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Drawing on the work of Plutarch’s ‘Lives of the Caesar’, William Shakespeare conceived of a literary masterpiece, ‘Julius Caesar’. In this play, there are noteworthy political lessons but for me, Marc Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral was the apogee of the literary mastery. Following the assassination of Caesar by conspirators such as Cassius and Brutus, the grand funeral was planned. The conspirators debated on whether they should let Caesar’s friend, Marc Antony, speak. Most of the conspirators were adamant that he should not speak because he may incite the crowd to riot. Brutus differed. His calculus was: Marc is his friend and would praise him and improve his stock among the people. Brutus assured his co-plotters, ‘don’t worry, he is my boy’. The decision was made. Antony was given permission but he had difficulty; there was a need to appease his handlers and at the same time, inspire the people to rise in anger to seek revenge for Caesar’s assassination. To that end, he skillfully employed several literary devices to deliver a speech that will go down in the annals of literary works as the best political presentation to go on record. Most importantly, he used the rhetorical style and achieved his objectives through the ‘honorable men’ reference and repetition.
THE DECISION ON SPEAKERS AT THE CONFERENCE
Based on my experience, the decision to invite speakers to high-level conferences is serious and strategic. It is not easily fraught. It is as intense as the decision on who must speak at Caesar’s funeral. Given that this conference was occurring against the backdrop of a lopsided contract and wanton flaring, undoubtedly, the organizers of the International Energy Conference and Expo Guyana 2022 were faced with a critical decision. Added to the aforesaid, the event was being hosted in the context of heavy polarization and fever-level passions and anxieties over this unprecedented epoch in Guyana’s existence. Hence, I suspect, the organizers were not too excited about the prospects of inviting iconic speakers who may use oratory to call the people to action. It is not far-fetched to conclude that the powerful interests that assembled were not disposed to turning the conference into a forum for activism. Hence, there was a need to ensure that speakers do not rock the boat or the FPSO. On that consideration, the list of speakers was carefully put together for the avoidance of any disruptors because it seems; just like Borgstrom (1982), the organizers are of the view that speech can become an autonomous force that shapes the power structure beyond the control of the speaker.
However, the decision was not only theirs, protocol demands heavy consultation with the government. It is not gratuitous to conclude that the state may have insisted on Motley and Nana. After receiving the suggestion, bordering on a fiat, the organizers proceeded. These two iconic leaders are known for their abilities to rally the people to action. Motley is known for her leftish ideological stance, Nana’s pan-africanism and advocacy for the people of the third world is well documented. However, given the recent exchanges and romanticism between the two countries, the officialdom may have whispered: ‘don’t worry about that, is we boy and girl’.
THE SPEECH BY WILLIAM ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO
The notice of invitation to speak at the conference would have arrived at Golden Jubilee House in Accra, months before. Consistent with the scholarly style which is consistently exemplified by this statesman, he would have instructed his staff to thoroughly research the conference. As well as that, it is safe to assume that he would have demanded some information on the target audience, both inside the Marriott and outside on the streets of Georgetown. Once that information was received and he became au fait with the general context, it is prudent to posit that the gentleman trained in law and economics, would have felt a need to engage in skillful communication. The head of the country which is the land of the Asante and formerly known as the Gold Coast needed to perform a linguistic balancing act to appease the host government, the powerful oil interests, the environmentalists, his constituency in Ghana, a global audience and the people of Guyana. Hence, he couldn’t openly call for the renegotiation of the contract, that would have been rude. He couldn’t boldly tell the government that I know that you are proceeding on projects without the inclusion of your people, that would have been vulgar. He couldn’t tell Darren Woods to his face that Exxon’s operation here was a threat to the environment, that would have been undiplomatic. However, on Tuesday, February 15th, in the packed conference room of the Marriott Hotel, His Excellency channeled his inner Marc Antony to say the unspeakable. His words now linger to fester and stir the people to demand their share.
THE SPEECH BY MIA MOTLEY
Given her role as the Caricom Chair in the Guyana 2020 elections. Considering that she enjoys a close relationship with those who possess aegis over the Guyana state. Having regard for the fact that the head of state of Barbados arrived here and was regaled, bordering on deification. Conscious that she has a global following which sees her as one of humanity’s heroines. Aware that she always falls on the side of the people, I believe that this forum was far more challenging for Motley. She must have been conflicted between saying: the government and the oil companies are doing a great job or saying: ‘the people must not become tenants in their own lands’. In the end, she skillfully chose the latter, much to the chagrin of powerful interests who responded with wry smiles and in some cases, blank faces. Prime Minister Motley preferred to err on the side of the people. It was clear: despite the razzle and dazzle and the bright lights, Motley wanted to persuade the people of Guyana, to demand their share. She may not have used pathos and logos and rhetorical devices that Antony used such as irony, bandwagon, strawman and more but if it were Caesar’s funeral, the crowd would have been moved to immediate action. Her Excellency chose the people, this is why she shall continue to do clean sweeps at elections in Barbados.