The life of female leader
by Walter Edey
In New York
Recently, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley was in New York rubbing shoulders with the people (her words). Truth be told, she was seeking to build relationships and to cement her position as leader of the Barbados Labour Party.
“My schedule is tight, tight. We’ve been out every night. Tomorrow is the church service. Are you coming home for Crop-Over, call me nuh? Our conversation can’t spoil,” she said.
Two week later, in Barbados, her schedule was still tight but she fitted me in on a Saturday, at noon, between a press conference, and a meeting. Below , I share her views on the Mottley clan, women and politics, leadership, her legacy and culture, among other things.
Mottley: “I thought we were just going to chat but I notice you are wearing a press tag.”
Bajan in New York: This not an interview. I am simply documenting what makes us Bajan. You have grown up in a political household. You belong to a clan.
Mottley: Aren’t all of us clans?
Bajan In New York: But you are like the Smith’s and Prescods. If you touch one, you touch all. Have you ever considered a career other than politics?
Mottley: Oh yes I have. I don’t really see politics as a career. The reality is that I was given an opportunity in the course as a representative, to work on the executive. I remember that every member of my family who was in politics never worked on the executive. It was more of a vocation for them. So career wise I always knew that it was going to be law, because law gives me the opportunity to speak and work on behalf of people. Politics does that also.
Bajan In New York: But aren’t you to some extent, the exception to the rule. Where are the children of Errol Barrow, Tom Adams? What are they doing?
Mottley: I think that in both instances I had parents that were departures from the norm. My father left politics after seven years. My Grandfather stayed longer but I never had to labour under the difficulties that are caused by political representation and parenting.
I remember the night my father came home and told us (his children) that he was no longer going to be in active politics. I was ten years old and it is something that I will never forget. He said that he cannot be a good father, a good husband, a good lawyer, a politician and a good representative all at once. One of them had to suffer, and, he could not change his familial circumstances — he had a wife and children. He certainly didn’t seem to have the passion that his father or I have.
Bajan In New York: Is there a parallel in sport as with Everton Weeks and Clyde Walcott?
Mottley: But you have to understand that when you educate children they tend to find their own passion, and just because a parent’s passion is in one area, the child doesn’t have to follow. Mind you, the comparisons will always be there, but every human being regardless of their values has to find what sparks for them. Are any of my brothers and sisters in politics?
Bajan In New York: I would still argue that you follow the Mottley tradition as exampled by your uncle Elton.
Mottley: He is not a partisan politician. His politics reflect the development of people. Now that is a different form of politics. Elton has been faithful to the development of people – black people – as his purpose and mission in life.
Bajan In New York: You are female, is that an advantage at this point in time?
Mottley: All of us carry the scars of being female in politics. As to whether there is an advantage of being a female leader, only time will tell.
Bajan In New York: Are you saying that politics is male dominated and is this an expectation?
Mottley: I think that the majority of people simply want a good leader regardless of gender or race. There are however some people for whom gender and race predominate but that less and less than before.
Bajan In New York: All things being consider, aren’t we at a point in time when the world awaits a leader that is first a teacher and secondly a nurturer?
Mottley: I am glad for your vote of confidence, Walter.
Bajan In New York: How long have I known you? You always respond to questions.
Mottley: Santia (Daughter of former MP Deisle Bradshaw) is absolutely right. People don’t always speak from their heart. Politics should reflect who you are and not who others want you to be.
Bajan In New York: Where is the BLP right now?
Mottley: Getting to the position where we can give Barbados the kind of government they need — confidence, competence and compassion. However, we urgently need to address some fundamental problems. Barbados is at a junction, at the eve of its 50th anniversary, where we have to confront certain issues that have been dragging across all political parties for the past 25 to 30 years.
What you can’t continue to do is to ignore the reality because you may have to make an unpopular decision. Leadership is never easy. It is not easy to lead a family far less a country when it comes to decisions you may not want to confront. But you cannot renege on the task. In some instances you may not be there when the task is finished.
Right now for the economy to grow we need confidence and if you don’t have confidence you will have institutional degeneration — a poor state of households, of businesses and of State of institutions.
Bajan In New York: But that short term view always unearths pain. Straight line growth as a goal, is a thing of the past? What about a long term lens?
Mottley: You surely heard what I said this morning. String beans and sweet potatoes grow at different rates and time periods. They have different times of maturation. Dame Billie Miller shared this lesson with me when I first entered politics. She told me that you are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you at liberty to resign from it. Life is a continuum and therein lays the genius of the Chinese.
