Mandela brought out best in T&T leaders
Being especially gracious, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley commended the professionalism of the Caribbean Airlines flight crew that, over 13 hours each way, delivered him and the Caricom delegation to and from South Africa. Even in death, Nelson Mandela, whose obsequies inspired the trip, was capable of bringing out the best in political leaders this far away.
“Our aircraft parked on the tarmac with the label Caribbean Airlines…symbolised us as one people, coming together on an occasion that was almost unique,” Dr Rowley reflected. He was recalling the historic experience shared with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose decision had made it all possible.
T&T’s political leaders are of course more used to dumping on each other, and scoring low blows. Last week, they found in the passing of former South African president Mandela, acknowledged apostle of peace and reconciliation, an opportunity to show themselves to be bigger than that for which they are normally known.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar had determined that Dr Rowley, titular tribune of a national constituency traditionally opposed to her own, should accompany her to South Africa. For a memorable moment, narrow political promptings were waved aside, as the Prime Minister felt summoned to demonstrate and project to the world a larger picture of what T&T is all about, or could be.
Dr Rowley at once reciprocated the sentiment by agreeing to walk side by side with his political adversary, confirming a truly national T&T salute to an acknowledged international paragon. “Our Prime Minister,” the Opposition Leader said, “demonstrated that Trinidad and Tobago is prepared…to rise to the occasion and to provide that leadership and that facilitation for growth and development of the Caribbean people.”
Dr Rowley and Mrs Persad-Bissessar found occasion to appraise T&T’s responsibilities in the region. From the figure bidding to be the next Prime Minister, the world thus heard recognition of a continuing T&T “responsibility, by being where we are in the region and being blessed as we are” to show the way to others.
Nor did the decision by the T&T leaders go unnoticed. In Guyana, the Caribbean republic that most nearly resembles the demographic and political mix of T&T, unfavourable comparisons were made between the Persad-Bissessar decision and that of President Donald Ramotar.
At their Mandela memorial in Georgetown, opposition voices expressed “total disappointment how our boy (President Ramotar) just up and went by himself”.
Their government, they argued, should have followed the T&T lead and invited the Opposition Leader to be part of Guyana’s Mandela/South Africa delegation.
One grand occasion may not change entrenched realities. T&T last week, however, found reason to hope that, as Mrs Persad-Bissessar said of herself and Dr Rowley: “We would always agree…that we all want to see a better T&T”.
In such a commitment, all of T&T would place faith and hope.