As Barbados celebrates its 51st year of Independence there are still many questions to be answered and much work to be done. It is an indisputable fact that significant social, political and economic strides have been made in the island since November 30, 1966. But could we have done better? Are we the Barbados today we desire? Does our status bear correlation to an ideal of nationhood? Do we always demonstrate the traits of a people proud of their nationhood? How does our nationhood fit into the CARICOM experiment?
Small, developing countries with open, vulnerable economies such as Barbados’, will always be possessed of an independence that is conditioned by what occurs outside their shores. Therefore, we perpetually pay attention to what happens in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, and significantly, the rest of the also developing Caribbean. It should therefore be incumbent upon us to do all that we can to strengthen our independence and concomitantly reduce our dependence. But have we done enough over the past 51 years to decrease our dependence?
We would suggest that we have dropped the ball on agriculture to a major degree. We have had it grilled into our consciousness that our food import bill is astronomically high and a significant contributor to our inability to basically ‘balance our books’. We were lulled into a Catch-22 situation where we were told to put our land to its best economic use and that was posited as being high-priced building development. Granted that sugar cane was no longer king, but our myopia has unfortunately allowed agriculture to become a footnote, to the extent that significant acreages of arable land are now sprouting beautiful, inedible concrete edifices. It is time that diversified agriculture be given a place of prominence in our planning and budgeting, and most importantly, fixed firmly into the psyche of our young people.
It is heartening to see that significant attention is being placed on finding and adopting alternative sources of energy. This is a subject that has been discussed for decades. Our dependence on fossil fuel energy is one that has been an unavoidable financial burden over the years. But with increased focus being placed on wind energy and harnessing of the sun through photovoltaic technology, we can actually dream of our next 51 years being one of actively contributing to the reduction of dangerous environmental emissions. We are an island and together with our regional neighbours should examine the potential of harnessing the might of tides and waves for energy. Of course, this is all a highly
expensive undertaking but the long-term benefits outweigh the costs. Indeed, more often than not, it is the human will, not his pockets, that prevents such important initiatives.
But the Barbadian independence and identity go beyond economic considerations. In a globalized world it is arguably difficult to maintain one’s true identity, especially for those who are weak-minded and oblivious to their history. Ideals related to discipline in our homes and schools have been shunted aside because they have been deemed negative or unpalatable by our North American standard-bearers. The religious knowledge which we once taught in schools routinely, the corporal discipline in homes and schools that bore positive results in most cases, have drawn a red flag because of the dictates of others outside our indigenous experience. Now, we might miss the breaking news on CNN of the teenager who walks into his high school and offloads an automatic weapon into an environment where discipline has been compromised by new-age philosophy. But we cannot miss what is now happening in our own schools. Could this localized violence be symptomatic of our adoption of modern-day notions of discipline and the scrapping of our own traditions?
We tried the Federation and it failed. Now, we are in the experiment called CARICOM. How do notions of nationhood and national sovereignty reconcile with what CARICOM purports? Can we truly have both at an optimum? The European Union took decades to become a reality and much of that had to do with decisions related to where does the one stop and the collective begin. The lessons of Brexit suggest that the one eventually takes precedence over the collective. Barbados has gained significantly from trade and commerce within CARICOM. Yet, within the collective, when employment and other social opportunities are taken by persons traversing the islands there are still grumblings related to nationhood. Nationhood versus CARICOM! Ironic!
In the year 2017 we ask the question: Have we reached political maturity? Are we willing to hold our political directorate to account from a position where we desist from standing before them cap in hand? Our politicians have nurtured this dependence. Indeed, it is their lifeblood. And we meander between two political parties whether they fail or succeed and very often are reluctant to cast them both aside if they fail our expectations.
The educational revolution, if it can be called that, is this country’s greatest achievement. From that academic and technical thrust, have sprung advancement and improvement in most areas of the Barbadian experience. And our nation has done much for us in the past five decades. We perhaps need to examine how much we have taken and how much we have returned. Part of Confucian teaching is that one should subject one’s own desires to the good of family, community and country. Eventually, it is surmised, the benefits will naturally redound to self. Meaningful independence can be built on such selfless pillars.