Andrew Holness and the allure of youth
On Sunday, October 23, 2011, Andrew Holness became the youngest prime minister in Jamaica’s history at the age of 39. Holness’ swift rise to become the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and leader of his country has captivated West Indians around the region and grabbed the attention of citizens around the world. Here in The Bahamas I have heard some Bahamian commentator’s erroneously praise Holness’ ascendance as evidence of Jamaica’s mature political culture, which prioritizes and provides for smooth succession to leadership. Moreover, these political pundits derided our political institutions in part because the same two gentlemen (Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie) have dominated the Bahamian political landscape for 20 years – their political pupil-master, the late Sir Lynden Pindling, who coincidentally was of partial Jamaican extraction, ruled for 25 years. Unlike some political pundits, I take a much more measured and skeptical approach to Bruce Golding’s seemingly magnanimous decision to resign and make way for young, brilliant and visionary leadership as putatively embodied in the person of Holness.
I suspect that the driving force behind Golding’s decision to resign is more likely rooted in political gamesmanship and party politics. Golding resigned in part because of the serious political toll his handling of the Dudus affair had on his chances for re-election. The reluctance of Golding’s government to remove Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the Tivoli Gardens strongman and reputed JLP backer, exposed the endemic corruption in Jamaican politics particularly as it relates to the unholy alliance between some Jamaican politicians and garrison “dons”. Furthermore, Golding’s delayed and seemingly tepid resolve to reign in Coke morally bankrupted his administration and he was never able to recover, which necessitated and hastened his departure.
Nonetheless, it is reasonable to believe that Golding’s decision to resign was also influenced by personal and noble reasons. Arguably, Golding acted graciously and selflessly by agreeing to resign his post in the best interest of his party and ostensibly the nation. However, we must remember that political parties exist primarily to win elections. Hence, we as Bahamians must be cautious, careful, dispassionate and thorough in our analysis of global political processes and use that knowledge and analysis to inform our own political decisions.
Bahamian people have suffered from inadequate and mediocre political leadership over the last decade or so and the recent addiction and attraction to young politicians as the solution for our economic and social woes is in part a misguided reaction to our pervasive and enduring lackluster political leadership. Holness, a bright young man, signaled in his inaugural address his determination to tackle Jamaica’s vexing debt problem and stamp out political tribalism in his country. However, there is nothing in Holness’ track record to suggest that he will be a significant change from Golding and his retention of the same minister of finance possibly signals some continuity in fiscal policy.
Hence, we as Bahamians must not be misled by the allure of youth in this post-Obama era. Like Jamaica, The Bahamas needs visionary leaders who have a clear plan for development and advancement of our country. In addition, the lessons of the Arab Spring should teach us that change in leadership is often insufficient in and of itself to bring the kind of change that many people are yearning for. Thus, our situation will only improve through hard work and cooperation from many sectors in society. A change in our political leadership is not enough.
A general election will be held within the next seven months or so. Bahamians must use their voting rights carefully and intelligently to elect a leadership team that has the best plan for taking The Bahamas to the next level and to solve many of the nagging problems we face today such as high crime rates, high unemployment, a failing education system and high energy costs.
Young people must have a significant voice in our next elected government but we must realize that voting in young politicians is not a palliative for our myriad of social and economic problems. It will require a team effort from our society to get our ship of state back on the right track. We must not fall victim to a Messiah complex where we believe that one young man can save our country. Excellent political leadership is necessary to secure our development; but it is not sufficient.
Rishard P. O. Cooper