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David Thompson, Darren Sammy and Leadership Succession

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I had planned to devote my column this week to the absolutely ground-breaking decision by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to appoint a Windward Islander, Darren Sammy of St.Lucia, as captain of the regional cricket team.

However, unfortunate developments in other quarters have forced me to change my focus somewhat.{{more}}

I refer here to the tragic news of the death of Barbadian Prime Minister, David Thompson, announced last Saturday. Though Thompson’s passing was not a surprise, given the nature of the deadly illness which finally took his life, it is never easy to grapple with events like these. Try as we might, dealing with the death of a person in the prime of life presents us with real challenges, emotionally and otherwise, and exposes how frail we all are as human beings. When that person happens to be the leader of a small nation as is the Caribbean experience, its effects are felt not just by family and friends but across an entire nation and people.

Thompson’s death therefore has repercussions for the entire Barbadian people. He is the third Barbadian Prime Minister to die in office, in only a period of 44 years since attaining independence. Once more the country must readjust and deal with the question of succession. As is constitutionally required, Deputy Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, has been sworn in as prime Minister to succeed the late leader and the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) will have no choice but to rally behind him. Yet recent events, including a cabinet reshuffle by Thompson only a couple weeks ago, had seemed to leave the succession issue still open. In that reshuffle, while Stuart was given the responsibility to act as Prime Minister, Thompson handed over his responsibility for Finance to Chris Sinckler, adding Economic Affairs to his portfolio. This further fuelled speculation that Sinckler was indeed being groomed by David Thompson to succeed him. Death has put its own twist on that saga.

Succession planning is an area that we in the Caribbean have historically been found wanting. It is as true for politics as it is for most other areas of social life. In the case of politics with all the intrigue and in-fighting associated with it, as well as the tremendous influence and social clout enjoyed by political leaders, it is even a more difficult transition to handle. Not many parties or organizations manage to effect it smoothly. Death, of course, always provides a jolt, but it is crucial that the political directorate take this aspect into their calculations.

Recently, I had raised concerns about this to one of my colleagues, in respect to the state of our local politics. What for instance, would be the state of play if any of our two major political protagonists, Prime Minister Dr.Ralph Gonsalves and Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, were to pass away suddenly, on the verge of the next general elections? How would their parties handle the succession? Would the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) be able to resist the pressures for a panic reaction in recalling retired leader Sir James Mitchell as a “safe bet”, going into the election fray? Can the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP), even conceive of going into electoral battle without Gonsalves at the helm?

This is not mere speculation, it is a distinct possibility which must be faced, and for which we must all prepare. Ironically, while in real political terms, the ULP would seem to be much more vulnerable, should any such tragedy occur, it is to the credit of PM Gonsalves that he is the one who has made most effort in preparing a younger generation. There are weaknesses in the approach undoubtedly, but at least the issue of developing young leaders has been part of both his vocabulary and action. The problem is that in terms of commanding political support at both the party and popular level, none of the younger generation is quite there as yet. Heaven forbid, should either of these tragedies befall us at this moment!

The matter of leadership, albeit in not too happy circumstances is my re- entry point into the original focus of this article, the captaincy of the West Indies cricket team. True to form, the regional Cricket Board has often fallen short in its succession plans. Serious errors have been made in choosing leaders with grave repercussions for Caribbean societies. In the case of the latest decision, the issue was virtually forced upon them. It was impossible to continue with a captain who demonstrated little inclination for shouldering the responsibilities of a leader of Caribbean cricket. Additionally, those apparently in line (Bravo, Ramdin), had for one reason or another virtually ruled themselves out. The selectors and Board therefore had no choice but to bite the bullet. Sammy is the choice.

My own comments are not however in cricketing terms. Rather it is the social and psychological implications of Sammy’s appointment, which, for me, are of far greater substance. I was speaking with a former Windwards’ player in Grenada on the day after the announcement of Sammy’s accession to the leadership of the regional team. He made the pointed observation, (with which I wholeheartedly agreed) that there seemed to be an absence of celebration in Grenada, (as it was in St. Vincent, and possibly Dominica as well) of this historic step and what it means for our tiny islands, traditionally shut out of the top echelons of West Indies Cricket. Sammy is not just St.Lucian, he and all he represents makes his achievement, OUR ACHIEVEMENT. It is as if the West Indies Cricket Board is belatedly recognizing our worth as equals in Caribbean cricket, and in the process atoning for the long list of discriminatory actions against the likes of F.O. Mason, Mike Findlay, Irvin Shillingford and others.

The problem is that we seem not to be able to grasp the historical significance of the moment. We argue in cricketing terms solely, forgetting what this means to us all on a far wider plane. The celebrations should be as loud in St.George’s as they are in Castries, as heartfelt in Chateaubelair as they are in Vieux Fort, as genuine in Roseau, Dominica, as they are in the Roseau Valley, St. Lucia. Let us all embrace Sammy as another step forward in our self-assertion and utilize his achievement to help to promote unity at both the sub-regional (OECS) as well as the regional levels.

CONGRATS, Darren Sammy; CONGRATS St.Lucia; CONGRATS Windward Islands!


Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.