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Rowley's Failure

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 20, 2011

The hiccups PNM is going through have more to do with Keith Rowley's failure to lead than Patrick Manning's political intransigence and nostalgia for power. Manning, the insane victim of his own ill-judgment, is suffering from the failed-leader syndrome to which many past leaders fall prey: an inability to recognize they messed up and ought to leave the political stage quietly if they cannot do so gracefully. This is the difference between great leaders (such as Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania) who knew how to demit office peacefully and stubborn autocrats (such as Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarack of Egypt and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d'Ivore) for whom power is an entrancing aphrodisiac.

Rowley is turning out to be an inefficient and perhaps uninspiring leader for which the PNM will pay dearly if he does get his act together. Rowley believes that leadership consists in attacking continuously and vehemently everything the Government does (and does not do); holding an occasional press conference; and calling on the government to fire every one from office. In some cases he is right; in others he is irrelevant. If the government takes his advice soon there will be few office holders.

Perhaps it was an omen for the future when, after the PNM's defeat in the last local government elections, Rowley claimed that the PNM lost because it did not have enough evidence of PP's failures. This was a negative strategy. He seemed to suggest, "Just wait until they begin to govern, then we will have sufficient ammunition to attack them." This is exactly the path he is following.

But is this a sufficient strategy on which to become the next government?

Leadership consists of a different mettle. A leader must be able to inspire and fortify his troops with uplifting sentiments and, more importantly, an alternate vision of the world. He must be prepared to devote his life to his work. This is what Dr. Williams did. He did not start his political career only by attacking the government in power (1950-5). He also offered systematic, well-worked out programs in economic development; constitution reform; race relations; and the pros and cons of a West Indian Federation.

He drew on the economic experience of Arthur Lewis who worked with him at the Caribbean Commission; the political savvy of George Padmore whom he knew during his London days; and a strong cadre of middle class intellectuals (mainly teachers) upon whom he built his political foundation. Between June 1955 and June 1956 Dr. Williams addressed 154 meetings throughout the country.

President Barack Obama has been under the gun for the past year from the Republicans who defeated his party in last year's midterm election. After that, they thought they had him cornered on questions such as the deficit, poor performance on job creation-in spite of the fact a Republican President created the economic disaster-- and health care. He compromised with the Republicans on some issues and his numbers went up again.

A week ago he seized the initiative from the Republicans by outlining his vision of the economic trajectory of the United States and made it clear that the smoke and mirror policies of the Republicans (exemplified by Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity") would not solve the nation's economic woes. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, one of the major thinkers of the 20th century, savaged Ryan's plans (he called it "a reductio ad absurdum") whereas Paul Krugman, columnist of the New York Times and Nobel Laureate in Economics gave Obama's plan the thumbs up.

Rowley started out impressively when he announced his vision, "Reflection and Resurgence" at the PNM's convention that presented its candidates for the local elections. In that speech he announced broad themes around which a new PNM would locate itself: decentralization of the government at the physical, psychological and social level and fiscal federalism that seeks, among other things, devolution of spending and, to a lesser extent, revenue raising responsibilities to local government. He also emphasized the importance of human development since we are more obsessed with the quantity of our physical possessions rather than the quality of our lives.

Since then Rowley has not outlined one policy initiative. For example, what is PNM's position on public sector wage negotiations? Rowley's political mode is attack, attack, attack. All one sees within the PNM is a tendency to cannibalize its own, something for which the PDP, ULF and the UNC were famous years ago. The "he say, she say" of the last General Council was the worse manifestation of this behavior.

Rowley has not undertaken the hard work required to rebuild a defeated party. In this he can learn a lot from Dr. Williams, Manning and Jack Warner, the modern prototype of such an ideal. Jack took on Panday and won; he took on Ramesh Maharaj and won; he took on the PNM and won. He is responsible primarily for putting the PP together and they won. If he becomes the leader of the PP it will be in power for the next decade.

Jacks's most important achievement within T&T's racialized climate was his winning the chairmanship of the UNC which he did fairly and squarely. He was not elected UNC's chairman because he is black. He did it because of his efficiency and hard work. It helps that he has mucho money. But money was/is no substitute for hard work and the services he provides to his constituents. You many not like him but he gets the job done.

Rowley has not been mobilizing, inspiring or uniting his party. If he had, Manning's antics would be seen for what they are: the tabanca of a jilted party leader who still harbors a desire of returning to the helm of the party. When a past political leader refuses to attend the legislative caucuses of his party he reflects disrespect for his colleagues and his party that tells us more about his character than the party's attempt to develop a unified position.

Rowley must recommit himself to rebuilding the PNM and demonstrate steadfastness of purpose. He must articulate clear political alternatives if he wishes to convince the country it will be better served under a PNM government. He still has some time to do so. If he believes the PP will wither and die he has another thought coming. It is not likely the PNM will win by default the next time around.

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