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Raffique Shah


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Rowley rises

By Raffique Shah
September 6, 2015

If I had to identify a singular, dominant development from the tiresome, months-long election campaign, it would be the emergence of Keith Rowley as an orator and a leader of distinction.

Here is a man who started off the marathon campaign with all the negatives which any prime ministerial aspirant could be burdened with, but he overcame them with aplomb.

He was dubbed a racist by large numbers of people, mostly Indians and other non-Afros. But when you asked them why they so categorised him, what has he done to warrant such epithet, they mumbled and fumbled and could not adduce one shred of evidence to support their shameful, irrational stance.

Rowley is racist only because he happens to be a very black man with a coarse voice.

Trading on that stigmatisation, and on other perceptions that he was a "wajank" who is uneducated (many question his doctorate), a leader with no appeal and no vision for the country, the UNC launched an all-out attack on him.

Using cyberspace for aerial bombardment of vulgar proportions, they followed up with sustained artillery fire via radio and television, intense rifle and small arms fire, all aimed at this lone leader. State resources were harnessed, with certain enterprises and utilities providing supporting fire by way of achievements that were credited to the Prime Minister, who had long been elevated to maximum leader status.

In the end, they thought, Rowley would be dead.

Well, he didn't die.

Instead, he rose to new heights, to levels that we have not seen in our political leaders for many years.

The Rowley we saw and heard on the campaign trail was an incarnation not even members of his party had been familiar with.

Like a man possessed, he combined proper diction with adequate knowledge of the topics he addressed, voice modulation and wit to command the attention of his audiences, most times for an hour or more.

Night after night, showing much stamina, he soldiered on, full of vigour as he shifted focus, changed topics, speaking on each one with authority.

As someone who has been there, though not necessarily done that, I can tell you it's not easy to speak with such ease on a wide range of topics, and to hold the attention of people who would undoubtedly be tired, even bored.

Besides emerging as a fine orator, Rowley also displayed very good leadership skills. By selecting candidates and mobilising constituency leaders and activists well ahead of the election, and by not having the campaign centred around a maximum leader, he brought to the fore a phalanx of organisers and other speakers who could carry on with meetings before he arrived or in his absence.

Also, unlike the UNC in which all achievements, plans and promises are credited to or vested in the maximum leader, Rowley decentralised responsibilities, and said so. His candidates did not have to attribute God-like powers and qualities to the leader. And when they spoke on topics or issues they were charged with addressing, they did so in the name of their party, not the leader.

These nuances may seem unimportant, but when added up, they define the character of a good leader.

By the time the campaign tapered off last Friday (I write this on Saturday morning), Rowley had not only repelled the attacks mounted against him, but he had rallied his "red army" in a way it has not been for many years: red and ready, according to their battle cry.

All of what I have written must not be interpreted as my calling the election in favour of the PNM: I am no pollster or pundit, and I have been around long enough to know anything can happen in the hours before the polls close to shift the winds of change that seem, at this time, to favour the PNM.

I am simply giving credit to a man who has risen against immense odds and sustained vilification to resurrect his party from annihilation in 2010 to the powerful force it is today. And along the way, he has evolved into a leader of stature which counts for something in the wasteland of mediocrity that is Trinidad and Tobago politics.

I need add, too, that while the Rowley I see today is worthy of accolades, I do not know that he would retain that persona if he becomes Prime Minister.

Too often in the past have I seen power transform men from decent human beings into arrogant fools when hubris displaces humility and power consumes their souls.

These are the reasons why I jealously guard my fierce independence, my right to praise or criticise or condemn sawdust Caesars as I see and evaluate them.

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