Grenada’s current prime minister may be the most powerful and popular leader the country has had in generations after the revolutionary leader, former prime minister Maurice Bishop. Ironically though, Dr Mitchell may be the most polarizing. Thousands like, admire and follow him, passionately. Thousands also hate him bitterly hoping for his demise and the day when he will no longer be involved in local politics. Such is the personality, nature and characteristics of the man who is the longest serving prime minister of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and who prides himself as the champion of the poor and vulnerable.
Dr Mitchell can boast of his economic and political accomplishments throughout his long political career, which include the construction of the national stadium and his leadership of the New National Party (NNP).
Even as the prime minister accepts accolades for these achievements and accomplishments, can he qualify himself as a great leader and democrat? Or will his actions and attitude condemn him as one of the modern era dictators who deprived the people of their basic rights and freedoms? It is my opinion that his political accomplishments as prime minister in his tenure as a leader of the nation aren’t enough for him to get the honour and distinction as a great regional leader. Dr Mitchell will have to do much more to promote the social, economic, socio-political and spiritual development of Grenada, its people and the region before any serious consideration can be given to him as a great regional leader and democrat.
The Caribbean has not produced many great democratic leaders since independence from Britain, Spain or France. Many regional leaders have shown elements of greatness but none has shown the totality of a great leader. My first choice would be Maurice Bishop; however, he wasn’t elected democratically by the people. He however received the overwhelming support of 99% of the Grenadian population, the wider Caribbean and the countries of the United Nations because of his personality and genuine love for people.
During his rule, the Maurice Bishop International Airport the largest single infrastructure ever under taken by any government was built. Apart from that, the social, economic and political consciousness and circumstances of the people were elevated. Grenadians were respected in the international community. Every Caribbean citizen looked at Grenada as a country to emulate during the period 1979-83. Maurice was a great leader. What Grenada accomplished in four-and-a-half years under Maurice Bishop was way beyond what the country achieved in thirteen years from 1995-2008. Maurice Bishop was able to do all these things even while the country was in an adversarial relationship with the United States.
Dr Mitchell is serving his fourth term as leader and prime minister; however, there isn’t a major successful ‘national ‘ event or activity than can be attributed to his leadership. Fortunately he now has another opportunity to leave a lasting legacy of a successful leader and democrat once he promotes and protects our democratic institutions and improves the living standards of the people.
In 1999 he was given an overwhelming mandate by the people, only to use that power in a dictatorial manner. The country became worse off as a result. The gap between rich and poor widened as the concentration of power and wealth was enjoyed by a small circle of party hawks and cronies. Once again, the prime minister has total control of the lower house and so the people have put their trust in him to deliver, with the hope that in doing so he protects our democracy.
A democrat is an individual who believes in participatory democracy. He/she protects and promotes the civil rights of every citizen and democratic institutions. A democrat believes in governance for and by the people, the equality of the rights and privileges of every citizen, social and political equality. A successful leader must be a person of integrity, character and honour. He must be transparent leading by example and not by words. A successful leader must be transformational, changing the circumstances of the people for the better. Notable democrats include Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.
A dictator is an individual who holds and/or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power. Dictatorial traits include the passing of laws without effective restraints, consolidation of political power through the manipulation of the media, security forces and democratic institutions, including the judiciary; repression of civil liberties and human rights; repression of political opponents; and the creation of a personality cult. Notable world dictators include Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Pinochet.
Economic failures and successes
The construction of the national stadium and other infrastructural developments were some accomplishments of the prime minister; however, the fiasco surrounding the first $159 million stadium is indicative of his rule. For thirteen consecutive years he was unable to attract credible investors into the country. The country lost millions of dollars in guarantees and failed projects, including the Garden Group, Mt Hartman and Levera. The cry for accountability and transparency by the population fell on deaf ears and Dr Mitchell, in true dictatorial style, pushed his agenda unabated with even the other elected MPs cowed into submission to his powers.
