I relive the occasion whenever George Odlum comes to mind—more often than you might imagine, dear reader, and not always with regret. After all, he accomplished quite a lot for which we might all be grateful, and shame on those who choose instead to perpetuate only his worst misjudgments while the good remains interred with his bones. More about that in another column. At this time my reference is to a public meeting on the steps of the Castries market when Odlum was at the peak of his peacocking and so arrogant as to publicly declare himself qualified above all other candidates to be prime minister of Saint Lucia by virtue of his holding a degree in political science.
Also sharing the market steps at the remembered rally were such Labour heavyweights of the day as Kenneth Foster, Evans Calderon, Peter Josie and Allan Louisy but to the best of my knowledge no one saw good reason to question the remark, if only to validate Odlum’s claim that while at Oxford or Manchester University he had earned a BSc. (Curiously my American Heritage Dictionary abbreviates Bachelor of Science thus: BS! . . . hmmmm.)
Maybe the above-mentioned recognized the inherent stupidity that rendered Odlum’s declaration undeserving of comment (though I doubt it!). They were more likely just too plain scared of Odlum, who, admittedly, was then at the top of his game and commander-in-chief of a small army especially notorious for taking no prisoners. I suspect the finally delusional Oxford graduate retired to Valhalla irrevocably convinced he was superior to all other politicians, in Saint Lucia, if not of the region—and all because of his precious BSc!
Still we perpetuate the notion that buried George Odlum with his truckload of unfulfilled ambitions and quite possibly robbed Saint Lucia of the great leader he might’ve been. Just when we thought we had settled the baseless argument that Stephenson King was less qualified than Kenny Anthony PhD to be our nation’s prime minister, the ugly beast raised its Medusa head yet again on Newsspin this week, with a little help from the usual quarters. When will we learn that while education undoubtedly is vital, it has never been what separates man from the wild beasts? What separates us is character, by which I refer to special qualities that for the most part exist naturally in all us, that make us human.
It is not nearly enough to feel the pain of the afflicted. We must also feel the need to ease their suffering. I dare to say no amount of education can turn an animal into a human being—even though it may be true that quite often animals put us to shame by their demonstrated loyalty, by the loving way they care for their young, and by the way they protect their turf from common enemies.
Of course, when it comes to our political leaders we’ve had more than our fair share of failures. Our nation has remained mostly poor and deprived as a direct consequence of their borrowed or inherited policies and their promises that they never planned to deliver. But should education be blamed? Obviously not. Whatever may be said of our university graduates turned politicians, it is clear that what rendered them effectively useless had everything to do with their view of themselves and the notion that they were elected for purposes other than service to the people. And here I think not only of the Kennys, the Kings, the Comptons and their Caribbean counterparts. Other names also come to mind: Osama bin Laden, George Bush, Idi Amin, Papa and Baby Doc, Bokassa and Mugabe. Then there were the leaders from biblical times to now, whether among the crucifers of Jesus Christ or with names like Gadaffi and Saddam, all of whom were well educated, most of whom with legacies hardly indicative of wonderful service to humanity. Obviously, university degrees have never guaranteed good leadership, any more than have high-school dropouts. What to do?
There is no simple answer. But we might all start by seriously scrutinizing our politicians before we elect them to the most important jobs our nation has to offer. We can afford ourselves at least a glimpse of their souls by the answers they give to our questions, questions related to the way we live as well as to their track record and the public trust. And bearing in mind it is their job to advise ministers of government, shouldn’t we be making greater demands on our permanent secretaries? But then the right questions, indeed, the right attitude to our politicians, will demand a more educated electorate that is far more interested in the welfare of the nation than in the selfish perpetuation of de partee—even when they speak of educated election candidates!