In this 50th anniversary of Independence year, I would like to advise my fellow Barbadians to stay focused on the fundamental issues facing our country, and not permit themselves to be sidetracked into dealing with titillating social and political trivialities.
The number one issue that Barbadians should be concerned about is that all the current economic indicators suggest that the paradigm on which our post-Independence Barbadian economy was constructed has now come to an end!
I say this because Barbados has now been mired in an economic recession for some eight years, and it has become absolutely clear over that period of time that the old economic prescriptions no longer work. And, alarmingly, our economic managers –– both in Government and in the private sector –– have shown themselves to be so wedded to the traditional economic arrangement that they are at a complete loss as to how to deal with the new situation.
A good case in point is the recent Central Bank of Barbados-sponsored and orchestrated televised discussion on the Barbados economy. There –– for the whole nation to see –– were our Central Bank Governor and assorted “bigwigs” drawn from the Barbados Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the University of the West Indies, and the mass media of Barbados demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt that they possess no new ideas about how to extricate our country from its economic dilemma, and no inspiration to offer to the long-suffering people of Barbados.
The economy has been for at least the last decade –– and remains –– the major area of concern.
But we Barbadians should also be very worried that recent governmental actions are demonstrating that our country does not possess a commonly accepted sociopolitical ideological consensus to guide it and bind it together.
Over the past 50 years or so, we had all assumed that Barbados operated in accordance with a basic “social democratic consensus” that virtually all of its people and institutions had bought into, but in recent times, the Democratic Labour Party Government has engaged in actions that have made it absolutely clear to us all that, as far as they are concerned, Barbados possesses no such sacrosanct or fundamental social philosophy.
As we all know, from the very beginning of our Independence journey, the late Errol Barrow dedicated himself to developing and putting in place a widely accepted “social democratic” philosophy that would underpin the new Independent nation state, and that would give it a core fundamental social structure and a core identity. And, of course,
the flagship manifestations of this supposed national consensus were “free” education, “free” health care, and a strong and stable national currency that was pegged to the United States dollar at a ratio of two to one.
Well, we all thought that Mr Barrow had succeeded and that our Independent nation
had a core philosophy and identity. But, over the past two years or so, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his political cohorts have shown us just how wrong we (and Mr Barrow) were!
We thought we had sound national moorings, but we have now learnt that we have no such thing, and that “free” education and health care are both dispensable. Furthermore, we are also learning that devaluation of the Barbados dollar is a very real possibility with this current Government!
What all of this is adding up to is the simple and indisputable fact that after we commenced upon our Independence journey back in 1966, we did not do enough to transform our old colonial polity and economy into a new national society fitted to the new needs and aspirations of an independent nation.
Indeed, it has now become absolutely clear that the attainment of Independence in 1966 did not “undo” colonialism in Barbados. Rather, it made Barbados “post-colonial”, in the sense of being politically self-governing but still fundamentally shaped by its colonial heritage. In a very real sense, therefore, the evil “spirit of colonialism” has stalked our country over the past 50 years of “Independence”; continues to stalk it today; and is responsible for many of the deficiencies that are currently plaguing us.
What is it –– other than the legacy of the evil spirit of colonialism –– that is manifested
in a Caribbean region fragmented into a multiplicity of small island nations, each one lacking the size and capacity to make a significant economic or political impact upon the world? Hasn’t it occurred to our so-called political leaders that all we are doing is accepting and fulfilling the destiny of smallness, separation and weakness that was designed for us by our
Furthermore, can’t they see that our country is still imprisoned within a colonial-type economy? The sad truth is that the fundamental colonial resource structure is still in place in Barbados –– characterized by such features as “black” landlessness and the phenomenon of “white” dominance of big business. In addition, Barbados still has a relative “mono-cultural” colonial-type economy that is far too dependent on the fragile and fickle tourism sector.
It also goes without saying that, just like a classic colony, we depend on outside sources to feed us, and that we have done very little to build manufacturing
and industrial capacity.
When are we going to do what is necessary to truly liberate the locked in talents and potentialities of our people? When are we going to embrace the concept of economic development as arising from human development, and trust in our people, rather than in foreign investors, to take our country forward? When are we going to commit to the concept of directing our national revenue and resources towards essential developmental public assets, rather than towards private accumulations of wealth for consumption and conspicuous display?
In addition, if Barbados is to go forward, it must find a way to break free of the shackles that our British colonial masters imposed upon us when they bequeathed to us a divisive, divide-and-rule, two-party political governance system that is ill-suited to the needs of a small developing country.
We must also break free of the anti-worker colonial mindset that continues to permit obsolete and jaundiced sentiments, assessments and attitudes to persist against the working-class, and specifically against the capacities of workers to make decisions andto be involved in the governance of their workplaces and their nation. (A recent good case in point being the absolutely backward and reprehensible comments made by Sir Charles Williams about the black Barbadian workers employed by him at the Apes Hill Club.)
Similarly, we must be willing to recognize and acknowledge the deficiencies in the structure of our education system and in the content of the curriculum that has been passed down to us. No longer must we be willing to countenance defects that cause our education system to fail thousands of our young people.
These are the types of issues that we –– the Barbadian people –– need to be focusing on in this 50th anniversary of Independence year. Let us not be distracted by red herrings! Rather, let us concentrate on exorcising the still lingering evil spirit of colonialism, and build a new national society for the 21st century.
We, the ordinary people of Barbados, have to call for and do what is necessary to ensure that these types of changes are implemented. If we persist with the posture of leaving matters in the hands of our so-called political leaders we can rest assured that we will never make it off the colonial plantation!
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)