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My daughter Nzingha: “Daddy, I am so embarrassed. There is a boy in my debating club who reads your articles every week, and I don’t even read them. He is very interested in politics. I think he wants to be a politician.”
Me: “Very good – that he reads them every week; that you are embarrassed; that he is interested in politics, and that he knows what he wants to be.”
WHEN I HEARD that a 13-year old Queen’s College student was confident enough to address a large political meeting with aplomb, I was not surprised that it was Khaleel Kothdiwala, the subject of the above conversation.
Nor was I surprised when I heard Democratic Labour Party Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett, using his time in the annual Estimates Debate, in a moment of deep economic crisis, not to offer any meaningful economic pointers, but to attack Khaleel and his parents, likening the young man’s participation in the meeting to child abuse.
Was it not Blackett, who during the debate on the termination of free university education, confessed that he was the only Government parliamentarian with no degree, and while he periodically toyed with the idea of higher academic pursuits, he had long concluded that it was not necessary for his success?
Perhaps the gaps in his formal education blinded him to the error of a senior minister condemning a 13-year-old boy for an action which in a more mature democratic environment would be applauded and encouraged.
It is only in backward, authoritarian formations that the rulers discourage public participation in politics. The more ordinary citizens remain fearful of politics, the happier is the tyrannical ruler.
Little wonder the MP for St John Mara Thompson took it upon herself to educate the “childless” on what she thought was appropriate behaviour for a child, proposing bicycle riding as a more wholesome activity than public speaking.
It says a lot about how our leaders view politics if they deem it as “inappropriate” for children. However, whilst bicycle riding might be appropriate training for a future physical education instructor, public speaking is the best activity for a future politician.
The only response to a tyrant is a fearless citizenry. It was therefore heartening to see that Khaleel and his parents remained unruffled by the narrow, bullying partisan responses to his magnificent debut performance by personalities driven by insecurity.
Even more encouraging was the fact that the Kothdiwala family demonstrated sufficient wisdom to explain and understand the limitations of Khaleel’s detractors.
It would be a deep tragedy if such a bright and talented young man were to be destroyed, as so many other gifted Caribbean citizens have been, out of fear of petty political “birds of passage” whose previous lives have left them unprepared for the responsibilities of public office.
•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org