Round Table with Oscar
August 20, 2013

Otto Sam and Emancipation

In the year 2001, Otto Sam, then a very effective primary school teacher, was also a militant political activist in the ranks of the Unity Labour Party. In a letter published in The Vincention on African Liberation Day that year, Mr Sam made a forceful demand that his comrade Prime Minister Gonsalves carry out his campaign pledge to strike at political corruption and obstruction.{{more}} He wrote thus: “As you know comrade, corruption was a main issue in the last (electoral) campaign, and we supported and are still supporting the exposure and the bringing to justice of the corrupt elements”. His battle cry was “Investigate, expose, clean up, retire them, crush them”. He was earnestly fired up for a cleansing out of the rot which the NDP had entertained and accumulated over the years and he saw signs that cleansing was not a priority for his comrade. It is to Dr Kenneth John that we owe this refresher glimpse of the Otto of 2001, as he republished, in his column of 26th July, 2013, the letter that Otto Sam wrote in 2001. In Dr John’s view, that Otto Sam was “intoxicated with power”. That might have might been the situation.

Otto Sam’s call for a 2001 political clean-up campaign was echoed more quietly in the many ULP quarters at the time. His was the vanguard voice. I wonder, though, in 2015, when and if the NDP moves into office, whose voice will be out front calling for the clean-up, exposure, investigation and sanctions in relation to the fallen ULP party’s excuses and excesses and misgovernance. Who will be NDP’s Otto Sam? It is unlikely to be Kenneth John, but I am sure that there will be justifiable demands for “Action Now” against named persons. What strikes me about Mr Sam, though is this: he makes no bones about his loyal support for the comrade Prime Minister “yesterday, today and in the future,” yet he does not endorse and bless everything that the comrade does. He takes issue in public with what he interprets as faltering and backing away from a principled position. I seem to remember that another most soft-hearted ULP stalwart, called Mr Sam “a loose cannon”, principled, rather than sycophantic.

They are a rare species, a scarce commodity, these “loose cannons” or persons of courage, principle and patriotism. When a detachment of police went to arrest Ms. V. Frederick at the lunch party, it was not a person of principle who issued that order. When Mr Sam received his dismissal notice from the public/teaching service, it was not a person of courage and principle who was responsible for sending that letter. Every day, public officers who work in an environment of partisan governance have to calculate what they do and say, so as not to offend the party-state. More and more, “correctness” or how de comrade wants it, is the thing that tells the public officer what to say, if to speak, and what to do. An epidemic of moral diarrhoea infects many of the government institutions.

Men like Otto Sam have immunity to moral diarrhoea when it comes to public affairs. They are positive role models in that field, and it is the strong belly and guts of steel that permit such men and women and youth to digest easily the wholesome fare the comrade offers, but to sh** out the rest.

The comradely letter which Otto Sam published on African Liberation Day in 2001 exposes a citizen and loyal party man who is free from “hero worship” and idolatry – a liberated African Caribbean political person. In this month, we are commemorating our emancipation from colonial slavery. Now, it took a leadership with specific qualities to take our communities out of colonialism in Africa and colonial slavery in the Caribbean. We face today the task of expanded emancipation and post- colonial revolution. We need a new moral strength and spiritual discernment to take us forward. The comrade is going to be a bystander in the approaching process, watching on at best, unless his own emancipation comes soon. Our community is outgrowing the old politics. We are figuring out who and what make up the new Vincentian citizen and builder. Are you the one?