Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
The death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth II has once again shone the spotlight on the British Monarchy and raise questions as to the institution’s relevance in the 21st century.
The centuries-old claim of God’s direct anointment in the selection of Kings and Queens used to keep “commoners” subjugated no longer holds sway.
The monarchial system is a relic of the past and those countries, and they are fewer now, that cling to this form of government is increasingly coming under pressure from their citizens to go the democratic route of governance.
The 20th century reportedly saw the number of monarchies in Europe falling from 22 to 12 between 1914 and 2015, and the number of republics rising from 4 to 34. Decolonisation and independence in that century resulted in the abolition of monarchies in a number of former colonies especially those created by the United Kingdom.
The monarchy is largely ceremonial throughout Europe and while still attracting attention, this is mainly for sensational stories and gossip.
The Middle East features a well-established monarchy in the form of the House of Saud in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This family have ruled since 1932 and from all appearances rigidly entrenched in this oil-rich Kingdom. Opposition to the ruling family is firmly dealt with.
Thailand which has a largely ceremonial King as its head of state is one country that aggressively jails critics of the King.
A reported US$540 million, more than the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was spent on a promotional campaign in 2015 called “Worship, protect and uphold the monarchy.”
In November 2020 a youth-led protest was highly critical of the monarchy and led to cries that “there cannot be meaningful political reform in Thailand until the monarchy – which its critics say is unaccountable and self-serving – is brought back under the constitution.”
And in January this year, a former civil servant was convicted of 29 counts of violating Thailand’s strict “lese majeste” law. She pleaded guilty to posting audio clips of a podcast produced by a prominent critic of the monarchy and was handed a 43-year sentence for defaming the monarchy.
Undoubtedly the British people still have a love and affection for their monarch but many more are questioning the necessity of this institution in today’s world.
People of colour in the United Kingdom especially see no affinity to the royal family, reinforced by the recent revelations (or for some, confirmation) of the racist behaviour as reportedly experienced by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, daughter in law of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
Scandals over the years have rocked the British monarchy with a recent one causing Prince Andrew to step back from public duties amid allegations of sexual abuse and his ties to Jeffrey Epstein.
The monarchy in the United Kingdom is a major expense to British taxpayers.
Niall McCarthy, a data journalist, writes “taxpayers in the United Kingdom are paying more money than ever for the Royal Family. The latest Sovereign Grant accounts show that the monarchy cost £69.4 million in 2020.”
In this 21st century, it will perhaps be economics that will see the demise of the monarchial system unlike in 1793 when a more cruel form of removal was employed for King Louis XVI of France. He was beheaded by the famous guillotine.
Prime Minister Mottley has signalled that Barbados will move away from this system and become a Republic by November 30th 2021. A move, I am sure, welcomed by the vast majority of Barbadians.
Having been an independent nation for the last 54 years Barbados surely can become a Republic at age 55 with the experience and maturity required of attaining such a status.
I believe it is well past the time that Barbados should be a republic. Since the 1970s there have been commissions and calls for Barbados to become a republic and have at its head a Barbadian that truly represents Barbados and all its aspirations.
Since the Prime Minister made her intentions clear several Barbadians have asked what will change for Barbados once we become a republic except perhaps the cosmetics of the exercise.
Questions like that indicate the need for deeper conversations. Not a question on whether we should dispose of a monarchial system, because that is accepted, rather it should be a personal question for each and every Barbadian…what does Barbados becoming a republic mean to me?
And Barbadians should express for themselves what it means to them.
Becoming a republic similar to our becoming independent reinforces in our national psyche our freedom as a nation and as a people, with all encumbrances removed, all vestiges of our colonial legacy put to rest and resigned to the history books and museums where they belong.
No easy feat and cannot be attained overnight but it is a start or rather a continuation of a journey that started with the fight for emancipation through the riots into independence and now into becoming a republic. By no means is it the end of the journey for the journey continues well into the future.
Barbados has done exceptionally well in the 50+ plus years of independence, we are told we “punch above our weight” and we are indeed the “gem of the Caribbean”.
But we can never afford to rest on our laurels. There is much work to be done and we are frequently told it requires all hands on deck and all hands to the plough.
As we move into becoming a republic, we must have those difficult conversations that mature nations do when they reach the age of going on their own.
The last year has taught us that unless we stand together as a nation to confront our common enemies, be it health-related or otherwise we are doomed.
I sincerely trust that Barbados becoming a republic will not only allow us to continue to punch above our weight but to deliver some decisive blows in the world’s arena that will give us all that pride and success we truly deserve.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the U.W.I, Cave Hill Campus and Chair, Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition. Email: [email protected] hotmail.com