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By GHK Lall
A leadership development during last week prompted thoughts on how that is viewed and practiced in Guyana. It involved the President himself, and should raise hackles, mine are, in how the business and culture of leadership and governance take place in this society. We are furnished with testaments of what is gone about in the wrong manner, leading to so much wrong here.
His Excellency, President Ali came out to blaze away at those Guyanese he deems-indeed, it would be more accurate to say, damns-as naysayers, selective critics, possibly citizens of convenience and opportunity. Though the latter are my words, they build smoothly on the head of state’s prior ranting and venting during the sacred flag raising ceremony on Republic Day, when he saw it fitting to take sharp aim and denounce those who roused his wrath. When the President, this divided country’s leader, degrades to the condition where he sees or suspects enemies of his government in every corner, via any voice raised, for any disputed issue, he does himself, his government, and this country great disservices. All citizens are rendered lesser for it; whenever the nation’s leader cheapens himself to this degree, then every citizen is lower, made to look smaller.
When the President is comfortable embracing a leadership style that is saturated with meaningless words filled with fluffs about “constructive criticisms” being welcomed, then he comes across as nothing but the usual political operator, a campaigner for the characteristic callousness that snakes itself across the span of Guyana. As I think of this, a picture comes to me: it is of His Excellency, President Ali as the embodiment of the Marlboro Man. Philip Morris put a heroic cowboy hat on his head, the man on horseback with a worldview, and in control. The destructive tobacco giant wrapped Mr. Marlboro in the smooth, transparent gloss of cellophane, which served as the wrapper for well-packaged and well-presented poisons.
This is what the leadership standards of Guyana’s President have deteriorated to: the destructive, no matter how well refined and polished with words gleaming with shallowness and the shortness of the shadows they cast. The President may fool himself in thinking that his steamy rhetoric convinces listeners of his credibility and trustworthiness, that his truths are the only ones around in today’s Oil Guyana. The President is entitled to fool himself with his shrill, thin antics. They are the only elements that are transparent about him.
He works hard at steamrolling conversation, discussion, and position to his favor. He pursues the perfection of some imagined infallibility for he and his government; but when questioned and challenged on those, he lashes out and struggles to stonewall dissent into nonexistence, submerge any honest critic into silence. The man already has a critic-an imported one who does the most terrible injustice, brings the rankest pungency to the word and sum of its representation-but the nation’s leader will not be satisfied, not rest on his uneasy throne, while there is one ethical protester, one principled objector, to the crimes being waged by his government on the Guyanese people.
When he stumbles miserably at achieving his vain ends, and all the propaganda and public relations practitioners and machineries fail, then the leader resorts to what he knows best, what
comforts, if only for the briefest while. He lashes out unseeingly, pummels any who dare to stand in the way of his government and its litany of wrongdoing, starting with oil maladministration, and many financial malfeasances. It does not matter that it might be the elderly or the sick or the respectable, the President must have his say, if only to have his way. He may learn in time: the harder he tries with word tricks and the big stick, the brighter will be the wick that burns in substance and defiance to his attempts at suppression. The President will discover in his own time, and in the hard way, that though his words and weapons are plentiful, the human spirit is unconquerable.
When Guyana’s leader insists on recklessly barreling down perilous roads to squeeze obedience out of honorable citizens, he will be forced to come to grips with his denials, and with his own abandonment of the public commitments he made. In three words, they were about transparency, unity, and accountability. When conscientious citizens take to the streets to call him out that is demanding accountability. Not as he defines it, or limits it. But for all the deceptions and deviousness that have flourished under his watch, and for which accountability calls are answered by only more deceits and palpable misrepresentations. I make this clear to the President: he may think he is slick, and he is. But that only goes so far, lasts so long, and has its own imbibers.
An eyeopener for the President should be that even the foreigners that put him and his party in power want to have no part of, seek to separate from, and subtly push for change with what are now the norms of governance in segregated Guyana. From procurement to inclusion to the fullness of the frankest truthfulness, the calls from foreigners have drizzled on government and Guyanese citizens. Is he also going to dismiss them as naysayers and selective critics, (among the undesirables and the deviationists from his hypocritical scripts), when they utter veiled public condemnations?
Guyana’s President tramples upon Guyanese who differ with his government’s programs and approaches, but I doubt whether he would dare to differ with the ABC&E powers that made him what he is today. Because when foreign electoral gifts were grabbed, the terms “internal meddling” and “sovereign state and rights” were purged from this country’s political dictionary and the ruling PPPC’s vocabulary.
My parting unsolicited, sure to be unheeded, advice to the President is to listen to those who summon the courage to say what is not wanted to be heard: he has no clothes, so obviously naked is he. Conduct the honest self-evaluations, self-criticisms. Then proceed with the vital self-corrections.