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Eustace and the changing of the guards

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Once upon a time I used to write from a place that some fondly called ‘Home of the Blessed’, but I write now from the Wild! Wild! West. Monday, another sad day; one murdered and a home firebombed and ‘riddled’ with gun shots.

Are people with criminal intent now in control? They seem to function with relative ease. I am always trying to unearth the underlying causes that trigger our country’s criminal explosion.{{more}} One important factor that must be identified is the political culture of the nation. Our politics is now at the crossroads, where we are having a changing of the guards. It has started with the Opposition party, but one expects that we will soon have a similar movement within the governing party.

After 16 years leading the Opposition bench the Honourable Arnhim Eustace has decided that it is time to make room for new leadership. It will probably take some time before we can adequately assess his role. Eustace has been the victim of a serious campaign to portray him in the worst way possible. The negative way in which he was characterized by his opponents was unprecedented, except perhaps for Joshua. But then there was no social media or talk shows; his character and intellectual capacity, his sound education at the post-graduate level and track-record relating to service to country and region meant little to them. He was a past head of the Civil Service Association, was the youngest Permanent Secretary, resigning his position because of his objection to discrimination against the small man. His competence and vision led to his being offered the position of Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. The portrait presented of him by his vociferous foes I found remarkable, because it bears little resemblance to the man I know.

He was an unlikely politician, a man who stood up for principle and would do so regardless of the political consequences. He was morally well-anchored and seemed determined to bring a better face to politics. He was proud of his blackness, hated ill-discipline and was appalled by conflicts of interest and corruption. His motto was service and unlike many politicians, not self-serving. He saw himself as a team player, not one intoxicated by power. We have missed an excellent opportunity to see if it was at all possible to change the nature of our politics. He was given an extremely bad hand, took control of a party that had reached its lowest ebb and put in a position of having to face an election before he was given time to stamp his image on the party and country. His rebuilding of the party has been one of his outstanding contributions. He became very sensitized when, as leader of party and of Opposition in Parliament, the pains of the people came to his attention. He is a good listener and empathized with the plight of the underprivileged. This would have served him in good stead if he had ever been given the opportunity to lead the country.

He never fitted the style of leader as autocratic figure determined to do anything to secure the reins of power. Where politics was concerned, he never saw himself as a prizefighter, ready to move into the gutters to ambush and win votes. He was about uplifting people and had absolute confidence in people’s ability to look rationally at things and ready to participate in the building of the country. He came up against a country where a leader was a person who dictated things and was ready to provide handouts. He challenged us and tried to find our better side. He faced a people who had never been challenged since Independence and expected things to be done for them. His biggest failure was a tendency to allow criticisms of his personality, style and work simply to slide away, with the expectation that the truth would eventually prevail. He was of the view that policies mattered and felt that presenting policies that would benefit the masses would have found favourable response. Perhaps his greatest contribution was his quest for ‘a gentler and kinder society.’ Over the years his call for a kinder and gentler society was the difference between political calm and national strife. His hand was always one urging calm and restraint even when others called for confrontation. His analysis of economic issues and the impact of certain policies have, on reflection, proved to be sound.

Are we doomed to continue to have a politics that can best be summed up as that of the ‘Hero and the Crowd’? We have never seriously reflected on the meaning of leadership and on the expectations of a leader. Ours has been a politics of personality and we have developed false images of how a leader should act. Our role is not to be critical partners in development but to find a route to personal gain, even if the country is ruined in the process. Changing of our guards will only make a significant difference if we begin to make demands on our leaders. As we aim to build a post-colonial society, a serious debate on leadership is necessary – how we relate to leaders, what we expect of them, an awareness of our role and a recognition too that we are the ones in whom power ultimately rests.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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