No more loitering on colonial premises – Barbados becoming a Republic

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***Editor’s Note: We are pleased to feature a Viewpoint from Livingston Smith, a professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands.***

The recent announcements that Barbados will be relieving itself of the British Monarch as its head of state and has elected instead, Dame Sandra Mason, a fellow Barbadian, Governor General since 2018, as its President would have brought pleasure to the ears of departed Barbadian Prime Ministers Errol Barrow, Grantley Adams and Owen Arthur. Upon attaining independence in 1966, then Prime Minister Barrow had cautioned his countrymen against ‘loitering in colonial premises’. A joint session of the Barbadian House of Assembly and the Senate voted to fully leave the colonial past behind.

The announcement would also have the strong approval of Caribbean nationalist leaders who had emerged in the late 1930’s and 1940’s and advocated the importance of giving heed to the collective desire of a people to oversee their own situation.

Norman Manley of Jamaica, for example, who evolved into a nationalist, identified full nation-hood as the legitimate end of political activity in the context of colonial society- in his own words, ‘We must accept as essential to our salvation that we recognize that every country has a destiny of its own, separate and distinct from the destiny of any other country.’

Eric Williams, that iconic Trinidadian politician also had a nationalist commitment. His analysis of the wider historical context of imperialist domination in the region, led him to see the mechanics of economic emancipation in the region essentially in political terms, which required the termination of the colonial relationship.

Another central figure in the nationalist drama, Grantley Adams of Barbados, played a prominent part in the development of West Indian nationalism as Prime Minister of the ill-fated West Indian Federation between 1958-1962.

In 2015, then PM of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, said it made no sense to keep the monarch as the head of state of an otherwise independent country. “It’s a little awkward in the year 2015 to still have to stand up and instead of pledging allegiance to Barbados to be pledging allegiance to ‘her majesty the queen’.”

His thinking is strikingly like those of former Jamaican PM, Michael Manley who in explaining why he thought Jamaica should go republic said in Parliament:

‘I remain unapologetic, committed to the view that in our country here in the Caribbean with our social background and history, that we ought to repatriate the symbols of our sovereignty and become a Republican country.’

It was his view, which was shared by other Prime Ministers, certainly Patterson and Golding who followed later, that the taking of oaths to the Jamaican National Flag and other symbols, in a symbolic way, facilitate an understanding of the people’s responsibility for their own destiny and nation. He felt that the repatriation of national symbols can be a way of breaking the colonial/psychological matrix when it is known and understood that real power to solve problems is a responsibility of the people and their leadership collectively.

Before resigning as Prime Minister, Golding in the 2011-2012 Budget Debate expressed his view that as part of Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary celebration, the monarchical link to Buckingham Palace and the heirs and successors to Queen Elizabeth 11 should be terminated. This would allow for the establishment of a republic with its own Jamaican Head of State.

To quote him: ‘Transforming Jamaica from a constitutional monarchy to republican state means no disrespect and must not be interpreted this way.’

Even though Barbados, like other non-republics in the region, are independent, by virtue of their colonial past, and the fact that they did not use their independence as a moment of profound constitutional reform, still have the British monarch as their head of state. Though in the main, purely historical and ceremonial, the symbolism and reality of this fact is still worrisome to those who believe that a people should seek to be fully in charge of their own situation, their political, cultural, and economic destiny.

Barbados, an island first settled by English colonists in 1605 and later called ‘Little England’ went independent in 1966. It is a country with a population of under three hundred thousand and a literacy rate of 99.7 %, one of the highest in the world.

A small country with little or no natural resources, yet the CIA Fact book says that ‘Barbados is the wealthiest and most developed country in the Eastern Caribbean and enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in Latin America.’ Even though this does not yet match up to those of the developed countries of the western world, it is still a significant achievement.

‘Historically’ the CIA commentary continues, ‘The Barbadian economy was dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities. However, in recent years the economy has diversified into light industry and tourism with about four-fifths of GDP and of exports being attributed to services. Offshore finance and information services are important foreign exchange earners and thrive from having the same time zone as eastern US financial centers and a relatively highly educated workforce.’

Barbados has historically been known as a society of strong shared values and networks of social connections which make social cooperation and the achievement of collective goals easier. This internal social cohesion and consensus is what is called social capital. In addition to the fact that Barbados has invested heavily in the education of its citizens to the highest levels, it has also been known for the maturity in which it conducts its politics. It has also had favorable ratings in Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

Even with its current economic woes, by all indications, Barbados has done quite well as an English-speaking Caribbean country which made the deliberate decision to attain sovereignty, that is, independence.

Barbados, like all other English-speaking Caribbean countries, shared a common colonial master, namely, Britain. An 1808 history text on Barbados described the Barbadian constitution as a ‘humble imitation of that great fabric of human wisdom, the constitution of England.’ But this could be said of all the others.

However, the attainment of independence was never an occasion where Caribbean peoples had the chance to decide on the constitution they wanted. They received, essentially, constitutional instruments that were decided by oligarchs and elites.

Professor McIntosh, Caribbean scholar and giant in the field of jurisprudence, explains that the post-colonial constitutions of the Anglophone Caribbean were not the products of the ‘collective self’ but were perceived as ‘received instruments from former colonial masters, fundamentally illegitimate, of subjection to imposition from without.’

He explains further that the independence constitutions are Orders-in-Council of the British Imperial Parliament; amended versions of the colonial constitution, with Bills of Rights engrafted onto them allowed for easy transition from colony to independent state.

This continuity implied no important changes between the colonial and independent constitution. The parliamentary system remained virtually the same, and the constitutions, for the most part, are said to have remained monarchical.

Simeon McIntosh, argues for the ‘patriation’ of these constitutions to ensure that they derive their validity and authority form local events than from an act of the British Imperial Parliament. He sees the movement towards a republican constitution as an essential part of finalizing the process of West Indian decolonization.

As Professor Stephen Vasciannie, former Dean of the Norman Manley Law School said of McIntosh, “For him, the British monarchy, arising as it did from the unique features of British constitutional history, was suitable for Britain: but, he maintained, constitutional structures must emanate from their local circumstances, and so, as a matter of sovereign authority, Caribbean governments should work to cut the umbilical cord with the United Kingdom, as a matter of high importance,”.

These sentiments have my full support. Independent Caribbean countries, as a matter of national dignity and self-respect, must move expeditiously to make their constitutional frameworks that of a Republic, that is one having no links to a monarch.

Barbados has also adopted the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal in 2005 replacing the London-based Privy Council. Barbados, in the end, may turn out to be the perfect answer to those who harbour doubt about the collective potentials and abilities of Caribbean peoples.

As Professor James Ahiakpor, in his excellent paper ‘The Economic Consequences of Political Independence – the Case of Bermuda’ points out, ‘retrogression is not a necessary consequence of political independence.’ The economic future of an independent country depends on the economic policies adopted by the government, the degree of political tranquility that it fosters and the extent to which it encourages a cohesive society’.

Capital flow for investment is intent on making profits irrespective of a country’s constitutional status. Investment flows are heaviest in countries that are open, transparent, have less corruption, are conducive to business, have stable political systems, good infrastructure, and an educated, hardworking, disciplined, and talented populace.

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