Tuesday, 24 July 2012 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
Evocative! Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has written a brilliant autobiography of a fearless leader, whose tenure has catapulted Vincentians into our techno-information era.
In every sentence, readers get a full gaze of his private life and public service with vivid clarity. Supported by a wide combination of historical and contemporary events, “The Making of The Comrade: The political journey of Ralph Gonsalves” is most illuminating because it offers an insider perspective of the primeministership.
The PM tells his story with the dramatic effect of YouTube realism, aided with solid information and graceful prose. It records hanging ribbons of kindness by family members, and heartfelt generosity by supporters and friends. And it captures experiences that have shaped Gonsalves’ sojourn of managing power while revealing the decisive role he played, in reshaping the consciousness of his people.
Despite childhood hardships, Gonsalves is living a colorful life riveted in hilarity and resolve, roadblocks and achievements. There are unexpected discoveries: A brush with drowning, the death of his son and father, two marriages, the Greedy Bill resistance, a kind of hostage ceasing in Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago’s former prime minister, Panday’s eleven political commandments, the high profile legal defense of James and Penny Fletcher, saving LIAT, hunting for funds for an international airport at Argyle, false allegations of sexual indiscretions by local and international women, his daughter Isis’ incredible academic performance under social pressure, and his sixtieth birthday celebration with the King of Swaziland and former PM Badawi of Malaysia.
All of this suggests that Gonsalves has a restless soul, forever in search of justice, solidarity with the poor and scholarly surges. Add abiding friendships, global networking and leadership development.
Since nothing happens faster than it does, ‘The Comrade’ is committed to Caribbean integration, notwithstanding intimacies of sovereignty and territorial dignity. Indeed, ‘The Comrade’ had an undeniable appeal that was readily misunderstood. He did not engender sympathy amongst earlier prime ministers because of perceived communist inclinations (Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Vincent).
Most notably, Gonsalves made waves. His waves were expressed as a student revolutionary leader at University of the West Indies (UWI), as a provocative lecturer in political thought and regional social movements in Barbados, and as the turbo power behind the Movement for National Unity (MNU) upon his return to St. Vincent.
By introducing concepts of militant activism and progressive politics early, readers begin to grasp The Comrade’s governance plans for the good people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in “History and the Future: A Caribbean Perspective. By the time he published: The Politics of Our Caribbean Civilization: Essays and Speeches, Gonsalves is fully immersed in a certain conviction, which led to several victories of the Unity Labour Party (ULP).
His vision of a people-centric prosperity was to show up in his ‘Together Now’ mandate. This requires focused skills from negotiating with world leaders and presiding over important global and regional committees, to taking care of villagers’ needs and receiving spiritual advice and spirited guidelines from grassroots intelligentsia, and anointed persons of God.
As the fourth PM of SVG, Gonsalves sought solutions to the worst poverty condition in the Caribbean. He mounted a sustained program of over 180 projects. These included: libraries, schools, bridges (Rabacca), highways, colleges, recreational facilities, hospitals, hotels, homes, debt reduction (Ottley Hall) and jobs. There is more: policies of workers’ advancement, adult education, private sector revitalization, public health advancement, telecommunications liberalization and youth empowerment.
In matters of regionalism; Gonsalves leadership compelled him to lay the groundwork for the operational restructuring of CARICOM through a unified economic proposal. However, this is yet to be functionally installed. He also gave stalwart support that reinforced the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States’ (OECS) union. On foreign relations, the PM has implemented an approach that is pragmatic and principled in its bi-literal and multi-lateral outreach.
Beyond stereotypes, ‘The Comrade’ nurtures traditional friends while dancing with new relations. At other times, he opens up non-traditional windows using both personal diplomacy and hemispheric foreign relations. Nearly every page of the book offers thoughtful insights on the PM’s eternal quest for symmetry between self-determination and universal ideals. In fact, this has endeared SVG to aspire for a non-permanent position on the UN Security Council for 2020 to 2021.
Although the PM has influenced a cadre of eminent Caribbeaners, his legacy remain open-ended. Will he find palatable ways to advance constitutional reforms for freer democratic expressions and better governance legroom? The overarching theme of this monumental work is not Gonsalves’ failure to recognize his own moral and social limitations, but his ambiguity in outlining a specific farewell strategy. Yes. He indicates the grooming of young professionals, but salutes the ultimate power of the people’s choosing. This will determine his country’s readiness to rise above the challenges ahead.
Clearly, ‘The Comrade’s’ new ideas for change must now be embodied in tangible deliverables and strategic marketing. To re-inspire his people especially in these tough economic times-- the PM’s tried hands must open new doors. Because Gonsalves is neither a coward nor a procrastinator, I expected him to map out his vision for a truly competitive Caribbean. In substance, does the Caribbean have a future of integration? What will it take to get there?
Given the captivating nature of power and the temptations of leadership, I am left to wonder: What motivates Gonsalves to continue to serve others? What values informs his peace of mind with God? Has the PM discovered a better way to lead? How does the PM make high-stake decisions? What lessons has he learnt from crucial mistakes, and what corrective actions is he taking to redress them? In what ways is ‘The Comrade’ living up to the spine of his loftiest dreams? Answers to these questions will deposit wise counsel for generations to come.
In his second autobiography, I hope he discloses his most memorable deeds. It should be consistently enthralling, filled with unspoken intentions, unique accomplishments and even unsmiling disappointments. He should toss in unknown follies, secret fears, and worrying flaws. Detailing how he listens, and what mindscape informs his struggles between personal conviction and the common good may yield hidden gems of human qualities. This will have lasting relevance for a leadership model steeped in emotional intelligence, and the complexities of the mission.
If you want to understand the making of a Caribbean prime minister, you will find a lively sample of the sociology of his political thinking and action. I will not be surprised if CARICOM’s future and the history of SVG would not be fully appreciated without Gonsalves’ outstanding contribution. Will he overcome the tragedies of his time? Behold a Caribbean statesman, who is comfortable in the castle of his skin!
Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood University, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.