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“A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure that at the end of the debate we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before.” On July 18, 2018, the world acknowledged the centenary of Nelson Mandela. The great man has proved to be an inspiration for millions as he dealt with the demise of apartheid and the emergence of democracy in South Africa. His leadership would prove immensely influential in steering South Africa away from black hellocracy to a future where colour would no longer be an impediment to human aspirations.
It is interesting to journey into the words of our political leaders and assess their thoughts on leadership in the context of their actual achievements. On January 23, 1992, Dr Keith Rowley made his maiden speech as a member of the House of Representatives in the PNM government that had dispatched the NAR into the dustbin of history. “We are trying to build a better Trinidad and Tobago. So over and over again, that will be the objective”. The other main political leader, in her first address to Parliament as Prime Minister on June 18, 2010, stated eloquently and passionately: “As I have said before, we have three pledges and they are our three priorities: serve the people, one; serve the people, two and serve the people as priority three.”
Dr Rowley has sat in Parliament (in the Senate) from 1987 and Mrs Persad-Bissessar from 1994 (also in the Senate) for a collective period of 55 years and government leadership for the last eight years.
How do we assess their leadership?
SEA results are now released and 14 per cent of the candidates scored under 30 per cent. Crime is rampant and the murder rate keeps rising. The economy is still precariously dependant on the vagaries of oil and gas prices. Yet our political leaders appear clueless and uninspirational as our people experience a deluge of social dynsfunctionalism. As the debate rages in Parliament as to the best way to deal with crime and the economy, there is a sense of disillusionment and contrary to the leadership mantra of Mandela, we are not emerging stronger.
Can our leaders open the door to a new dispensation? The most difficult pill to swallow is the relinquishment of political power and history is replete with example of great humans tarnishing their humanity and legacy by clinging to power.
In Africa, there are many examples of fallen leaders and none more so than the neo-colonial political leader Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957. An influential advocate of Pan-Africanism, Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity and winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. According to Hilke Fischer (2016), Nkrumah was much loved and revered as a political messiah but one year after independence in 1961, he introduced legislation which allowed the government to send people to prison for five years without trial and being disrespectful of the president became a criminal offence. On February 24, 1966, Ghana’s military staged a coup and he died in the Romanian capital Bucharest while being treated for cancer in 1972.
Aung San Suu Kyi, of Myanmar, became an activist against the brutal rule of dictator U Ne Win and between 1989 and 2010 spent 15 years in custody, winning in the process the 1991 Nobel Prize for Peace. In 2010, Suu Kyi became the de facto head of the country in the new role of state counsellor. Suu Kyi has presided over the tragedy of Rohingya, where the United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. This led to the penning of a letter by the venerated Desmond Tutu, emotionally stating, “For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people. You symbolised righteousness. If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep (Open letter dated September 7, 2017).” Aung San Suu Kyi is the same political leader that is quoted as saying: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it”.
Currently in Central America, young university students are challenging the reign of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. According to Juan Montes and José de Córdoba (2016), “Daniel Ortega, one of Latin America’s best-known Marxist revolutionaries, first came to power by helping to oust dictator Anastasio Somoza 37 years ago…Since being elected president in 2006-after a 16-year gap-Mr Ortega is living out a second act as a pro-business, increasingly authoritarian leader…The transformation, say former comrades-in-arms, civil activists and businesspeople, means Mr Ortega is increasingly coming to resemble the dictator he overthrew in 1979.”
Today, our political leaders must eschew the lure of power and gaze into the mirror of truth and determine whether after 55 years of collective parliamentary presence, it is time to usher in a new chapter in leadership of our beloved country. To echo the famous words of Armah, “the beautiful ones are not yet born.”
Dr Rajendra Ramlogan is a Professor of Commercial and Environmental Law at the University of the West Indies.
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