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Commentary: Death of the self-effacing leader? Tillman Thomas faces an uphill struggle
Published on February 13, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Marcia Braveboy

Grenadian children of the 50s, 60s and 70s still have fresh memories of the 1979 overthrow of the "Mongoose Gang" and the despotic rule of Grenada's first prime minister, Sir Eric Gairy.

Marcia Braveboy is a journalist from Grenada who has been living in Trinidad and Tobago for the past 11 years. She has 19 years experience in media, mainly in copy writing and news and broadcast journalism. She can be contacted at
And in a twist of irony, the bloody end of the offspring from the overthrow -- the Maurice Bishop-led People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) in 1983.

The first two prime ministers of the Spice Isle -- each popular and charismatic -- fell from grace, the latter never to survive what may have seemed to be his own karma revisiting his leadership, many times worse than his army's violent revolt over Sir Eric in 1979.

How could I forget?

I was a young reporter, 19 years of age, just starting my career in journalism, green-faced and overwhelmed, with the curiosity visibly leaping out of me.

The editor-in-chief at the newly formed Frontline newspaper, Leroy Noel, sent me to cover what was one of my first major media conferences at the Hibiscus Inn (a hotel owned by Sir Eric himself) when the slender-looking, blind old man, clad in a white suit (as always), sat at the head of the conference table and reminded journalists of his visionary assertion that Maurice Bishop lived by the gun and would died by the gun. The rest is history.

Fragmented families, husbands who were part of the insurrection had to flee to save their lives and for other unknown reasons, an unprecedented brain drain, the stability of a country rocked and left on shaky and unsuitable ground, a people left vulnerable and looking for answers, bloodied at heart.

Nicholas Brathwaite was thrown forward before an obviously despondent and unfocused people, still dazed by the bloody events of a revolutionary coup and an American invasion.

He was asked to chair what was an Interim Advisory Council that governed Grenada from December 9, 1983, to December 4, 1984 -- the year Grenadians voted in fresh elections.

Though he was overwhelmingly the favourite to lead the country at the time, Brathwaite was not ready to take on the mantle of prime minister. It was the beginning of a phase of self-effacing leaders who would govern Grenada and begin the healing after the Mongoose Gang rule and revolution eras.

From December 4, 1984, to December 19, 1989, a solemn looking Herbert A Blaize braved the tide for one term with a newly formed political party, the Grenada National Party (GNP). He would later be bound to a wheelchair after taking ill. Some believed industrial unrest and political pressures of the day consumed him. The differently-abled prime minister died in office of a heart attack, days after increasing protests by public servants for higher wages.

Everyone was looking for someone to blame, and the nation would be the judge, jury and prosecutor to determine who was responsible for the prime minister's sudden passing. Fingers pointed at the protesters, but they needed a face to put to the dissident voices and they found Keith Mitchell, who played a leading role in the demonstrations.

It was not a good sign for a people still reeling from the overthrow of its first prime minister and the assassination of its second prime minister. Mitchell would ensconce himself in the backstage of the political arena, at least for a while.

Another temperate leader was Ben Jones, who succeeded prime minister Blaize from December 20, 1989, to March 16, 1990, under the New National Party (NNP), the renamed Grenada National Party (GNP). During those incarnations, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was formed and was poised and ready to form the 1990 government. It would get ready to do battle with Keith Mitchell, who once again emerged, seeking to quench his thirst for political office.

But Mitchell's reputation was dwarfed by Nicholas Brathwaite's indisputable character. In what looked like a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice he made for his interim leadership role following the bloody coup, Brathwaite was given the opportunity to bring stability to the Spice Isle that still had blood on its soil.

Mitchell failed in his first attempt to become prime minister. It was Nicholas Brathwaite's time. The people refused to be duped by Mitchell's lavish campaign. The country handed him a humiliating defeat, in spite of his more-money campaign. Reputation mattered! Mitchell was seen as ousting former PM Blaize and taking over the NNP leadership in a party coup.

Grenada's present prime minister, Tillman Thomas, coming from the Herbert Blaize, Ben Jones and Nicholas Brathwaite eras, was one of the candidates of the Nicholas Brathwaite-led administration. It was his first attempt in the political race and he lost his seat.

