By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 27, 2023
Last Monday, Christine Carla Kangaloo was inaugurated as the seventh President of the Republic. I did not support her candidacy to the highest office in the land, but was buoyed by the advice my friend Arnold Rampersad gave me some years ago about one of other political leaders: "Selwyn, she is now our President. We must wish her the best, work with her, and pray that she acts in the interest of our country."
I was brought up in a tradition when those of high academic or professional experiences were elected to these positions. Ms Kangaloo has been compared to former president and prime minister Arthur NR Robinson; when compared to him, she falls short in terms of her academic and political achievements.
In 1976, Robinson and Winston Murray won the two seats in Tobago under the Democratic Action Congress (DAC). In 1980, he became the chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and, in 1986, came together with the United Labour Front (ULF), under Basdeo Panday and Karl Hudson-Phillips (Organisation of National Reconstruction), to contest the elections under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) banner. They captured the government in their famous 33-3 defeat of the People's National Movement (PNM).
Two other intellectual achievements differentiate Robinson from Kangaloo. He obtained his Higher School Certificate, received his Bachelor of Laws degree from London University as an external student, and then proceeded to London where he was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple. Thereafter, he went to Oxford University, where he obtained a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He also published The Mechanics of Independence in 1971.
Kangaloo came from humble beginnings. She attended St Joseph's Convent in San Fernando, after which she graduated from The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and the Hugh Wooding Law School. She was admitted to the practice of law in 1985. In a recent release, The UWI described her as "an accomplished legal mind". Kangaloo also distinguished herself as a parliamentarian. She has served as an opposition senator; minister in the office of the prime minister; and minister of science, technology and tertiary education. She served as the president of the Senate for seven years (2015-22) and acted in the position of the President on several occasions.
She has conducted her professional responsibilities rather well and earned the respect of her colleagues. As a result of these many parliamentary assignments, she brings a different vision to the office, which will help through the many problems the country faces.
Kangaloo's life has been marred by personal and family tragedy, which I am sure has developed the empathetic side of her life. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and has lost several of her loved ones. These tragedies may allow her to approach the challenges she faces in a more humane manner than previous presidents.
Kangaloo can be seen as a folksy president, pristine in her simplicity and disarming charm. She cares about victims of accidents and those being abused by family members. She has no intention of being isolated from the people. Thus, she intends to keep on liming and listening to the voices of the people. She says she is "a good listener". Her modesty seems to be one of her assets.
In her inaugural speech she promised to demystify the presidency, use the discipline of the steel orchestra to instil that virtue among our youth, and to collaborate with members of the community to enhance their lives. I was particularly impressed by her desire to use the Office of the Presidency to host "cultural, educational and artistic ventures—particularly among the youth". Her goal to raise the intellectual and cultural standards of the community is to be applauded. It is just what we need at the present time.
Just one observation. While the needs of the young people are important, any president who sets out to fulfil the noble goals outlined in their address should not minimise the contributions that the more mature members of the community have made to the society. Their achievements may be overshadowed by the negativity and dysfunction we see among the youth. The former need to be rewarded for the work they've done. Some of them have devoted themselves to their calling for over three score and ten years.
I believe that a different type of leadership may be necessary at these times and that the lack of academic excellence or outstanding professional achievements should not be a barrier to holding the highest office in the land. Nor, for that matter, do I believe that a person's past political affiliation should be held against her/him. In many ways, it could and should be an asset. However, as some people say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
No matter how her term of office turns out, I am uplifted by the sunny philosophy to emanate from her tragic life: "Life is there to be lived. It is a gift, and enjoy it for as long as you can. I say this, but I know it is hard to do and I understand why, but you have to find it in you to get that joy, day in, day out, and appreciate it."
Perhaps, it might be time to give simplicity and modesty a chance to flourish, keeping in mind former US president Abraham Lincoln's admonition to his countrymen and women in his second inaugural address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."
President Kangaloo is a religious woman. I hope her Presbyterian and Roman Catholic faith give her the courage to carry out her self-assigned tasks.
—Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is email@example.com. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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