Tomorrow, Barbadians will celebrate the 46th year of nationhood. It is a remarkable achievement; we have come a long way as a people. We have survived slavery, hurricanes, social upheaval, economic crises and the uncertainty of navigating our place in the world as a developing small island state.
Barbados has come of age but there is still some distance to travel. We are a resilient and industrious people but it would seem that for the last two decades we have begun to lose our way, the Barbadian way.
Our nation is at a cross-road. This is not the time for self-doubt or burying our heads in the sand. With a shared vision of the future, the resolve to touch the stars, the willingness to face our challenges with confidence, and rediscovery of our core values, we can soar.
Barbados is the product of its leaders; matriarchs and patriarchs of homes, villages, communities, churches, its captains of industry and of course its people and political leadership. There is value in the Barbados brand.
Barbados is as renowned for its natural beauty as it is for the international exploits of its people, and the global reputation which has come to be known as the Barbados model. For many years, Barbados has been recognised as the number one developing country. Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that Barbados punches above its weight. He is right.
Without an abundance of natural resources, Barbados has been able to leverage the education of its people and manage what little it has to maximum effect. Over the years, Barbadians have partnered with new residents and foreign capital to build on the solid foundation of our forefathers.
At this time the country is facing yet another crisis, rather two crises; an unrelenting economic crisis and a crisis of confidence. An uncanny risk aversion is suffocating the willingness of key stakeholders to act decisively in the best interests of the future. The stakes are high.
Not so long ago Barbadians exemplified the unflattering quality of being a crisis people, meaning that though we may fail to be proactive in charting our path forward as a nation, when faced with a crisis, we will do what is necessary to make the hard choices that must be made in order to sow the seeds for a better tomorrow.
Unfortunately, thus far, the approach to the current economic and social conditions suggests that we are yet to summon that old steely spirit of ingenuity in times of crisis.
Fellow Barbadians, as you reflect on the significance of political independence, rest assured that Barbados can emerge from the present economic and social morass like a phoenix rising from the ashes, but not without shared sacrifice. The country can no longer afford business as usual.
The crisis has revealed the chinks in our armour. We have a responsibility to rise to the occasion, to seize the opportunities before us to reform our institutions, refocus our education system, invest in the future and embrace the highest standards of service delivery.
As you celebrate the culmination of Independence Day celebrations tomorrow, in the midst of the tradition of the parade, conkies, fish cakes, cou cou and flying fish, picnics, folklore and the best of Barbadian music, I implore you to reflect on the challenges facing our nation.
Consider what you can do to contribute to the solutions needed to ensure that the independence project shines brightly for the next 54 years and beyond. At this historic juncture, the opportunities to create a better Barbados for future generations are within our grasp. Stand up and be counted, reach out, grab those opportunities and run with them. Avoid the intoxication of narrow petty politics in the season of electioneering and challenge our leaders to step up to the plate. Demand of them a grand vision of the future and a progressive programme to make that vision a reality.
It is time to reinvent this nation, Barbados. It is time to zealously guard our cultural development and national identity. It is time to secure our place in the world. Do not rest on your laurels, the time of reckoning is now. Notwithstanding the international environment, the type of future our children and their children will enjoy depends on all of us. In the words of our national anthem:
The Lord has been the people’s guide,
For past three hundred years,
With him still on the people’s side,
We have no doubts or fears,
Upward and onward we shall go,
Inspired, exulting, free,
And greater will our nation grow,
In strength and unity.
Happy Birthday, Barbados!
* Carlos R. Forte is a Commonwealth Scholar and Barbadian economist with local and international experience. [email protected]