In comparison, former PM Tillman Thomas in four-and-a-half years was able to attract the world class brand Sandals into Grenada.
Under the leadership of Dr Mitchell, Grenada’s national debt rose from $340 million to over $1.8 billion dollars with very little investment in the productive sectors of the economy. Millions were wasted and, instead of taking responsibility for his actions, attempts are now been made to shift the blame and demonise the former administration and finance minister Nazim Burke. During the 1995-2008 era, the people of Grenada didn’t get value for money, as was the case for the four-and-a- half years of the NDC. In politics, the buck stops with the leader and so it is an accepted fact that the national debt is the main obstacle to Grenada’s economic development.
Economic development can make a prime minister a great leader, once that development improves the life of all the citizens of the country in a sustainable way and not only those who are supporters of his/her party. Into a fourth term as leader, Grenada now has to seek an accommodation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Whether that is economic success or failure you will have to decide. What I do know, however, is that a leader doesn’t become great by making great speeches. Great speeches must be followed by genuine actions that change the circumstances of mankind in a positive way. Dr Mitchell now has a second opportunity to prove his worth as a successful leader. What route he takes depends entirely on his attitude toward his cabinet, supporters, opponents, local, regional and international community. Dr Mitchell is once again the minister of finance and prime minister. His election campaign promises of investors being lined up to rush to our shores once the NNP won the elections is a fallacy. It appears that once again attempts are being made to create a ‘Green Economy ‘ where perceived supporters of the NDC are being dismissed and supporters of the NNP are employed. Is this the attitude of a successful leader or that of a dictator?
In some circles and only recently on one of the social networks mention was made to the effect that the prime minister doesn’t have offspring living in Grenada and so he is oblivious to the plight of the people. The prime minister by virtue of his position as head of the executive branch of government has the legal, moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that resources of the country benefit all citizens. President Bill Clinton during his two terms in office transformed the economy of the United States, creating 23 million jobs to the benefit of all Americans, Democrats and Republican alike. It is not by accident that he is one of the most successful US presidents in modern history. He is loved by blacks, whites and Hispanics because of the way he governed for all. Out of a population of 315 million he has only one child but that didn’t prevent him from working for the benefit of mankind everywhere.
Social failures and successes
In the preparation of this letter I made a gallant effort to get some information on some of the major social successes of Dr Mitchell for the period 1995-2008. I encountered great difficulties in coming up with any major successful social project or program initiated by the NNP for thirteen years that has served the best interest of the children, indigent, people with disabilities and seniors citizens.
The social development of a country is a critical component in nation building. The Ministry of Social Development should help to build successful individuals, strong and healthy families and thriving communities. If, as a country, our people can’t come together in the spirit of effective communication and co-operation, then it will be a challenge for communities to work together.
Social programs in the country throughout the tenure of Dr Mitchell as a leader of the country have been used as a political tool in a carrot and stick ‘ fashion. Once you are a supporter of the NNP you are entitled to a carrot in the form of a ‘food basket’, a pension, even if you don’t reach the age of retirement, and other monetary assistance. If you are perceived not to be a supporter, then you get the “big stick”.
The greatest social travesty however is the deliberate, systematic and calculated social division of the population into colours of green and yellow that segments our population along party lines. Thousands of Grenadians are under mental stress as a result of this policy. Many people felt a sign of relief when the prime minister after winning a fourth term in office called for national unity and inclusiveness. In the words of Peter David, bring an end to ‘tribal politics’. This call hasn’t however been manifested in the actions of the government for the past three months. Once again, and it may even be worse this time, ‘tribal politics’ is sinking deeper roots in the land. A successful democrat and leader would have use the mandate given to him by the people to encourage positive social interaction among the people.
President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, in an effort to unite his people against the scourge of HIV and AIDS in his country, picked up a bullhorn and went from town to town across Uganda educating Ugandans on the merits of abstinence from sex and, in the event that they must have sex, the use a condom. As a result of his action the rate of infection HIV/AIDS in Uganda went from 15% of the population in 1990 to 6% in 2011. Great social success.
