We are only a few months away from what will be the most momentous election in Barbados since the first election held in 1951 under universal adult suffrage.
Momentous, not just because of our present economic plight, but because the next Government will have to take decisions that will put us on a new path of our development towards a prosperous and just society.
Failure to take this new direction may see Barbados, long celebrated as a model of stable democratic governance and prudent economic management, becoming just another failed post-colonial state.
Our challenge, therefore, is to elect a government that will not only lead us out of the economic wilderness, but also take the lead in initiating and achieving the radical transformation that is required of how our society is governed and structured if we are to fulfil the inherent promise of a prosperous and just Barbados.
We must insist that the two principal political parties (the other parties have no chance of forming a government) present in their manifestos a vision of the new Barbados they wish to lead us to, and the mechanisms by which we the citizens will participate in the transformation of our country.
The discouraging prospect of achieving this transformation is that it will require leadership, strategic vision, mental emancipation, courage, and determination; the encouraging appeal is that it is easy to turn around a small cohesive society like Barbados in five to ten years, if citizens are fully involved.
Let us be clear: we don’t need to get on a new path of development because the old strategy has failed. It has succeeded, but it has run its course and no longer fits the altered circumstances of Barbados 50 years later. The old path charted at our Independence by Errol Barrow resulted in lifting masses of people out of poverty and creating a broad educated middle class.
The problem is that those policies after 50 years now redound largely to the benefit of that same middle class while the poor are slipping through the cracks in increasing numbers. In other words those policies have now exhausted their original usefulness. In Barbados we now have a growing ‘precariat’ i.e. a class with no sustained means of employment and with low levels of economic, social and cultural capital (see Guy Standing’s Precariat: the New Dangerous Class). Our educational system, fixated as it is on using the Common Entrance Exam as a device for siphoning off an academically elite minority, consigns most of our youth, in the absence of systematic remedial education and technical and scientific educational and training opportunities, to the precariat whose only hope of surviving and prospering is perceived by many of its younger members as the illegal drug and guns trade.
We need a new path of development because the competitiveness of Barbados as a knowledge economy will depend on continual technological innovation and a highly educated populace. Human capital is our greatest resource
Without going into detail here are four critical issues, besides educational reform, to be demanded of and addressed by any incoming administration.
It is essential to deepen democracy by giving Barbadians ongoing institutional inputs into how we are governed. Both the politicians and the civil service need to systematically tap the ideas of the people. There are several mechanisms, many already aired publicly, to achieve these objectives, we just have to use our imagination.We might also create an international centre for democratic governance at Codrington College. Politicians must also be held more accountable and transparent, and the trade union movement must re-invent itself.
2. Public sector reform
I and many others have ventilated extensively on this subject. The goal is to transform the public sector from an unwitting break on our development to a partner in our prospering. This will take five years and a lot of determination. It will be a lot easier if we get the majority of public servants buying into the project. At the same time justice and penal reform is absolutely necessary.
3. National unity
Can we go forward into the next 50 years as one Barbadian people with one identity, or do we settle pragmatically for a kind of brokered ethnically plural and divided society in which the best we can hope to achieve is a largely peaceful and deeply suspicious tolerance of the other? To answer this question in the affirmative, five things would have to happen. First, Bajan whites have to get over the anxiety and discomfort of casting off the ethnic security blanket which 300 years of our history have conspired to get them entangled in, and recognize that for all practical purposes their Bajan cultural roots are more African than European.
Second, all Barbadians must look at our history from an ethical point of view, rather than an ethnic point of view, so that the ancestors whom we revere and honour are not ethnically determined, but ethically determined. In other words, we should identify morally and spiritually with the enslaved and the oppressed over the enslavers and oppressors, and hence embrace the symbolic events that ushered in dignity, freedom, and human rights for all Bajans.
Nothing would further this objective more than the establishment of a magnificent museum in Barbados of the African Holocaust in the New World. Third, those in Government responsible for implementing programmes relating to our African heritage must make it clear that this mission is not exclusionary, for our African heritage is the patrimony of all Barbadians. Fourth, some of our Afro-centric brothers must stop behaving like Old Testament prophets threatening retribution on the white tribe unto the fifth and sixth generation of their progeny. Fifth, we need realistic strategies for black economic empowerment.
4. Environment, land use and town planning
Barbados is too small to afford the luxury of unplanned land use. We have to pay as much attention to our built environment as to our natural environment. If we continue on our present path we will become an island where nobody wants to live, and that nobody wants to visit.