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Commonwealth Observer Group to Guyana

OPINION: Tribute to Owen Arthur from the members of the Commonwealth Observer Group to Guyana

4 August 2020
For The Rt Hon Owen Arthur from the members of the Commonwealth Observer Group to Guyana

Not the blue the orthodoxy of the day
But a blue like intuition
The soft of the night into morning
Felt here, remembered.
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
From Mesongs

If one moment brought us together in our role as an election observer group it was the warm and witty welcome of the Rt. Hon Owen Seymour Arthur in our conference room at the Cara Lodge Hotel. We did not become a team when we were appointed for our mission, but rather it was in that moment when he greeted us upon our arrival in Georgetown, Guyana, which bound us together and to him.

Drawn from different backgrounds, skill sets and talents from all over the far-flung Commonwealth, we travelled to Guyana to become the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) for the elections. And, Owen Arthur was our fearless leader, our Captain.

We did not really know Owen Arthur when he was Prime Minister.

We knew he was a former Prime Minister, and a short, sharp irascible fellow who shone like cut glass prisms and whose voice was as precise as shards of well shattered glass. He was like mirrored glass reflecting the follies of stupid or lazy thoughts back at an unfortunate offender.

But this Owen Arthur who led us was also full of warmth and bonhomie, and made clever, pithy remarks that had us chuckling while his own laugh erupted abruptly like a staccato bark.

His Bimesque cadences were redolent of Baxter’s Road delivered with a resounding box of Atlantic air across the ears. He spoke the King’s English better than any Hanoverian King ever did.

Our leader bonded with us over a period of more than three weeks this year during the Commonwealth Electoral Observation Mission in Guyana. Yes, THOSE elections.

Those elections in which the Chairman of the COG rose magnificently to the occasion - fraught weeks in which his mettle was tested, his stature grew and an entire team fell under his siren spell.

He could and did charm surly frightened waitstaff, and even the cooks at our Hotel were beguiled into allowing him personal direction of the preparation of two versions of pepperpot, that quintessential Guyanese culinary national symbol.

You see, our Captain was a COOKIST, and gained free entrance into the domain of the head chef where he trod all over her heart and her kitchen to emerge victorious.

To be invited to his table to partake, was to have achieved a food nirvana. But, it wasn’t only the food. We, the Guyana COG team, all looked forward to being hailed over to the table of our Chairman, have him insist that we share “his” breakfast pepperpot with bakes, and chew over a rich fare of current events, the day’s agenda, anecdotes, world news, Caribbean cookery, and tales of political chicanery and skullduggery of the Bimmest kind.

It was a Masters in the Art of Politics and Life from the University of Owen Arthur.

We watched him during our meetings in Guyana, tame mythical political beasts, gently encourage shy locutors, thunder courage at lagging actors and draw out confidences with warm good humour.

We also saw him become tired, but always rise to the occasion. His analysis to us - and to Guyana - was always incisive, original, practical and deeply felt.

He was ferocious in the protection of the dignity and utility of our team, indeed of all Observers, and positively leonine and fearless in the championing of democracy.

He was a giver of good trouble in a John Lewis of civil rights kind of way, and a Jedi Knight in non-violent combat.

His was not the blue of orthodoxy. It was the blue of intuition.

He also deeply valued the women around him and spoke glowingly of those in his life, personally and politically. He treasured Dame Billie Miller, and his obvious pride in Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley shone through any cloud.

But more than anything was his absolute love for Barbados - dulce et decorum est and all that.

Barbados has now lost a giant. His family has lost its beloved paterfamilias. His friends, a glorious companion - and those of us who had a brief moment of communion, a real person to talk to. We are all bereft.

In the months after Election Day in Guyana, we formed a COGer group to keep in touch and Owen Arthur, our beloved Chairman was our touchstone.

He was the embodiment of the bond between us. He spoke for us. The words now live on even though the voice that spoke them, the hands that wrote them are now passed on to immortality.

His light has gone from this world. He slipped away in the soft of the night and we now face the mornings without him. But we feel him here.

We remember Owen Seymour Arthur, our Chairman, our Captain. We will remember him always.

Our deepest condolences to his family, his friends, his countrymen, and his nation.

Members of the Commonwealth Observer Group to the 2 March General and Regional Elections were:

  • Sir Gerald A. Watt KCN, QC, Speaker of the House of Representatives (Antigua and Barbuda)
  • Ms Lebrechtta Nana Oye Bayne, Social Economist & Gender Expert (Antigua and Barbuda)
  • Ms Lisa Shoman, Former Foreign Minister and Tribunal Judge and Senior Counsel (Belize)
  • Ms Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer (Belize)
  • Mr John Hendra, Former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General (Canada)
  • Hon Gitobu Imathiu Imanyara, Former MP (Kenya)
  • Ms Mitra Vasisht, Ambassador of India (Retired) (India)
  • Ms Sarah Fradgley, Media Expert (New Zealand/UK)
  • Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives (Sri Lanka)
  • Mr Stephen John Hiscock, Retired Diplomat (UK)