To the contrary, what we witnessed in Grenada from 1995-2005 was a decay in the social fabric of our society. Former PM Tillman Thomas made an effort to educate our people to be citizens with high moral values; however, he was criticised for his efforts. The country once again runs the risk of even greater social decay and division.
Political successes and failures
Dr Mitchell can boast of many personal political successes, including having the distinction of being the longest serving member of parliament. He has been a member of parliament since 1984, serving in various ministerial positions, including minister of communications and works. He also has the distinction of being the political leader of the NNP to lead his party to four election victories, including total control of the lower house twice, 1999 and 2013.
Despite these major personal accomplishments, his political career has been marred by confrontation, chaos and controversy. He became political leader of the NNP by openly challenging the leadership of former Prime Minister Herbert Blaize. Based on his own personal experiences he has ensured that he remained political leader of the NNP since 1989 by exercising total control of the apparatus of the party through fear and intimidation. Any member of the party with a slight ambition of becoming political leader was instantly marginalized.
Dr Mitchell is well known for having a big ego; he has this Eric Gairy Syndrome. He sees himself as a ‘Sultan ‘. His grandiose political ambition has sometimes come into direct contradiction to the wishes of the people, resulting in unnecessary political instability. Dr Mitchell needs to stop doing that — thinking that he has a monopoly on political power in Grenada. He is just a prime minister. In this his fourth term as prime minister he needs to concentrate of using the mandate to genuinely unite the people not by mere rhetoric or empty words but by serious actions. There are widespread complaints that the NNP administration has been intolerant of criticism or diverse opinions. The administration is seen as vindictive and dictatorial. It’s either you are for or against.
Great democracies promote diversity of opinions and ideas, resulting in sustainable economic growth. Autocrats on the other hand suppress ideas and the free flow of information, resulting in economic stagnation. During the rule of former PM Tillman Thomas, the opposition led by the current prime minister was allowed to air their views and perspective on the GIS. Today, all efforts are being made by the Mitchell-led administration to keep the opposition off the airwaves. Calls for political unity and inclusiveness are matched by censorship, political victimization and discrimination.
As he calls for unity and inclusiveness, the prime minister is laying the foundation to create a ‘Hermit Kingdom’. With total control of the lower house he may even be contemplating the transformation of the country’s political system from the prime ministerial form of government to a more powerful presidential system, with himself as head of state.
In conclusion, great leaders have the ability to bring out the best in the people that they lead. They inspire the population, including their political opponents, set the example and are not caught in hypocrisy and lies. Their love for country and people takes precedence over self. They are not overly egoistic nor are they autocratic. Serving long terms in office doesn’t make a political leader great or successful. History will show that the great successful democratic leaders served for short periods. Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Lula Da Silva, whilst those serving long terms become famous dictators: Saddam Hussien, Colonel Ghaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Robert Mugabe.
As our people struggle to overcome the many social, economic and political challenges confronting them, let’s hope and pray that Dr Mitchell is not offering unfortunate proof that it is possible to be both elected and authoritarian. Eighty-four percent of the electorate voted for democracy and a better standard of living and so the prime minister should heed this call and use this mandate to lead the country is a positive way. It is also my expectations that my letter may be interpreted for what is it and that I may not become a victim of the new anti-terrorism bill. Let us all lay the foundation for our democracy to flourish so that successive generations can work and live in a era of peace and stability.
The chaos and conflict taking place in the Middle East, as citizens fight for greater democracy, rights, freedoms and employment should never be allowed to reach our shores. To ensure that doesn’t happen in the future, our leaders must promote democracy, transparency and good governance.
Dr Mitchell is well placed to stand out in the region as the leader after Maurice Bishop who seeks to work for the advancement of all the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the wider Caribbean. Time isn’t on his side to prove his worth to future generations. He may go down in the history books as a successful and democratic leader or Grenada’s longest serving dictator, even after winning numerous elections.