At age 44, Grenada’s new Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell is not the youngest to be elected a head of government in the English-speaking Caribbean. However, he is a newcomer to the political arena who scored a resounding and historic victory when he unseated one of the region’s longest-serving leaders on Thursday.
The young attorney achieved victory in the first general election he has ever contested, just eight months after assuming the leadership of the left-wing National Democratic Congress (NDC).
What is remarkable about Mitchell’s triumph at the polls is that the party he so recently took over had been completely wiped out in Grenada’s two previous elections by Dr Keith Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP).
That he was able to turn the tables so decisively on one of the region’s most experienced politicians is a reminder of the uncertainty of incumbency, particularly in these times of social and economic volatility around the world.
With a comfortable margin of victory–the NDC secured 52 per cent of the votes and nine of the 15 constituencies–Mitchell must quickly get on with the task of delivering on his election promises to transform Grenada.
The younger Mitchell is being seen as something of a giant killer, as his party's victory has relegated 75-year-old Dr Keith Mitchell to the opposition benches. Although Dr Mitchell has occupied that position before, his has been a mostly lustrous political career.
He first became prime minister of Grenada in 1995 and served until 2008 before he was beaten in that year’s polls. He regained the position in a landslide in 2013, followed by another landslide win in 2018.
This time around, Dr Mitchell took a political gamble by calling elections well before they were constitutionally due, but voters denied his request for “one for the road.”
Some political observers have been interpreting Dickon Mitchell’s election win as part of a new trend of young leaders making inroads into the regional political landscape, but this is not a recent development.
The Caribbean has a history of electing young leaders. Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit was just 31 years old when he took office following the death of Pierre Charles in January 2004. Andrew Holness was 39 when he was sworn in as Jamaica’s youngest Prime Minister in 2011 and Bharrat Jagdeo was 35 when he became President of Guyana in 1999.
Here in T&T, the youngest person in a position of political leadership is Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, who assumed the position last December 9 at age 35.
But the two main political positions in the country are still held by people of advanced age. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is today seeking to be re-elected political leader of the United National Congress, celebrated her 70th birthday in April. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is 73 years old.
While both have vast political experience, there are no indicators that either is preparing to pass on the mantle of leadership anytime soon.
However, the outcome of Grenada’s elections shows the importance of succession planning.
It is time to identify and start training the next generation of Caribbean leaders.