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To – David

HighlightsTo – David

“THE CANDLE MAY GO OUT,
BUT THE MEMORY OF ITS LIGHT REMAINS”

by Thérèse Belisle-Nweke

Saturday, April 6, 2024 at 4:27 p.m.

How does one process the immediate and definitive disappearance of a loved, respected kinsman, and intellectual comrade-in-arms? As the light which radiated from David Gibson, the second son of my favourite uncle, has finally disappeared to reappear into another realm, all that is left us is the shining, variegated memory we need to keep, to serve as the reflection of the light that he was.

How was I to know when I sent him, the very day he made his exit from us, an argument I had just read on neo-liberalism, that it would be our final exchange on topics holding our interest? For David had an abiding interest in history, international relations and politics, economics, the institutionalising of labour’s strength and regional unity. The current trajectory of Belize, in particular our constitutional amendments and Belize’s vexatious imbroglio with Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the future of the Belizean nation, fully occupied his thoughts. David had honed a truly distinguished record of service to Belize as an exemplary bureaucrat, diplomat, statesman and patriot, as well as a mentor to a generation of career diplomats and diplomatic political appointees. They regarded him with lasting gratitude and deep respect, as one of these individuals confided in me some years ago while on a foreign posting.

David and I conducted our exchanges within our respective locations of Belize and Nigeria, and wherever I happened to be, whether in Britain or America, or elsewhere in Africa. We also shared stories about the University of the West Indies (UWI), the region’s premier university, where we both acquired our first degrees, and I would send him videos of ongoing events at UWI. We had shared some of the same legendary lecturers, even though I had left before he arrived. Wesley College in Belize City, the nation’s oldest secondary school, was also our alma mater. Much later, David would go on to acquire a postgraduate education at the International Institute of Social Studies, Rotterdam, Netherlands, specialising in Public Policy and Economic Planning.

We often discussed our health challenges and reflected on whether we would both end up with a bionic eye, or an artificial cornea, because of the role technology now plays in improving declining vision. A number of subjects course through my mind as I reflect on my cousin’s passing — Black Marxism, Ukraine, NATO’s expansion, Nigeria’s public service, its prebendal politics, extraordinarily rich cultures, Africa’s dilemmas, the Black radical intellectual tradition and the situation of Blacks in America, the dawn of new oppressions, as well as the dying earth and our futures. We reflected too on American militarism, resurgent China, the emergence of Hindu nationalism under India’s Modi, the thrashing of international law, and Gaza, as well as Belize’s changed demography and challenges. We shared concerns about the need for Belize to have a Plan B following an ICJ verdict on Guatemala, whichever way it goes. David’s steadfast thoroughness, tolerance, cerebral wit and dry humour often coursed through even the most serious of our discourses. I found him to be a dependable, pragmatic and highly principled relative when I needed help with issues that, if he were not in Belize, would have required my travelling there.

The highlights of David Gibson’s career in the service of Belize are well-known and better documented elsewhere. But for years, he was the most prominent bureaucrat as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) — another name for Permanent Secretary – in Belize’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, now known as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT). He served as this ministry’s CEO under the then UDP Foreign Minister, Dean Barrow (1993-1998); as CEO in the same ministry under Said Musa, the PUP’s Foreign Minister, who was also Prime Minister (1998-2002); and finally, he worked in the same capacity under the then Foreign Minister, Assad Shoman (2002-2003), of a PUP government. In other words, Gibson seamlessly served under both UDP and PUP governments – no mean feat.

I am also aware that he won the lasting admiration and respect of the late Professor Edward A. Laing, Jr., the eminent jurist, diplomat, law professor, intellectual and expert on Caribbean and Maritime Law, and the first and only Belizean to be elected as a judge of the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ). Professor Laing was also Belize’s former ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, as well as its ambassador to the US and Canada, and represented Belize at the OAS. He was one of the main arrowheads of the Belizean Consortium, a trans-continental organisation, agitating for Belizean Diasporan (mainly Belizean-American or BelAm) investments and effective participation in the nation’s political processes, commerce and future.

David Gibson held other positions, one of which was that of Chairman of the Sugar Industry Central Board (SICB). He also shared his considerable knowledge of history with his students at the University of Belize. And, he represented Belize as its ambassador to Japan and Thailand. Gibson was an authority on national and regional issues, and assiduously worked with others on Belize’s case with Guatemala, which is now before the ICJ. As a young man, he was considerably influenced by the lawyer, historian, Marxist and Palestinian-Belizean, Dr. Assad Shoman; and Fidel Castro was one of his main political heroes. David was highly non-conformist in regard to religion, a position he held firmly until his departure. His occasional, but well-researched, contributions to AMANDALA, Belize’s most widely circulated newspaper, were always incisive and thoughtful.

In 1995, he founded Belize’s first think tank — the Centre for Strategic Studies Policy Analysis and Research (CSSPAR) and was its Chief Coordinator. This, in my view, represented a truly groundbreaking contribution of his, because CSSPAR was not only the first think tank of its kind in Belize, but a rare gift outside of the conventional university milieu to develop and sustain Belizean intellectual scholarship — at times underappreciated and misunderstood – in a society not generally noted for cerebral pursuits or groundbreaking research determinations. It is hoped that CSSPAR’s research findings will be conserved and contextualised, despite its founder’s absence.

His Excellency, Ambassador David Allan Kirkwood Gibson, was the second son of Mr. Karl Levi Gibson, a one-time Surveyor General of British Honduras, now Belize, and his wife, the former Miss Olivia Kirkwood, who was a teacher at St. Hilda’s College, Belize City, which is now defunct. Uncle Karl was a younger brother of my mother, Mrs. Nellie Alice Gibson Belisle. The couple’s other two children, Douglas and Stephanie, who currently reside in the US and Britain respectively, are now left to mourn their brother, to whom they were exceptionally close, with David even naming one of his sons “Douglas”  after his older brother.

Also mourning David is his wife, Mrs. Dalila Elvira Gibson, née Espat, to whom he was married for almost 44 years, and among his children, Elissa; David, Jr.; Darren; Douglas, Jr.; and Danielle. Others who will undoubtedly miss him are his grandchildren, nephews, many cousins and in-laws.  David left on 1st April, almost two weeks short of his 71st birthday, which would have been on 12th April. It is highly probable that, having clocked the Biblical “three score years and ten” with a few days remaining towards an extra one year Kriol “braawta”, or Yoruba “fisi”; when he received that sudden high-powered command to join the pantheon of our ancestors, without much ado he decided to immediately leave this fractious and far less exalted plane.

David, you shall continue to live in our hearts, because the memory of your light will always serve as a beacon for those of us who truly love and desire only the best for Belize, as you did.

Thérèse Belisle-Nweke writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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