Leadership narrative

Tennyson Joseph,

Added 30 October 2012

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ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalves has recently been expressing his concern about the apparent lack of focus – desperation even – exhibited in Caribbean discourse on future Caribbean political leadership.   According to Gonzalves, in the current environment of economic uncertainty, all types are being promoted as leaders. However, in order to separate the sheep from the goats, he suggests that people ask a simple question of their prospective leaders: “What is your narrative?” By this, Gonzalves is saying that in identifying prospective leaders, special care must be taken to guard against the tendency of becoming victim to fanciful imagination, external appearances, cosmetic marketing and empty fluff.   His insistence on demanding a narrative from those vying for leadership will help separate the real McCoy from the mere pretenders. In the current environment, so desperate have we become in our hunger for right leadership that anyone whimsically labelled as leader by well placed spokespersons find themselves crowned with a fragile and delicate mantle of leadership, without necessarily demonstrating aptitude. Similarly, anyone who – by accident or design – is invited by a prime minister to “act” or whoever carries the title of “party deputy” is automatically subjected to analytical scrutiny, or less innocently, deliberately and opportunistically marketed by those who fancy themselves kingmakers. It is this type which the Prime Minister of Barbados has accused of reducing politics to a “spectator sport”, in which those on the sidelines merely pick sides and parade their chosen ones with no regard for the substance of politics itself. While none of these methods of identifying leaders are false in themselves, the error lies in the tendency to reduce politics to surface impressions. It is this substitution of surface impressions for the totality of the substance of politics which also explains the tendency to reduce politics to opinion polling. It is the stuff of much confusion. Gonzalves’ perspective, therefore, forces the Caribbean person to look deeper and to ask more profound questions. It is highly irresponsible of any population anywhere to attach a mantle of leadership on anyone, without a thorough knowledge of that person’s world view, programme, personality or ideological orientation. In the context of Barbados, of all the people currently identified in the “leadership mix”, only three people, it can be said, have been sufficiently exposed or have consciously and deliberately presented a narrative to allow for public judgement. Both Owen Arthur and Freundel Stuart, from their decades of political campaigns and their stints as Prime Ministers, possess discernible narratives – good or bad.   Similarly, particularly during the period of her ousting as leader of the Barbados Labour Party, Mia Mottley used her wilderness period to present a clear narrative of her view of a Barbadian future. The others would be well advised to fashion their own narratives, beyond merely seeking office. Plato warned, centuries ago, against mistaking surface shadows for truth.   • Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email tjoe2008@live.com

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