The Chinese see their civilisation in terms of millennia and not decades or centuries. And there are some things about human organisations that simply cannot be seen in terms of a one- or five-year context. You are not going to get growth without unanimity of perspective and uniformity of approach.
Bajan In New York: But the people reaping the string beans and sweet potatoes all sat outside the plantation. They were never exposed to the organising that took place on the inside. Didn’t your household give some of that experience? Mottley: I don’t doubt that. It can also come from elsewhere. Richie Haynes and Bree St. John argued that laws are not sufficient to govern a nation. They are buttressed by conventions. But when you have people with different values and educational backgrounds, you are not going to get unanimity of approach and uniformity of perspective.
Bajan In New York: So how do we get that single voice?
Mottley: You said it earlier — teaching, education both formal and informal as well as living example. Walking with people and showing them what to do. And it is because nobody takes the time to explain to people that a particular behaviour is unacceptable.
Yes, how you do it is important. And when you do it right people say thanks as if it is not part of their blueprint. Remember we have people with different experiences and vulnerabilities. This is why confidence, competence and compassion are all important.
Bajan In New York: Suppose we fast forward and then look back. How do you want people to remember you?
Mottley: Routing for people to take control of their destiny; completing the process of economic enfranchisement, and, producing a Barbadian and Caribbean person that can stand tall in the world without any hint of the scars of history.
Bajan In New York: Does this mean that we need to revisit the 1982 Education Act?
Mottley: You are correct. I spent seven years in education and there is no doubt in my mind that there is work to be done. There is a need for a rebalance between leadership and the policy frame work. I also think that we need to revisit the 1974 amendments to the constitution which have clearly led to a measure of politicisation of some of our institutions by both parties. We are now paying the price for it.
There are some institutions that must be isolated from the political realm. When one ignores conventions there is always destruction and the undermining of one institution stands to affect the welfare of all institutions.
Bajan In New York: In New York you spoke of continuity between parties as an asset, but are there some things that have also been swept under the carpet?
Mottley: I believe that the DLP is fractured because of the manner in which the 1992 elections came about and the subsequent split in the party. Over the course of 18 years there has been an absence of mentorship and institutionalisation. I believe that Sir Brandford Taitt tried but was ostracised. I also believe that I am a better representative because of the mentorship I received and those who come after me should get the same. I also benefited from the cross fertilisation that goes on between parties. That makes Barbados special.
Bajan In New York: But was the Sandiford issue politics or school tie?
Mottley: I find it peculiar that the school tie at times appears to have more meaning than other things. Yes I went to QC, but there is more to me than that. That is why I see confidence, competence and compassion as critical instruments of change.
We need to grow culturally and economically, know who we are, be confident in what we do. We have to stop leasing out space in our heads to people who say that we are not good enough because we were slaves, we are women, or, because we went to the wrong school or church.
Space is connected to productivity. Marcus Garvey made a comment about mental slavery that Bob Marley popularised. He was in effect saying that leasing out space in your head that undermines your self-esteem. In a sense that was what Barrow’s mirror speech was all about.
Our systems and institutions suppress that desire to be confident. Why is it that our children show verve in the school yard, but become mute in the classroom, in church and at the job fair?
Bajan In New York: Is this a case of cultural indigestion?
Mottley: Our cultural industry will do well when the effort is an outgrowth of who we are. Look, Lil Rick’s genius has to do with the fact that he is faithful to an upbringing that spans three generations, including a grandmother.
Do you know of a single set of words that can better describe the transition — pre-technology to technology — than his statement that fast food put cou cou on mute? I am saying that Government is about building a nation and raising people. We need more than laws. The colonial systems did a very good job in opening the doors to formal education but at the same time suppressed our creativity.
Bajan In New York: But isn’t language the best change agent?
Mottley: Out of colonialism we had to deal with institutional racism and language that was designed to suppress. If our children are only competent in dialect we are sending amputees into this world. I not only feel that we should master English but by 2030 all our under 21 ones should be bilingual in English and Spanish.
Mottley: Yes they used it in a developmental way. Remember, Sir Grantley also said let us build schools. Our circumstances are such that there is no reason why our people cannot be confident and creative. This would lend to greater creation of wealth.
Confidence and creativity will also allow us to place ourselves in the right place in the world family — wise and country — wise. I would like to see the completion of economic enfranchisement because in many ways that has had input from past leaders. But at the end of the day I want to see our people are proud, confident, and compassionate and always taking care of the less fortunate among us.