Late Barbadian author Austin ‘Tom’ Clarke, writing in his highly instructive Growing Up Stupid Under The Union Jack, speaks of the immense joy, pain, frustration and other emotions of growing up in the colonial times of 1940s Barbados. He writes of the journey towards finding his place in the sun through education, his interaction with his Barbadian kin, the humour of the people, their struggles and their unique island heritage.
Clarke highlighted the rigidity of our society, where much of what exemplified the colonial experience was nonetheless embraced by many native Barbadians. Those colonial days are now gone but education is still the prescribed means of finding one’s place in the world. Several customs remain, the humour is still alive, the pride is still very evident and the Union Jack has been replaced. But in many ways, we seem now to growing up stupid under the Broken Trident. And this is perhaps most manifested in periods of electoral fever when politicians push ignorance to its zenith, and stupidity seems to be accompanied by a halo.
Perhaps, the ongoing environmental issues on the south coast, the gun-related crimes in the country, and the political promises and commentary being attached to them, best exemplify much of our dilemma. Additionally, our partisan responses to most things demonstrate the difficulty we endure in extricating ourselves from mental inertia. And lest we forget, our politicians have not been plucked from Uranus; they are the products of our mirrors.
Recently, Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley indicated that if the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) formed the next Government the problems plaguing the south coast would be a thing of the past. The promise was akin to a syllogism with a guaranteed conclusion and the BLP and her leadership at the core. She might be perfectly accurate in her proposition. And obviously, she might not be. But what Miss Mottley appeared to be selling is a proposition that does not include the existing technocrats and professionals who have not yet solved the problem and will be there should she ascend the throne.
Her proposition, along with those of all Opposition parties, is that a change of Government translates into a set of social and economic circumstances where environmental problems, educational problems, law and order problems, et al, will all become things of the past. But the Opposition Democratic Labour Party also preached that same blarney prior to the 2008 General Election and they have not delivered as well. Indeed, some might suggest that the waste bubbling to the surface on the south coast is symbolic of their eight years in office.
But in the midst of the promises of Miss Mottley we are reminded of the environmental fiasco at Mangrove Pond, St Thomas that translated into the financial fiasco at Greenland, St Andrew under the watch of the BLP. That has not yet been fully resolved, with residents still affected by obnoxious fumes. So why should the people believe the BLP’s promises now?
The truth is that most, if not all of our social problems, can be better served with greater collaboration between Government and the Opposition and their respective agents. Unfortunately, our system of governance does not promote such a unified approach to problem-solving. Everyone wants to be in the seat of power. And there is the perception that one cannot contribute meaningfully to social development in Opposition. The recourse, thus, is to oppose and to promise to turn water into wine.
Speaking recently at a public event in Christ Church, BLP candidate for Christ Church South Ralph Thorne basically blamed the Government for the crime situation in Barbados. He had this to say. “We have not known a Barbados where we lost 30 young men, not to suicide, not to drowning, but to gunshots. Do you recognize your country as we move into 2018? Having endured the hardships of 2017, I do not recognize it. The only party that recognizes it is the DLP because they have taken the country here.”
But does this correlate with any reality that is removed from politics? Did Mr Thorne take into consideration that government is government, the political faces might change, but the government remains a continuum? Does the security situation at our points of entry, as described by Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, suddenly get better or worse with a change of Government? Does the judicial system that sometimes allows repeat murder accused back onto the streets suddenly change with new political administrations? Can either political party be blamed for a rise or decline in the detection and arrest rate of those responsible for such interventions? Elements outside those sitting in political power impact governance.
There must be an understanding that our political leaders are a powerful but yet small component in the process of governance. The buck does not stop with them, it stops at all of us. The problems we face will not and cannot be solved by Miss Mia Mottley, Mr Freundel Stuart, Miss Lynette Eastmond or any other political leader alone, pretending to be a latter-day Merlin. The pursuit of power will make them all promise magic but at the end of the day, they are more likely to resemble Don Quixote feverishly fighting windmills.
Now we are faced not only with a real broken Trident, we are also confronted with a broken treasury and a labour movement seeking to convince the populace they can make bricks without straw.
But that is another story.