It is a really poor reflection on the state of Barbadian politics, as we approach our 51st anniversary as a sovereign, independent nation in this supposedly enlightened age of the 21st century, that there are persons in our midst who, in pursuit of narrow, self-serving political agendas, would seek to use the emotionally charged issue of race to set Barbadians against each other.
There was ample evidence of this ploy at work especially in various social media postings over the weekend as operatives, clearly in support of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), waged an aggressive online campaign aimed at dissuading black Barbadians from coming out to participate in yesterday’s anti-Budget protest march jointly organized by the umbrella private sector organization and the island’s four major trade unions.
Even though the organizers of the march were at pains to emphasize that its specific purpose was to get the Freundel Stuart administration to engage them in serious discussion on changes to the recent 400 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NRSL) that will significantly push up consumer prices, the on-line political operatives sought to give the demonstration a conspiratorial frame.
They claimed it was nothing but an attempt by the white Barbadian business class, using the black trade union leadership as pawns, to bring Barbadians out on to the streets in an attempt to bring down a black government. The political spin sought to exploit the front-line involvement of Mr Charles Herbert, president of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), and the fact that a number of prominent white-owned businesses had expressed support for the march. There were calls to boycott these businesses as well as few black-owned enterprises which the operatives saw as supporting the march.
“I have contacted one hundred and twenty seven persons from the area who have agreed to withdraw their patronage if you follow the white business community masquerading under the acronym BPSA to bring down a black democratically elected government,” said a Whatsapp message, styled as an “open letter” and directed at a black businessman, that made the rounds last weekend.
Using race to divide and rule is a despicable tactic which must be condemned by every right-thinking Barbadian. Indeed, the crude exploitation of race for political ends has contributed to much division and strife, sometimes with deadly consequences, in many countries across the world, only to set back their development prospects by decades and jeopardize the aspirations of the population to enjoy a better quality of life.
Fortunately for us in Barbados, ours has always been a society where blacks and whites and other races have peacefully co-existed.
The fact that black Barbadians have dominated national politics since Independence in 1966, does not mean politics and government have become their exclusive preserve. All Barbadians, whether black or white, brown or yellow, have the same rights under the Constitution and are therefore entitled to use their freedom of expression, for example, to comment on any political issue or engage in lawful and peaceful protest, especially in any instance where a government is widely seen as taking decisions which are not in the best interests of the citizens of the country.
The fact that up to 20,000 Barbadians, according to police estimates, chose to be on to the streets of Bridgetown yesterday, instead of remaining at home, showed that a significant percentage of the population shares the same view of their private sector and trade union leadership on the adverse effects of the NSRL and other tax measures presented in Government’s 2017 Budget. Otherwise, they would have simply stayed at home or remained at their workplaces.
The massive public participation in the march sends a clear message to the conspiracy theorists whose tactics ought to be publicly rebuked by the leadership of the DLP, that playing the race card must be kept out of Barbadian politics. Indeed, race should never be used to shield a government from having its actions being subjected to public scrutiny or from recognizing that, as a servant of the people, it has a responsibility to be accountable, not only at election time, but throughout its tenure in office when there are issues which have a major impact on the population.
While there is no denying that our slavery past has left some blemishes on race relations, if there is one lesson which South Africa’s post-apartheid experience and the example of the great Nelson Mandela can teach us, it is that it is better to attempt to heal old wounds instead of reopening them, for the sake of national cohesiveness which offers an opportunity for national development.instead of promoting new or reinforcing old divisions that undermine cooperation in the national interest.