Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Pharaoh factor in Caribbean politics

By Oliver Mills

Politics in the Caribbean is in a state of volatility and controversy. The fundamental question is, when has this never been the case?

In one country, accusations are being made over the receipt of aid money from Libya, to help in the rebuilding of the country after the damage done by Hurricane Tomas.

In another, an interim government is in place directing the affairs of the country through an Advisory Council and a Consultative Forum.

Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He has published numerous articles in human resource development and management, as well as chapters in five books on education and human resource management and has presented professional papers in education at Oxford University in the UK and at Rand Africaans University in South AfricaIn yet another country, its president’s performance has been described as fifth rate, and doing nothing for his country.

Again in another, the political directorate has been accused of having a minimal impact on nation building, and failing to provide intellectual and moral direction towards putting the country on the right track.

What is really going on in the politics of the Caribbean? Why is it that, particularly in four countries, which are indeed representative of the others, there are these contentions against the political directorates? These are tame in comparison to what is happening in other Caribbean countries. And there is no difference whether these countries are independent or not.

We would have thought that with so many years of political maturity, with technology and communications being so highly developed, that some level of sanity would have emerged in the politics of our region. But it has not. Is what is happening a reflection of a lively democracy, or is the critical reason what I have decided to describe, as the Pharaoh factor in Caribbean politics?

The idea of a lively democracy, on the surface would seem to imply unrestricted debate and dialogue over the pertinent issues of the day, elections held within a certain period of time, the presence of opposition forces, and a ‘free’ press. But this seems to be what a political leader in Israel has called, a process, rather than the values that go along with it.

Is democracy therefore more than a process, or a set of procedures, but most importantly a values based practice? When we examine what has just been given as happening in the four Caribbean territories, is it merely processes and procedures, rather than evidence of certain cardinal values which govern, and are integral to the practice of real democracy?

At one level, if one sovereign country decides to negotiate an aid package from another, irrespective of the politics of the lender country, is this not a democratic right to choose and deal with any country one chooses, or is it that either insufficient discussions were held with other political forces, or they were not consulted at all? In the latter sense, is it evidence of Pharaoh politics, rather than the politics of deliberation involving all significant actors?

In the Turks & Caicos, is the formation of an Advisory Council, and a Consultative Forum to assist in the process of governance, after certain alleged behaviours by politicians, a form of democratic intervention, since locals were appointed as members of these bodies, and therefore make decisions on behalf of the country, even though they are not formally elected?

And, are critical comments concerning the performance of the political directorates not evidence of democracy in action? Or, is it because of the practice of Pharaoh politics in the Caribbean by its leaders, which generated this response from other political forces?

Is reaction to policies by political directorates based on the fact that they appear ill-conceived, and in total disregard for the involvement of other interests, a form of democracy in action, or is it a response to political inertia, lack of concern, and self-righteousness of Caribbean political leaders?

Is this not the politics of Pharaoh where the political leader does as he or she wishes, or does not do anything of substance, and does not care irrespective of what others may think?

But what is real and genuine democracy? It involves serious deliberation with others about policies and issues, using rational and reasonable arguments in order to agree on a position satisfactory to all. Here, the general interest is considered, without partiality. Agreement is arrived at through dialogue, and not by the threat of force, psychological or otherwise.

Pharaoh politics on the other hand has to do with some Caribbean leaders being highly autocratic in their actions, running roughshod over competing parties, and of the Pharaoh character feeling that his opinions and actions are above criticism or debate, and all others who challenge this position are unpatriotic, or disrespectful to the office of the Pharaoh.

We have seen Pharaoh politics in action in a most blatant form in Grenada under Gairy, in Haiti under Papa Doc and his son, and in many of the actions of earlier Caribbean leaders on assuming power. Some of these felt that because they were the first to form political parties or trade unions, that there was a certain entitlement they had, and therefore it was rude and disrespectful to challenge them.

Unfortunately, this type of political mentality has seeped down to many of our political operatives. We saw this in a remark by one political leader that it is either his way, or the highway. And again, by the same leader who when challenged to give up leadership after a number of years in opposition said that no other person in the party was qualified to succeed him. This is the politics of Pharaoh in action.

Pharaoh politics is also seen where political supporters break up political meetings, or other gatherings that oppose the existing regimes, or use other intimidating tactics, to discourage opposition activity. It is also seen in the gerrymandering of constituencies giving favour to one political party over the other. It is further seen where after an election, irrespective of the competencies of people, many are removed from their jobs, and replaced by the supporters of the Pharaoh.

Again the politics of Pharaoh shows itself in awarding contracts to the chosen, without even any bidding process being put in place. It is further seen in using the institutions and resources of the state for self enrichment, and the enrichment of Pharaoh’s colleagues at the expense of the people and the sustainability of the state.

It is also observed in the behaviour of the Pharaoh, after accumulating enormous resources for himself. The many homes built, the construction of what could be regarded as palaces, the encouraging of political spies who carry news on others, truthful or simply made up, and the resulting political victimisation of these persons.

Pharaoh politics therefore results in the accumulation of resources through rather innovative means, seeing the populace as us and them, the idea that if you are not with me, you are against me, granting extraordinary favours without using the correct channels, or influencing these channels to do so, and creating psychological fear in others, and the use of reprisals on those who are of a different persuasion.

But what are the origins of Pharaoh politics? It has its beginnings in the parliamentary system of government, surprisingly, since this is the model that is supposed to promote and represent real democracy. This system encourages a maximum leader with enormous powers and authority. This leader can apportion political responsibilities, has the resources to attract support, can dominate politics, and can hire or fire ministers.

The parliamentary system therefore produces autocratic leaders disguised as democratic figures. The maximum leader can also ignore the advice of public officials and his ministers, and appoint his or her own core of advisers. This is the origin of the Pharaoh factor.

From this emerged a situation where two cousins headed two opposing political parties. Two brothers are ministers of government in different parties, and because of the politics, a president hands over office to his wife. And again, a situation where the father was head of government, and was later followed by his son. This is the story of Pharaoh politics in the Caribbean.

And what kind of politics does the Caribbean need to free itself from the grip of Pharaoh politics? It is first of all a politics of values. This means that there are certain values that are adhered to in the practice of political discourse. These include having a moral approach to the issues.

This involves making decisions on their merit, establishing political parties with a moral purpose of what is right and good, and making choices which benefit the entire populace, and not a segment of the country. It also means choosing to run for office, people with ethical backgrounds, and who have a character history of making choices and decisions that are noble and just.

It also means that Caribbean politics needs to be standards based, using prescribed benchmarks which can be measured to determine behaviour that is acceptable. The abolition of Pharaoh politics also means having compassion and care for people and their problems, being sensitive to the needs of others, and having the capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Pharaoh politics lacks compassion and identification with the needs of those who do not share Pharaoh’s vision.

Caribbean politics further needs to have institutions that are honourable and trustworthy, can be depended on to deliver, and that are run by people who show mercy and a sense of deep humanity. Most importantly, the Caribbean intelligentsia needs to educate the public on the real meaning of a changed and relevant politics that is kind, gentle, and reasonable.

We further need to rid ourselves of the politics of hate, divisiveness, and which forms cleavages and factions. The latter needs to be replaced by a politics that is all inclusive, respectful of the individual and his or her contribution, and which puts the interests and welfare of the country, over that of political constructions formed within it.

All of these constitute the ingredients of an antidote to the Pharaoh factor in Caribbean politics.

March 10, 2011