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by Ralph Jemmott
The bogey-man of dictatorship has haunted Barbadian politics from the time of Grantley Herbert Adams to the present premiership of Mia Amor Mottley.
In Barbados it is invariably used as a scare tactic by opposition parties to ostensibly damage the reputation of the leader of a ruling party.
Dictatorship of course has an almost universally negative connotation. Historically it is associated with leaders such Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti and perhaps most infamously with Joseph Stalin In Russia.
The stories of secret police, Gulags and torture are well known. They all represent an affront to humanity, to God and a reflection of the degradation of the human condition in the absence moral sensibility.
Political scientists often distinguish between two main styles of leadership, the collegial and the authoritarian models, with many shades of difference between them.
Then there are those who find themselves in positions of leadership, but who never come across as leaders in the first place. Political leadership is about the exercise of power, hopefully about the judicious use of that authority to enhance the virtue of politics and the politics of virtue in the cause of human betterment.
In the lead-up to the 1966 general elections Grantley Adams pleaded for a strong opposition and he raised the fear of a Barrow dictatorship.
It may have worked. Although the BLP lost the election the opposition parties did surprisingly well, The BLP won 8 seats, the BNP 2 and the DLP 14, with the DLP candidates in St. George, St. Thomas and St. Andrew winning by surprisingly narrow margins. In that poll the opposition parties together actually outstripped the winning DLP in relation to the popular vote.
Even the strongest defenders of Errol Walton Barrow admit that there was something authoritarian about his style of leadership. In the Report that bears his name, Commissioner Herbert Duffus concluded that politically in Barbados, “all roads led to Barrow”.
However, it would be grossly disingenuous to call Errol Barrow a dictator. In fact, his political career showed him to be anything but a dictator in any meaningful sense of that term. In fact he stands in contrast to his contemporary Mr. Lee Kwan Yew who openly declared that under his leadership Singapore was “a soft authoritarian state”.
Barbados has never been anything remotely resembling an authoritarian state.
In a tribute to Mr. Barrow at the time of his passing, novelist and social critic George Lamming stated that he always felt safe with Barrow in a way that he would not have felt safe with Mr. Lee.
Mr. Barrow was a liberal democrat with a highly developed sense of political morality. He castigated some of his leadership contemporaries in the Caribbean as “bandits”.
After the DLP ‘s defeat in 1976 Barrow was urged by political miscreants within the party to disavow the results of the poll and refuse to hand over power to Mr. Tom Adams. He rejected the idea out of hand.
The idea that Barrow was a dictator was compounded by the equally false accusation that he was a communist.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Neville Duncan noted in 1987 that Barrow liked to call himself a ‘socialist’ but that he was more of a social democrat tied to the workings of a free market economy. The notion of Barrow as a potential communist dictator was to say the least farcical.
The dictatorship charge was also levelled at Mr. Tom Adams who was widely regarded as “a political animal”.
Never been quite sure what that meant, but his biographer F.A. Hoyos has suggested that he knew and made it his business to know the political affiliations of most of the persons in his St. Thomas constituency.
When Adams passed away in 1986 it was held that Providence had intervened to save Barbados from the threat of ‘dictatorship’ real or imagined.
However in his dealings with members of his Cabinet Mr. Adams’ reputation was viewed as highly collegial. This may be a consequence of the fact that that Cabinet now known as the Great Combination consisted of persons of considerable intellectual ability who he felt he could trust to help fashion appropriate policy. As far as one knows it was never claimed that “all roads led to Tom”.
The charge of wanting to be a dictator has surfaced again under the leadership of Miss Mia Amor Mottley. I say wanting to be, because there is little evidence to suggest that the Prime Minister is embarked on any such odyssey.
Of course one does not have to see evidence to raise a cautionary note in the interest and defence of democracy if it appears that that democracy could come under threat in the near or distant future.
In Miss Mottley’s case the suspicion might hold because unlike her predecessors, her government holds more than the required two-thirds majority for any change to the Constitution.
The distrust or fear might also be occasioned by the fact that in the past three years, she has made a number of surprisingly sudden decisions including declaring Republican status and calling of an election a year and a half short of the constitutionally due date.
Unlike Tom Adams it is questionable whether she has any Great Combination that might act as a check on her own impulses and sense of mission, if the Cabinet sees her policies as questionable.
The Prime Minister seems to have a sense of where she would want to take the country. She should not seek to do that on her own, if as her Party would have us believe, she truly cares.
Hearing all the talk about a dictatorship one wondered how any political leader in Barbados would seek to initiate such. The worst dictatorships usually use armed force to subject its people into acquiescence. Some rely on either the apathy or willing conformity of the masses. Barbadians generally speaking are reluctant to speak truth to power.
The middle class intelligentsia, the product of free secondary and university education, seems withdrawn from public discourse for fear of ‘getting into trouble’, rubbing the Establishment the wrong way. Many years ago when he sat in the Senate the late Brandford Taitt remarked that Barbados was what he called, “a keep yuh damned mout shut society”.
The withdrawal of the educated classes in to a comfortable conformity has been one of the drawbacks of post-colonial Barbados.
A political opposition will use any legal strategy to gain an advantage. It is up to the people to be vigilant and to determine the truth or untruth, the validity or invalidity of any accusation of dictatorship.
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.