Kofi Annan and V S Naipaul – Reflections
by Sir James Mitchell
Two titans have fallen. One at the pinnacle of world diplomacy. One a luminary in the English language. One from Sub Sahara Africa. One from among us in our Caribbean.
No one in reflecting on the death of a great man can fail to reflect on the story foretelling the death of Julius Caesar by his wife Calpurnia.
“When beggars die there are no comets seen, the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
Eulogies from around the world are pouring forth about these scholars and gentlemen. None more distinguished than the pages of the Economist. Lead articles in The Times, The Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, all blaze forth on the death of these icons.
Throughout the passage of history, events occur, and individuals emerge with a vision and performance to stamp their footprint on the sands of time. For Kofi Annan it was the series of events that lead to the Iraq war to depose Saddam Hussain for his hidden weapons of mass destruction. Kofi held firm that war required support of the Security Council. He along with Dominique de Villepin of France challenged the stand of President Bush and Tony Blair, exposing the unfortunate hand of Colin Powell behaving like a true military man carrying out orders from The Commander in Chief, an experience that permanently diminished his status. Annan lost the battle but won the war in history.
I remember the difference with the liberation of Kuwait, when the former President Bush sent his Vice President Quayle to Barbados to discuss with us the restoration of sovereignty in Kuwait. The assurances I followed up with the exiled Foreign Minister of Kuwait all the way in Japan during the enthronement of the new emperor, and these exchanges created our friendship with Kuwait and made us in SVG the first beneficiary with our enhancement of our power generation in Cane Hall.
Kofi Annan’s lead extended to England with the resignation of Robin Cook, the foreign secretary with whom I had earlier initiated the enrolment of our young people in the UK armed forces.
Closer to home, we have a lot to learn from the life of writing of V S Naipaul. What can ever be done to create a possibility for another Caribbean person to contribute to civilization! How many of us have read “A House for Mr Biswas”. Who from our simple beginnings will write another thirty books or the poetry of Derek Walcott and be awarded a knighthood or a Nobel prize.
How many new books are in the homes of our leaders of society!
The lesson for us is clear. Especially for us in these islands who dream of recognition beyond our shores. How wonderful it will be when Caribbean identity continues from where Bob Marley left off.
V S Naipaul spelled it out “Identity depends in the end on achievement”. To me, that can refer to plumber or president.
Naipaul once challenged an interviewer with the question. “What books have you read lately?”
I mourn for our cellphone generation. A day’s satisfaction emanates from the outrage on social media. The expensive toy in your hand even accompanying you to the beach supplies information, not wisdom. The wisdom of the ages is there for everyone within the pages of books. It is not hidden. It awaits you.
I write these lines for when the great among us fall, our pages should not be silent . In this age of fear stalking our land, we need a little inspiration.