EARLIER this week, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo visited his home village of Whim, where he thanked residents and his supporters for standing with him for the 59 years he has been in politics.
When the political history of the first two decades of the 21st Century will have been chronicled, the name Moses Nagamootoo would loom large. He, more than anyone else, was the pivotal factor that triggered the beginning of the transition of political power from the then seemingly unbeatable People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to the coalition of parties that eventually took office in 2015. His dramatic departure from the PPP, of which he had been a devoted member for five decades, created a decisive rupture in the party’s mass base that had the effect of changing the power dynamics in the country for the first time since 1992. Nagamootoo would take that support into the AFC, which was instantly transformed into a viable ‘Third Party’, and a serious contender for office. The rest, as they say, is history.
As we go to the polls in a few days, it is in order to reflect on Nagamootoo’s place and contribution to the politics of now. His roles as Minister with responsibility for Public Information, as Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly, and as the government representative responsible for constitutional reform would no doubt be engaged by the historians in due course. We want to reflect on his role as a statesman over the last five years, largely because it is an area that is often overlooked by the scribes and commentators. It is also an aspect of political practice that can be easily misinterpreted as undue deference.
Nagamootoo has served as Prime Minister of Guyana from 2015 to the present. Above and beyond everything else, he would be remembered as the first Prime Minister in a new era of Guyanese politics; the era of Coalition politics and governance. The rise to power of the group of diverse parties and leaders in 2015 was itself a monumental achievement, given that some of these forces had a long history of confrontation and acrimony. Nagamootoo and others within the AFC’s leadership had spent their political life in the PPP, which had, since 1955, been locked in an intense competition for power with the PNC, which was now the senior partner in the ‘Coalition’ government.
It would therefore take enormous skill and compromise by the leaders to navigate the challenges that came with a government of relatively strange bedfellows. There was no better person to lead that drive than Moses Nagamootoo. Throughout his political life, he was an ardent devotee of Cheddi Jagan. His ideological outlook was shaped by a mixture of orthodox Marxism, Jaganism, and a fair dose of the Caribbean Radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s. In that regard, he was somewhat different from the typical PPP activist, who, for the most part, tended to be very doctrinaire.
One always got the sense that Nagamootoo was ideologically grounded, yet politically flexible. Maybe because he was, in his early years, a journalist, he could reach across the aisle with less difficulty than others. Maybe it was an interesting mix of Hinduism and Christianity, brewed in a Guyanese context that allowed for a more tolerant approach to politics. Or maybe it was a stronger grounding in Caribbean Radicalism and all that came with that. One remembers Nagamootoo as the only PPP leader of that time willing to mount a platform with the radical Walter Rodney, a historical fact that may shock many of the younger generations. It is also not always remembered that he was the only PPP leader after 1992 that embraced Power Sharing with the PNC, as the immediate and ultimate solution to Guyana’s problems. There is a praxis of political flexibility and tolerance that informs Nagamootoo’s outlook.
It was this praxis that would serve him well in ‘the Coalition’, which, as was hinted above, was not without its moments of strain and stress. Coalitions, by their very nature, are not seamless formations; the struggle for unity in diversity often clashes with the culture of zero-sum competition. But Nagamootoo played the role of senior statesman, and used his office as second-in- command as a bridge between contending forces, and as a symbol of restraint and reason. That the Cummingsburg Accord survived and blossomed was due in no small way to the leadership and example of Moses Nagamootoo. Often, the intangibles of politics are not readily discernible to the naked eye, but history has a way of flushing them out in the fulness of time. And history would be kind to Prime Minister Nagamootoo.
A critical element of the Nagamootoo example these last five years was his ability to place the wellbeing of the Coalition and the country above personal and partisan interests. He bears the scars of struggle of the heady days of political conflict, but he never lets the obvious bitterness that accompanies such experience guide his thought and practice. He was the incomparable statesman who understood his role as Prime Minister. Clearly, he did not walk away from the political crassness of the contemporary PPP to replicate it within ‘the Coalition’.
So, as he vacates the office of Prime Minister, he has left a model for others to follow, should ‘the Coalition’ be returned to office. Some would disagree with his non-confrontational approach to coalition governance; others would bemoan his seeming inability to always take the rest of the AFC with him. But none can doubt his integrity and commitment to leave something better for others to build on. Thank you, Moses.