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Happy birthday prime minister


Published: Aug 21, 2013

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Dear Editor,

Congratulations PM on reaching that biblical benchmark, three score and 10. In today’s world of scientific health enhancements, they say 70 is the new 50. There must be some truth to this when one considers the hectic pace you have kept non-stop since the Elizabeth by-election, jumping from event to event.

Next year will make 40 years that you have spent in public life. You are truly now the father of Parliament. By anybody’s standards, you have enjoyed a stellar political career. Your siblings and I am sure Bernie and your children revel in your success. Your personal history of achievement is a testament to your character in going after your dream with all your might and power. Brazilian author Paulo Coelho said it best in “The Alchemist”, his enchanting tale of an Andalusian shepherd boy who was told “ to realize one’s personal legend (ambition) is a person’s only obligation. There is a journey we must take to achieve what we want, a journey obscured by distractions and one that tests your faith, power and courage. Along the way you learn to trust your heart (instincts) and read the signs as we strive to fulfill our dreams”.

Over the years, your antagonists have misread you badly with the negative labels they have put on you – lazy, disorganized, under-achieving. But so what, as they have been politically spanked by you on so many occasions. Your personal history has been one of determination, perseverance, resiliency, hard work. How do you under-estimate a guy who was expelled from high school as a teen for being dumb but clawed his way back by running messenger duties in the day and attending evening classes after work? How do you dismiss a young man who was not the biggest nor the fastest but determined he would be the best triple jumper of his era and built a jump pit in his parents’ yard so he could practice before work in the mornings and after work in the evenings?

Critics also gave little credence to your competitive spirit that drives you. I do not think they understand how much you enjoy the ‘game’ and that you thrive on meeting the next challenge, whether it be winning elections or turning a depressed Bahamian economy around. You have on prior occasions reminded friend and foe that you grew up in a culture of intense competition preparing for Junkanoo with the Valley Boys and athletics with the Pioneers Sports Club. You learnt early in life the ‘thrill of victory and agony of defeat’, so you were well prepared to deal with your party’s discouraging loss in the 2007 election. We all have memories of the demoralizing defeats that we suffered as Valley Boys, but the first one back in the shack forging ahead for the next parade was always Gus Cooper. You learnt those early lessons in leadership well and often re-energize your PLP colleagues with the admonition from the book of Corinthians, “We often suffer, but are never crushed and when we are knocked down, we get up again.”

Your politics and your campaigns have always been a family affair. Mommy and daddy would have been proud of their son being prime minister – mommy because she was PLP to the bone and daddy because he knew how you struggled to become who and what you are today. Daddy was strictly old school. His work was his life and his life his work. For him, making money was not meant for frivolous matters but to care for one’s family and educate his children. I think he imparted to you the values of decency, thrift, honesty and pride. Politically, his support for the PLP was linked to you, his son. He always told me his greatest joy was your victory in Centreville in the 1987 campaign when fate had you aligned against your mentor L.O. Pindling and the PLP. A loss in that election would have likely banned you to the dustbin of political history. It was a turning point in your political life and one in which the winds of change started to shift the Bahamian political landscape.

That 1987 election also showed me that you marched to the beat of your own drum and you were able to clearly define the political strategy at times required to beat the odds. Your 1987 campaign team, which included me, was pressing you to join Hubert (Ingraham) in his brutal verbal assaults on Pindling. We told you “be like Hubert, take Ping out”. You pulled your team aside and told us bluntly that Ingraham, while your friend, is not to be invited to participate in your campaign in any form. That as you canvassed in Centreville, a bastion of PLPism, you found in so many houses a picture of Jesus and next to it a picture of Pindling. You told us the only way you could win was to have PLPs empathize with you for being fired by Pindling. Ingraham’s attack style you said could only hurt you, not help you in Centreville. You were dead right. From 1987 on, you marched to political glory irrespective of the hurdles placed in your way. Winning the 2012 general election was your crowning achievement as the country knew that it was either you or Hubert Ingraham who would travel ‘the last mile of the way’ to political retirement.

Arguably, there is no contemporary Bahamian politician who has taken a whacking from the media and political pundits like you have. I find the commentary amusing. In your first term as PM they said you were moving too slow and consulting too much. In your second term you are moving too fast and consulting too little. One editorialist of a venerable daily is clear in their signals on their view of your prime ministership. In colorful Kipling (Rudyard) prose, without apology, they state that when it comes to them and the PLP “east is east, west is west and never the twain shall meet”.

To your credit, you have never wasted time complaining about how unfair or biased this jaundiced punditry all is. You simply adopted a view articulated by the former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair: “There are always two kinds of people in politics, those who stand and commentate and those who get their hands dirty and do so.”

Blair went on to say: “It’s an immense privilege to be prime minister and harsh media coverage is a small price to pay. Furthermore like it or not, I have won three elections and still standing as I leave office.” Without a doubt, you can basically say the same.

For some reason they call you weak. I saw the suggestion in a local editorial recently. But there is never an explanation provided of instances of your weakness. In fact you exhibited unusual strength and resolve in 2007 by not ducking and hiding from parliamentary proceedings for one day. You sat and took everything thrown at you. For me to understand this notion of weakness, therefore, I have to draw a contrast with those who have been graced with public service, who are called strong.

Michael Maccoby, in his brilliant book on corporate leaders, “The Gamesman”, defined the jungle fighter as one type of leader who “seeks power over his subordinates”. His leadership style is “eat or be eaten”. I think that is what they mean by “strong leadership”. You are no jungle fighter. Your approach is to build, motivate and lead a solid team of players and the 2012 election results justified your style and approach.

But you can’t get away from it my brother, you are a softie. You like people and they like you. Perhaps that is what they mean by weak. In a 21st century Bahamas, your leadership personality and style is what is required. Maccoby himself said effective leaders move back and forth between “head-based approaches” and “heart-based approaches” in the formulation of policy. Furthermore, you are Nurse Naomi Christie’s oldest son. In an open PLP convention you talked about lessons learnt from your mother on respect for your fellow man and commitment to selfless public service. It’s why no matter the intensity of the battle, The Bahamas will never hear you demean a colleague by calling him “wutless” nor impugn his character with vicious lies.

Mommy would never approve. I want to share with you the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, because in your 40-year public life you have symbolized it.

“Our mother is the teacher who first teaches us love, the most important subject in life. Without my mother I could never have known how to love. Thanks to her I can love my neighbors, my religion and all living beings. Through her, I acquired my first notions of civility, understanding and compassion.”

Happy birthday prime minister.

– Gary Christie

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