The Arthur impact
I received the announcement of the retirement of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur from elective politics with mixed emotions. I think perhaps it was anticipated but a little sad nonetheless.
I have always admired the way as Prime Minister he constructed his Cabinet; it reflected ingenuity and a good understanding of present and future context. Moreover, as a student of politics, one cannot help but be fascinated at the way he wielded power; he was both ruthless and cunning but still remained much loved by the populace.
I will remember him most for his “politics of inclusion”, his response to the Caribbean being labelled as tax havens and his stance on regional integration.
Like Rickey Singh, I believe that he was one of the most committed champions of regional integration and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. It was not based on any idealistic notions of the integration but rather, I believe, a firm view that economic integration presented the best option against the most negative effects of the global economy.
His departure, however, should further entrench the leadership of current Leader of the Opposition, Mia Mottley. One of the things about Arthur I noted was that he was intent on carving his own niche. He did not try to be anybody else or rely strongly on invoking the memory of party stalwarts ad nauseam.
Mottley should also be given the space to carve her own niche on her party and the political landscape. She should not be hemmed in by the Machiavellian prototype of the ultimate politician.
Worldwide, the landscape of political governance is changing as political parties are forced to develop new modalities of engagement across party lines that reflect the frustration of voting publics with the choices presented to them. I certainly have bellyached about opposition parties opposing just for the sake of opposing.
Mottley’s approach is different but at the same time refreshing. She is an intelligent politician who I believe has inklings of the same ruthlessness and cunning as Arthur.
Extending a hand does not mean she is soft, perhaps just smart. Sometimes softly, softly traps the fly. If I can use a bit of local parlance – Do your thing, Mottley, make your own mark! At least she is trying something as opposed to just treading water as perhaps can be suggested of leadership in other quarters.
Am I perhaps being overly over-defensive of Mottley? I think I am sensitive to the gender nuances that play out unknowingly in certain conversations. The idea of “softness”, of not being ruthless enough, has some implicit gender assumptions of which I am wary.
I certainly believe that the region is facing a leadership crisis of significant portions and perhaps a bit of innovation in approach would do us some good. With the departure of the likes of Arthur, P.J. Patterson, Patrick Manning, and I would even add Bruce Golding, the region lost a cadre of politicians who provided a level of intellectual muscle which I would argue ceaselessly could match and even surpass their counterparts anywhere across the globe.
However, intellectual capital is one of the key planks but not the only one necessary for effective leadership at this level. If that were so, I would not be lamenting the dearth we have now. These men in my estimation were also able to espouse a vision which captured the imagination of their populace and the entire region. When they spoke, you wanted to listen not only because it sounded good, but because it could always be a potentially catalytic moment.
The leadership now across the region for the most part is visionless and uninspiring. All respect due to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
Am I being a bit too harsh? Yes, but rightly so.
There is too much power tied up in our political system for us to take lightly the wishy-washy type of leadership we are being fed now: leaders who put more store on eloquence than action, play singularly to the local audience and are risk-averse in an environment where innovation and ingenuity are becoming major playing cards.
I read with interest a call from a writer for new “guardians” to step up to fill the dearth in leadership. Let’s be honest. There is no dearth of new or potential leaders in Barbados or across the region. I can count on both my hands intelligent, visionary people, both young and not so young, who could potentially make significant contributions at various levels of the political landscape. But we do not come in as leaders; we will come as followers initially. These types of followers will need to be inspired for a cause. If we continue to give leadership to vapid and visionless people, then the status quo will remain unchanged.
We wait to be inspired!
• Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email firstname.lastname@example.org