Creating the next breed of political leaders
Despite the increasing levels of political apathy among young people, there remains a cadre of youngsters who harbour political ambitions.
This is commendable of them given that the majority of persons within their age group are completely disengaged with the political process.
Having political ambitions is all well and good; there is, however, cause for concern as it regards how these aspiring leaders are being groomed for political life.
There is a real fear that these young political aspirants are being schooled in the old partisan, diehard politics that will ultimately see them mirroring the politicians of the old guard which they are to replace.
This fear arises because outside of being a member of a youth arm or professional affiliate of either of the two main political parties, there is no real formal system which sees to the grooming of young politicians.
In the absence of such a system, many aspiring politicians have no option but to subject themselves to the tyranny of the party machinery. It is not seldom that we hear the lament about young politicians who have become 'just like the rest o' them'; this, after they were considered to be a breath of fresh air on the political scene. Damion Crawford, Dr Dayton Campbell, Andrew Holness and Christopher Tufton are a few names that come to mind.
If we are to begin to engender a new kind of politics in Jamaica, we must develop mechanisms to groom our young politicians in a way that is not purely partisan. We already have evidence that young people are not always willing to toe the party line or engage in rabid partisan dialogue, as was the case with Ricardo Brooks of the Jamaica Labour Party's youth arm, Young Jamaica and his position on the Caribbean Court of Justice.
To this end, the establishment of a National College of Political Leadership (NCPL) would perhaps provide the right balance that is needed between partisan involvement and the real political mentorship and training our aspiring politicians so desperately need.
The NCPL is being proposed as a multiparty political academy that will build the capacity of young political leaders. The college can be modelled on the Programme for Young Politicians in Africa (PYPA), which seeks to prepare young people all across Africa for political life.
Seed funding for the college can be sourced from the Swedish International Development Agency, which currently funds PYPA, and sustained funding can be realised from a trust fund that would be set up with contributions from all political parties. Through the college, aspiring politicians can be schooled in the art of political strategy and equipped with the tools for effective leadership.
The college is not intended to be an academic but rather a professional one, which will see graduates earning a certificate of political leadership (CPL). Through the college, we can begin to seriously professionalise the job of members of parliament, caretakers and councillors, using the CPL as the starting point for setting minimum standards for our politicians.
The college will provide us with a real opportunity to begin practising politics of depoliticisation that will see us reject the kind of divisive behaviour that has crippled the health sector, a point which was eloquently made by former JMDA president, Dr Alfred Dawes, in his address to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President's Forum. It can provide a real avenue for those of the 'third tribe' who want to contribute politically, but without the partisan overtures.
Signs that indicate that partisan politics is at the root of much of the disparities in our education system and other dysfunctional aspects of our society continue to abound. We must also be reminded that many of the aspiring politicians who don't become political stars often become political appointees who, to the detriment of these organisations, politicise the boards, ministries, departments and agencies to which they are appointed. This destructive tendency of our politics must be arrested.
While the NCPL should not, and cannot, prohibit candidates from having political affiliations or from being partisanly engaged, it can begin the process of preparing the type of leaders who can take us into the future and spare us from repeating the mistakes of the old guard.
It would be in the best interest of all political parties and civil society groups, through the partnership for transformation, to begin dialogue about the establishment of such a college.