A friend once said to me, “If you are going to lead, don’t run too far ahead of your followers because suddenly there would be nothing to lead.” It made sense immediately. I thought of the situations in ground battles and had a mental picture of the leader charging well ahead of his men. Pretty soon he would cease to be a leader because he would be dead.
But for all the admonition to leaders, many keep running too far ahead of the following. When this happens and the leader is so far out of sight, then the next best person is automatically thrust into the leadership position.
These thoughts came into my head this past week when I saw the letters in the press, the advertisements and the road paintings that greeted the news that President Bharrat Jagdeo was going to be recognized for his contributions to the society.
I remember when he became President of this country in 1999 as a mere lad of 36, there was so much going for him. People readily accepted the fact that here was a young man leading a young nation and presenting himself as a role model to the vast majority of people who happened to be below the age of 35 in the country.
He set about continuing the task of rebuilding the economy. He got unprecedented debt relief, secured loans at an amazing rate, and set about repairing the infrastructure. He had a vision of a Guyana entering the 21st Century not too far behind the others in the region. There was not enough space for people to sing his praises.
Anywhere he went crowds gathered. He seemed to be liked by even people who might not have voted for his party. I saw him at Afro-centric events where he emerged as the star attraction. Young people raced to pose for photographs with him. It was the same at all other public events.
Indeed, there was the sniping, but these were nothing compared to the accolades that he was attracting. He became a leader on the regional stage. I still hear the applause when he dealt with the Suriname border issue at the Caricom summit. He was magnanimous to the Suriname delegation.
Things started to unravel at home when he set about the task of rebuilding the country. There were the contracts which have now become objects of query. People started to complain that the government was spending money and getting little in turn. Roads deteriorated as soon as they were constructed, projects were left unfinished to the point where other contractors had to be invited to complete the task.
Surprisingly, there were no stated sanctions, with the result that people began to accuse the president of condoning deceit and corruption. The political opposition could not ask for more and suddenly this became an issue. The president remained silent.
Huge sums were expended on other projects that failed to yield the desired results. There was the multi-million-dollar Good Hope/ Supenaam stelling. It failed at the first try. There were finger pointing and threats of sanctions. None materialized. People had another talking point.
But even before this there was the Skeldon sugar factory. It cost a lot of money and it too failed to deliver the desired goods. Again, because President Jagdeo was instrumental in securing the loan, he became the whipping boy.
We hear that the factory was over-priced and that people benefited financially. The same was said of numerous other projects, not least among them the acquisition of computers for the various institutions.
Even the One Laptop Per Family project, which is a well thought out and much needed programme, has come in for severe scrutiny. Again the cost of the project is being questioned and again not much has been forthcoming from the officials about details.
The Amaila Falls road project and many other large projects, all extremely important to the development of the country, became targets. They were seen as facilitators of corruption. The silence that followed the charges only served to fuel the contentions.
The truth is that President Jagdeo wanted so much for Guyana that he refused to bicker over the cost. He allowed his Ministers and others to undertake the nitty gritty of the exercise. He had gone too far too fast, and therefore attracted hostility from the critics and charges of corruption from those who appeared to have an interest in the way money from the public treasury was being spent.
The Roger Khan era did not help him either. In a polarized society this is bound to happen. Scores of people of one ethnic group died and the blame was laid squarely at the foot of Roger Khan. President Jagdeo said that he never met the man, but correspondence out of the United States embassy suggested otherwise.
The result is that there is now a strong opposition base that refuses to target the ruling party, choosing instead to target the Head of State. And here again we have an example of a man who moved too far ahead of his party.
It was the same with Forbes Burnham. He got the blame for everything because he was bigger than his party. Desmond Hoyte was different. The party got the blame and Hoyte remained above the fray.
The road paintings on Appreciation Day tell the story. No accusation against the PPP but all against Jagdeo. This is reminiscent of the Greek myth about Icarus and his father Daedalus. Icarus flew too high and perished. He got too close to the sun and the wax on the wings his father had made for him to escape from Crete, melted.
President Jagdeo must be Guyana’s modern day Icarus.
And there is something else. The police were supposed to be patrolling the streets. How is it that not one patrol came across the street painters?
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