With all three prime ministers surviving only one term in office, it was evident that the time of the self-effacing leader from where Grenada's PM Thomas was born had passed. History was slowly on the reverse and about to repeat itself.

The population comprised 60 percent youth, a demographic completely unaware of its past, of its history, and a generation whose gullibility and ignorance would seek more dynamic leadership, buying any package that represented their concept of what good leadership is. The time was right for Keith Mitchell to show what he could do.

Then attorney general, Dr Francis Alexis, and finance minister George Brizan were both accused of wanting to overthrow Brathwaite as the country (no doubt the young adults) raged on about economic hardships and the lukewarm style of leadership exercised by Brathwaite.

Under mounting pressures, he resigned mere months before the 1995 general election was due, making George Brizan the country's sixth prime minister, albeit for a short stint -- from February 1, 1995,when Brathwaite took his exit, to June 22, 1995, the same year the general election was called.

Keith Mitchell had a narrow victory at the 1995 polls -- eight to seven in his favour. With his vow to stay in office for 20 years, he was not about to get comfortable with a one-seat margin in the Parliament.

The people agreed that a new government undoing what the previous one achieved was regressive and that it was time to settle down.

With that tone set, Mitchell will enjoy political power for 13 long years -- three terms in office.

A one-seat majority in the Parliament meant the Mitchell-led NNP government was on thin ice, which cracked wide open because of the resignation of his right-hand man, Dr Raphael Fletcher, the then minister of legal affairs, local government and foreign affairs, leaving Mitchell with a minority government.

Dr Fletcher told the news media he resigned because there was too much corruption in the Mitchell-led NNP government.

Mitchell left nothing to chance; with just three years into government, in 1999, he dissolved Parliament and called a general election two years before it was due, catching a divided opposition off guard.

Mitchell and his NNP pulled off an historical victory, winning all fifteen seats, with no opposition in the Parliament. The former opposition side fragmented and went their separate ways.

Francis Alexis never gave up his attempts to become the political leader of the NDC, and George Brizan, who was the party's choice for leader, was not about to relinquish the post. They were caught in a state of unpreparedness by a government that collapsed on the grounds of corruption. To the analytical minds, that was mortifying to the opposition, and none was deserving of a place in Parliament.

With no opposition to hold the Mitchell-led NNP government to account, the government acted like it was answerable to no one. By the next election in 2003, again called one year ahead of schedule, Mitchell won a third term, but his strength was reduced once again to a one-seat majority.

For the second time in his political career, Mitchell's reputation had come into question, mainly due to corruption and rampant victimisation. Five years later on July 8, 2008, he lost power to the NDC, led by current Prime Minister Tillman Thomas. Mitchell remained leader of his party and took up his seat across the hall as leader of the opposition, from where he kept the pressure on the new government.

The self-effacing-style leader in Tillman Thomas was given another chance, but like the three prime ministers of the 1984-1995 eras, will his style of leadership prove to be too tepid to hold on to the reins of power, or will he in like manner suffer the same shameful fate of being a one-term prime minister?

The odds are stacked against the non dynamic Thomas. It's partly because of his fallout with some of his MPs and government ministers like Michael Church, Carl Hood, Peter David and his other disciples.

Clearly, there were divisions and distrust in the Thomas administration from day one, from old NDC stalwarts like Maureen Emanuel, who never wanted the ever-charismatic Peter David and others to be part of NDC.

Then there were disagreements over Thomas's position on casino gambling and Grenada's relationship with ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas). Thomas also opposed casino gambling, while some members of his cabinet, including David, supported it.

PM Thomas's government was rattled with too much infighting and talk of corruption among some of his ministers. The fallout has become discomforting to the populace and seemingly even to PM Thomas, who eventually prorogued the Parliament through Governor General Sir Carlyle Glean in September, 2012. This measure helped him escape a no-confidence vote against his leadership style.

The stars do seem lined up for the return of the heavy hand of Mitchell as Thomas struggles to hold on.

A close race could go either way. A landslide win could mean that the opposition may form the new government.

February 19, the Grenada election date, will demonstrate if the self-effacing leader is destined to one term in government as is now an evident pattern in Grenada's political history. It will also demonstrate if the dynamic leadership style of Mitchell will trump the self-effacement-style leadership of former prime ministers, Brathwaite, Blaize, Jones and now, PM Thomas.

First published by Jyoti Communications
Reads: 6799

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