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By GHK Lall
The word making the rounds across a broadening section of the populace is that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Aubrey Norton, is not the same man since he met with members of the diplomatic corps, none as much as Her Excellency, the American Ambassador. In the contexts and travails of Guyana, no one is more meaningful, carries more weight, has more say on what goes on here, what doesn’t, and by whose hands. The believed changed nature of the body language and posture of the Opposition Leader is a sentiment that has gained traction, one that is hardening. This belief has progressed from speculation to evaluation to conclusion: he has changed. I discern some of that adjustment detected by others. Now I think that the reality is best summed up and then tracked via some simple questions: what does this new territory traveled by Mr. Norton look like? How is he coming across? What does this say about him? Last, what does his possibly amended visions mean when reconciled with the hard, immovable expectations of his own constituency?
I begin in reverse order, the last question addressed first. Mr. Norton’s large constituency is an unhappy one that labors with a heaving heart. It exists on the edges in a time of plenty, and that is the chief source of its anxieties, its unsettledness, and its furiousness. Thus, I say the unnecessary: their expectations are high, which could turn out to be a challenge, if not jarringly problematic, for the new opposition chief. It is a burden that he must manage wisely. He cannot be too preoccupied with understanding the priorities of outsiders and commit to a course of action that dilutes the anticipations of his own people on the inside, and leave them hanging by a thread, if that much. Most of them don’t like where he is, and how he goes about his mandate; his mandate is their business, one taken most seriously, since time is a nonnegotiable condition.
As studied by many, self included, the new road embarked upon by the still new Opposition Leader is one well-peopled by foreign voices, foreign interests, and foreign insistences on the way that the local atmosphere must be. They have their oil that matters highly (America), their gold interests and that’s just for a start (Canada), and their sweet downstream opportunities in numerous spheres (mainly British and other Europeans). None of their plenipotentiaries will utter a syllable in public admitting to, or supporting of, any of this, which alone suffices to confirm what is biggest for them, and of which the Leader of the Opposition must be made to know in persuasive, but no uncertain, terms. I believe that he was.
Now, what Mr. Norton has had to contend with is the unhelpful reality that these are the beautiful folks who are calling the shots. Now he has to measure and reconfigure his approach, due to the weight of circumstances somewhat peculiar to Guyana, and many not of his own making. And now he has been prompted to rebalance what was probably the aggressive ambitions of his first blueprints. I think he has, which ongoing circumstances evidence.
To begin with, the words of the new Opposition Leader now come across as very carefully chosen, his temperature a couple of degrees lower, his pulse slower. He looks as though he is walking gingerly on eggshells along a rope bridge littered with gaps and rot, but one which he still must navigate. To say that all this it is uncharacteristic of the man would be an understatement. In the man, it may be acceptable to a point, but as the Opposition Leader of this hour, the word coming down is that he had better think again, reconfigure his strategy, and start over. I agree, as he does not have the luxuries of time, patience, or the opportunities afforded by second chances. His people will have none of any of that, maybe at a time before, but certainly not today. Already there are caricatures of him, from his own.
I think that he has his work cut out for him, and his approaches have not inspired his camp. He has registered as one who has followed foreign flags too quietly, but not pushing powerfully enough for the agenda of his own people. The woes of his own are undeniable: left out, run over, kicked about. Like I keep saying, it’s a tall order to fulfill, scales in urgent need of rebalancing. In his first tests before foreigners, he cannot be this much of a giver, this kind of yielder. Too much, too early, too easily is the story that is said of him. This much is what I say about him. I would be the first to acknowledge that his is a taut balancing act, but the ABCEU soup that is the essence of the diplomatic corps must be made to understand that he must have something in return to take to his people for whatever is laid before him.
The foreigners and their oil constituencies want tranquility, so that the investor climate enriches still further, while the oil flows smoothly. Meantime, all that Mr. Norton’s constituency seek is their piece of the national patrimony. I think that there must be harder bargaining around those not necessarily clashing elements. As he parlays with foreigners, he coexists with locals. Many of his people seek confrontation. This is where all roads terminate, where issues freeze, for those at the edges. In all this, the Opposition Leader must prove to possess the constitution and conviction that he is wise enough to balance, and brave enough to stretch the rubber band to its maximum, without snapping. This is not science, but an art at which a leader must be agile, capable, and assured. In all three components, Guyana’s Opposition Leader must be regarded as a man to engage, not one gamed. Aubrey Norton, therefore, has to table his whole program, identify his top priorities, and rise doggedly.