Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
President Ali went to Bartica and the worst in him came out. It was of the real man emerging from behind his determined attempts at civility, refinement, sophistication, and a man of the people. I regret to state that he is none of these things, as was emphasized in one enlightening instant in Bartica. Instead, our own dear leader sounded and looked like what he is at the core of his leadership shams: a heavyweight blusterer, a petty bully, and someone flirting on the edges of political bipolarism. I would say that all this is more than what characterizes his leadership style; it is of how he defines himself, how he loses his struggles to live up to a surface sheen of care, but which abandons him in times of challenge.
This is precisely what he experienced, how he was tested, in the distant township of Bartica last Wednesday. When the hour came, he came apart and crumbled; worse yet, the President, who fancies himself to have the trappings of statesmanship, perhaps some ambition towards greatness, let the outlandish and boorish overtake him. He was not distinguished, but close to wolfish. A female farmer asked him a simple question about his PPP Government’ intentions with oil blocks and President, leader, and man became unhinged. He lost it for a long moment, and after jeering setback, retaliated in rage, through delivering a sharp tongue lashing to the chastened questioner, who was definitely bullied into submission and retreat.
I don’t care that the President gained energy and courage from his cheerleading squad. What I care about is that a national leader could deteriorate so quickly, react so crudely to a question about arguably the most material issue in this country. In one startling moment, the President degraded from sailing serenely down to the darkness and dangerousness of brutalizing his single question, single issue, single female interrogator. The leader lost his footing. The budding maximum leader in waiting (that he likely aspires to be) lost any disciplined hold of his mind.
There is no need for shouting to suppress the unwanted raised by the undesirable about the unacceptable. Presidential visits are not coronations and celebrations, but of the hard realities on the ground, and the fears of those forced to function on the margins. Presidential visits and outreaches are not supposed to be about the set piece arrangements of a well-laid out chessboard, and of the usual stage management, where selected people are permitted to present prearranged questions. Rather, such leadership visits are about the real fears, the raw emotions, and genuine concerns of rank-and-file citizens (not handpicked audiences) to articulate what is troubling them, and about what they feel alarmed enough, to venture forth publicly and raise their hand and voice in honest, humble inquiry. This is how a bona fide democracy works; it is how thoughtfully mature and reasonable leaders respond to unsettling moment; it is how the conscientious citizen utilizes a right of citizenship to press for truthful and clear answers from their President.
I don’t think that citizens are there to please their President. As His Excellency ought to know, it is the other way around, where leaders are subject to the hard and persistent questions that just will not go away. Of necessity, sometimes they can be harsh, inconvenient, and most discomforting. But it is in moments like these, that leaders with upright backbone, with compulsory moral compass, with the required ethical anchor neither flinch nor sweat nor shout out in sturdy attempt at silencing.
I remind the President that a growing number of Guyanese are not deceived by these well-organized photo-ops, with antiseptic Presidential smiles and hugs and the usual nonsense trotted out for public consumption. They are disenchanted and angry, and the President must learn to deal with them. It is about real life, and the last time I checked, the leader wears merely the officialese of His Excellency, President Ali, and not Ali the Almighty. He should get any ideas in that regard out of his head is my respectful recommendation to Guyana’s leader. He has so much to know, so much more to grow. He has nowhere to go when such questions from other fearless Guyanese come before him. The world of leadership is not made up of merely Mia Mottley moments, and similar spectacles that make for good media serenades.
It is why I go the pains of telling the President what his sycophants cringe from telling him: he looked bad, he sounded bad, because he was bad, in a that moment of trial. I submit to him also that Presidents and Prime Ministers are always on trial, and when they speak to truth and what could stand up anywhere before anyone, then there is no need either to come down hard on the wayward, or to wage war on the weak, because it makes them (leaders) look small. Leaders must always be ready to take any question from anyone at any time in any place. That’s the sum of it, and it is nonnegotiable. When a President conducts himself as Guyana’s own did at Bartica, then he confirms that all is not well and as rosy as he likes to market things. Clearly, there are matters of national import that he and his government prefer to remain hidden, untouched, and unexposed.
The President must take the good with the bad, absorb any punch, and not resort to form, to all that he knows, and all that feature prominently in his governance strategy and style. It is to browbeat into surrender. That has its place and its folks. President Ali may feel the big man about town with his swagger derived from his accompanying worshipful entourage. The reality is that he revealed himself for the poor leader that he is, one who has a glass chin below a mind mangled by missteps. When he had to occasion to show his true colors, he did; and it was not a pleasant sight nor sound.