Darcus Howe warns that politics can kill

A tiny Caribbean island has a new leader, aged 31. But how long will he live? Asks Darcus Howe

I am tempted to raise a banner in front of the headquarters of all political parties in the Caribbean that will scream: "Politics Kills". Caribbean leaders, with a very small group of ministers around them, rule over every detail of their governments. Stress, strain and overwork claim lives.

Take the island state of Dominica. My friend of many years Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas ruled there. Ministers had to beg, borrow and steal in order to pay their civil servants, teachers, doctors and nurses. Rosie shouldered the burden. He supervised everybody and every government task, down to where to locate a basketball court, where to find the money to pay for it and who should build it. Yet he was hardly ever in the country. He lived in the air. He travelled to Libya, for example, to plead before Muammar Gaddafi for small change.

He would appear at a whaling conference in Japan where he could beg some economic favour in return for his vote in support of Japanese whaling. When his party needed funds to fight elections, he was off again to court some international leader. Once, when I was making a Channel 4 documentary on economic conditions in the Caribbean, I wanted Rosie for an interview. We eventually caught up with him at Antigua airport on his way to Africa. After the interview, I asked about his health. He said he was OK because he jogged each morning in whichever country he found himself.

On one of the few nights he was at home, Rosie went to bed and died of a heart attack. He was 58.

Pierre Charles replaced him. It started all over again. He collapsed at a conference in Trinidad some months ago and was treated at a hospital there. He collapsed again in Atlanta, Georgia.

Doctors pleaded with him to rest. He tried but soon returned to work. This month, he collapsed again at his office, five storeys up. The lift to the ground floor was not working. He had to walk down with pains shooting across his chest. There was not a single cardiologist in Dominica. They had all migrated to greener pastures. An anaesthetist was the only senior specialist available to treat him. It was the end for Pierre. He was 49.

Now an even younger man has been appointed prime minister: Roosevelt Skerrit, aged 31, is the youngest leader in the entire Caribbean. But I fear for him. These small islands generate little income and are saddled with huge amounts of expenditure. In such circumstances, politics takes lives.