights”.