There was a little welcomed girth and depth added to the debate on population size in Barbados recently. Having accepted the wider and more evidence based offerings of various stake holders at a recent United Nations media briefing to mark World Population Day, I also shuddered at one suggestion made.
UNICEF Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Khin Sandi-Lwin, proposed that rather than looking at increasing the population size of Barbados by natural means, we should more stringently consider immigration. While accepting Sandi-Lwin’s primary premise for her suggestion which is that population planning for a particular country must take into consideration global trends, I remain unconvinced that it is Barbados’ remedy.
Several countries around the world have opted to use incentives to grow their populations by natural means. This, I think, partly stems from the reality that population growth by migration is a far more complicated method of increase.
France has been providing stipends for procreating French couples since the 1930s. Japan encourages families to go on state-subsidized holidays in the hopes that some ‘baby making’ contact occurs. Russia has included a number of ‘Family bank holidays’ in their national calendar to provide more opportunities for couples to spend time together. Over in Singapore, there is also a number of national family nights and stipends for children born.
Natalism is very much the first choice in many societies across the world. Why then would Barbados and the Caribbean look toward migration as a primary policy? I am not wholly against migration as a supplementary policy but in as much as I understand the complications to cultures and ways of life posed by migration, it cannot be a primary population growth strategy for the Commonwealth Caribbean. In fact, I doubt if the suggestion would ever be made in ‘certain’ countries across the World.
There are societies, such as America and Canada which for large blocks of their history have been immigrant populations. Migration is a viable population growth strategy because it is a part of the cultural imprint of those societies. However, in societies of the Commonwealth Caribbean where the issues of the first imposition of new people to the spaces remain problematic and unresolved, it would be cultural folly to exacerbate the issues. Even when migration occurs among the various islands within the Commonwealth Caribbean, the reactions are usually start and negative.
Perhaps Sandi-Lwin was simply encouraging us as Caribbean people to become more comfortable with our regional neighbours. If this was the intent of the statement, I can hardly disagree. However, she encouraged Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean to seek a global solution and that seems a little beyond an embrace of only our neighbours.
What are going to be the cultural fallouts of such a suggestion given our historical realities? Much more evidence based plotting would have to be available on that aspect of the policy before I could go along with Sandi-Lwin’s line of thought.
The Black descendants of the Africans who were enslaved in Barbados and other Commonwealth Caribbean countries are nowhere near the economic and financial enfranchisement that can make them equal stakeholders in their countries of birth. The introduction of Indian and Chinese immigrant workers at the time of Emancipation in the Caribbean has not assisted those African descendants, even if the groups added were not to blame.
The point though is not about casting simplistic blame. It is about underlining the historical realities which would make migration a problematic primary population growth strategy for these Islands.
Actually, until some of the realignments occur in the economic and financial realities of the majority of Black Commonwealth Caribbean people are made, I am unsure of whether we will even know what the right population size for Barbados is. There are several Black people on these Islands who are not able to contribute maximally to the economy.
Due to the remnants of a racist and classist plantation system, unemployment and underemployment abound. There is also no focus on wealth creation. Therefore any simplistic discrepancies in the linear translation between things like the number of people employed versus the number of people receiving pension benefits is not in my view the way that we can get the best picture of how we need to move Barbadian society forward.
It is never my intention to deliberately offend but I know that the days of policy formulation being done by a few expatriates who do not possess the situational or historical knowledge about the areas they pontificate on is far behind us. It must be far behind us because our region never benefits from it. Having said that, those days can be only be bad memories from our past when our elected leaders read and avail themselves of the relevant trends and research to sound credible when they are mapping our futures.
Because where it sounds like our leaders have not the faintest clue about what they are formulating then any better put formulation will sound more feasible. Here is where the travesty of what we have done to the University of the West Indies (UWI) in the last decade is laid bare.
The intellectuals in the Commonwealth Caribbean were known to fill this void between the expatriate philosophies and the vapid political spin. The academics still have the ideas, perhaps but without the financial ‘bacative’ to promulgate and strengthen said ideas. This with the whole country asking, where to next?
(Marsha Hinds Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.