Out of the ruins
This is the most important period in our nation’s history. This is the most fertile moment of our Independence. Despite the fact that it feels like nothing is happening, that our country seems frozen in time and place, and even though our government is seemingly finding itself paralysed daily by stupid mistakes, petty quarrels, and embarrassments—when it was supposed to be partnering with the people on a great adventure.
Despite all this, there has never been a possibility of national transformation such as at this moment. We, however, need to understand why this is so, and we need to manufacture the keys to unlock the miracles of this time.
We are at a new dawn because, as a country, we are living through the most significant accomplishment of our cultural life—the destruction of the culture of maximum leadership. This is the reason the country is now paralysed.
To move forward, we now need to understand what the maximum leader syndrome was, how we defeated it, and what must take its place. We must understand that this victory was accomplished by pitched civilian battles up and down the country, throughout nearly every institution. It was the people of this country—individual citizens, communities, NGOs, and progressive movements—that removed Manning and Panday and the culture of the maximum leader they embodied. We need to understand the importance of this. This has nothing to do with the People’s Partnership government. This was a victory of ordinary people.
We must also be clear that we have known nothing else and are now operating in a vacuum.
But we forget how much the battle to win this new time was completely a civilian invention. For almost seven years there was no legitimate opposition. The people were the opposition. It was only in the final months that the opposition spectacularly got its house in order—and it was a people’s revolt that revitalised that dead horse by ousting the seemingly immovable Mr Panday. The larger national revolt against Mr. Manning was not some cunning plan orchestrated by opposition masterminds. It was the crystallisation of genuine feelings from normal citizens. Normal citizens simply had had enough. In that magic period, grandmothers transformed into activists and stopped global multi-billion-dollar aluminum smelter conglomerates.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the energy that gripped this country in the months before the collapse of the last government was the closest that T&T has come to a real a war for independence!
In many ways Mr Manning’s excesses revealed the tyrannical possibilities of the maximum ruler only hinted at before. In so doing he woke up a sleeping people. Trinbagonians saw the terrifying possibility of the maximum leader for the first time—and squashed it.
The cult of the maximum leader was forced on these islands as a system of governance when they were invaded by European powers and set up as plantation economies. The governor and planters were installed as laws unto themselves. In Trinidad, however, an evolved form of centralised control was later created called the crown colony. The crown colony created a real maximum leader—a governor (who would later become (PM) Prime Minister, Project Manager or Planter Maximus)—who could not be controlled by Council (Cabinet), Parliament or the People. He was answerable only to his foreign masters.
The crown colony instituted a system whereby the country was run by orders from the maximum leader, which were followed to the letter all the way down to street sweeper. Initiative and original ideas were frowned upon and punished. Proximity to the leader meant the possibility of gifts, ideas different from the leader’s meant punishment. This became the culture of our entire civic life, and the culture of the public service.
During the worst incarnations of the maximum leader — governors Picton, Woodford, and Grant, or prime ministers Williams, Manning, and Panday—these leaders gutted our country and its institutions of visionaries and thinkers. They replaced independent leadership with overseers who only followed orders and parroted orthodoxies. This meant that most of the best ideas for improvements in our country’s history have never been implemented, because they did not come from the leader or his favourites.
The slow death of Genius in T&T has been by the assassination of brilliant ideas and people, one by one, by servants of the leaders. This culture has infected every level of the society. This culture has left the country completely unequipped to deal with native genius, ideas and potential.
Which brings us to today.
This country has never had institutions, protocols or rituals of governance that have been participatory. We know only how to follow orders, or to rebel by refusing to work. There is no culture of meritocracy, reward for initiative, or systems of assessing value currently in place in the public service and the wider civic life of the country.
Our current adventure is that we must now fashion engines that will enable us to participate and get our Genius running through the system. We are really only now at the point of the construction of the democracy we thought we were inhabiting. We are now really engaged in the adventure of forming a nation.