By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 23, 2018
An acknowledgement: I am Dr. Keith Rowley’s friend. I consider him a person of impeccable character and integrity, someone who will not willingly tell a lie to save his or any other person’s crime or misdemeanor. Although I have not always agreed with his policies, he is an eminently trustworthy person and possesses the courage to withstand the storms of adverse publicity that seeks to ground his name into the dust.
My friendship with Rowley goes back to twenty-three years ago when he ran for the leadership of the PNM against Patrick Manning. I supported him then as now because of his conviction of purpose, his unflinching ability to speak truth to power, and his principled position that asserted because Manning had lost the General Election he had an obligation to step down as party leader.
I was one of the few people that worked with Rowley to formulate his political position. I remember our using William Julius Wilson’s When Work Disappears (1996), a treatise on the importance of work, to formulate Rowley’s position paper (call it a manifesto). It emphasized the centrality of work—not only as a means of making money but as a disciplined way to organize one’s life.
Then as now Dr. Rowley saw work as a process of self-fashioning and a means of developing self-responsibility through which our people could overcome the challenges that continue to face us.
The Thursday before the party’s election Rowley’s internal polling showed him ahead of Manning by a slight margin. Lo and behold, Rowley was defeated on Election Day because forces loyal to Manning formed new party groups—the delegate system was in effect then—that supported Manning’s candidacy. I believe that the disappointment Rowley felt then led to his introduction of the “one man, one vote” that prevails in the PNM party elections today.
I worked with and supported Rowley since then although I have criticized his policies and will continue to do so. I bring some matters to his personal attention while I voice other criticism publicly. I believe in C. L. R. James’s dictum that some criticism should be voiced publicly since they are matters that concern the party and thus must be placed in the public domain for discussion. I feel this responsibility towards him as a conscientious friend and loyal party member.
I do not believe the charges that Dr. Roodal Moonilal has made against Rowley. Rowley is an honest man who respects his people and his office. Sometimes he displays more sympathy towards other groups at the expense of those who remain the bastion of his party’s success. He should be careful about this. PNM would be dead in the water if black people did not support the party in massive numbers.
Rowley may be arrogant, contemptuous, and sharped-tongued, but he always displays a forthrightness that leads him to act in a decisive manner as he did in the Petrotrin matter. He seldom equivocates on matters of national importance. There is no malevolence in his actions vis-à-vis OWTU nor did he act in a “vindictive manner” against union workers as Ancil Roget, another important leader in the community, has claimed.
Rowley and his government should be more transparent in their dealings with the public on issues such as the Sandals Hotel and the building of the port in La Brea. A democracy cannot function efficiently if its leaders withhold information from its public. The government should act in a more consultative manner when it deals with issues that affect our national development.
Rowley, however, is a human being who knows and feels the pain of being a black man in a postcolonial society. Every time I listen to the raspy timbre of his voice, I hear the pains of a whole historical experience of oppression and suffering. Then, I am reminded of the blues, the spirituals, and the calypso through which black people expressed their sufferings so plaintively for such a long time.
Rowley detractors have called him a child of rape and urged their children to stay away from him. Now he is accused of being a fraud, subjected to insulting innuendoes, open insults, and sotto voce name calling. Each allegation is designed to force him into a darkened dungeon where his enemies wish to encase him. In their rantings, they depict him as a child of darkness.
James Baldwin, the African American novelist, has said that the blues “is a structure of feeling. It has loss and sorrow, suffering and complaint, the cry of trouble and tribulation. But it also carries the promise of freedom and the celebratory shout of ‘jubilee’ embedded in its cadences. It often takes us to a dark place, but it never leaves us there” (Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger.)
Moonilal’s intention is clear. He says: “This matter will follow Rowley to his political grave” (Express, October 16). But Rowley will be victorious. Many of us believe he is innocent in this matter. My mother used to say there is always darkness before the dawn. Even those who despise him will wake up to find him black but comely, a shining manifestation of the best amongst us.
As I witness Rowley’s persecution I only conjure up dark memories of a lynching.