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Leadership replacement or succession planning? – Part 2

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It is a pity that so many of us are stuck in the mire, including of our own creation, where the matter of the leadership of our country is concerned, that we seem unable to go beyond the politics of the personality and not look at broader issues pertaining to our own democratic institutions and systems. So, sadly, even normally quite intelligent persons cannot approach the matter without reference to some figment of a supposed “Gonsalves dynasty”.

It is not surprising, however, for this talk has been making the rounds ever since the first son of PM Gonsalves chose to involve himself in the political life of the country. Now when he has clearly been identified, not only by the Prime Minister, but on account of his own abilities and youthful maturity, as very much a part of the succession scenario within the ULP, the chorus has intensified. But Camillo Gonsalves will have no ‘cake walk’ to the leadership of the ULP. In Saboto Caesar, he faces a formidable rival, who indeed in some ways is much more akin to the rustic side of Ralph than his own more urban demeanour. The ULP is fortunate to have such a choice and it will be left to be seen how it handles the matter.

Concern over the emergence of any dynasty is very legitimate, but it cannot just be some emotional response; there must be clear indicators that persons are attempting to foist their offspring or close relatives on the nation without regard to democratic processes or indeed proven realities. Can we honestly say that this is the situation here?

If we look around the Caribbean, there have been examples of sons succeeding their fathers, right up to the highest political office. Coincidentally, the three outstanding examples were around at the same time. Jamaica’s Michel Manley, who succeeded his father as leader of the People’s National Party in 1969, had to wait three more years in Opposition before he too was elected Prime Minister in 1972. Incidentally, the younger Manley had reportedly been reluctant initially to follow in his father’s footsteps.

When Manley joined three other notable Caribbean leaders in the Prime Ministerial office – Dr Eric Williams in Trinidad, Forbes Burnham in Guyana and Errol Barrow in Barbados, another son of a famous father, Tom Adams, sat on the Opposition benches in Barbados. He finally led his Labour Party to victory in the 1976 elections, to head his country’s government as his father, the venerable Sir Grantley Adams, did before him.

A third Prime Ministerial son, Lester Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, had joined Manley and Adams as sons who followed their fathers in achieving the position of Prime Minister. But he, unlike the others, directly succeeded his father in 1994. Yet none of these were political novices when they made it to the top, all having been politically active before that with their own credentials.

Curiously, many of those who raise a hue and cry about political dynasties are among those who express concern about black people’s children not succeeding their forebears (fathers principally) in the field of business. We point to once successful black businesses which have failed to progress when the founders died or retired. Conversely, we correctly praise the offspring of other business pioneers, from different ethnic stocks, for carrying on and improving the family business.

I say “curious”, because it seems to be all right for a son or daughter to succeed the father in the field of law, or business, or medicine, or accounting. But when it comes to politics, it seems, on both political sides, that there is something wrong with, say, the daughter of former Prime Minister Eustace, or the son of current Prime Minister Gonsalves, aspiring to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Strange indeed!

We need to get out of this narrow thinking, which is grossly unfair to young people and be able to judge each one on merit, ability and their own contribution. I am sure that Saboto Caesar, should he emerge as leader of the ULP, would wish it to be because of confidence reposed in his own outstanding qualities, and not because people voted for him to check any perceived “dynasty”.

In Part 3, we will conclude with a look at succession planning.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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