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#BTEditorial – Lloyd Erskine Sandiford 1937 – 2023

by Barbados Today
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The death of Lloyd Erskine Sandiford brings to a close an era of Barbadian statecraft in the post-Independence era.

History will in all likelihood be kinder to him than his contemporaries and more profound than the well-worn narratives of detractors and supporters, partisans and pundits.

He reached the pinnacle of government of a young nation-state and guided the growth and development of landmark policies in education, investing heavily in the island’s single greatest resource. But he left politics under a cloud of unpopularity, as much sinner and sinned-against, a victim of both self-inflicted wounds and the unkindest cuts of a society’s last gasp of colourism and classism.

Captains of commerce would delight in stopping willing fans on Broad Street with the latest “Sandi joke”. One White business owner delivered the baldest ad hominem attack against a sitting Barbadian premier in declaring him an “errant schoolteacher”, mocking his origins as an educator. Most people did not see behind the veiled attack on public education – the single greatest transformer of generations benighted by a legacy of slavery, poverty and deprivation. Others delighted in tropes of caste and race rather than criticising policies.

We are aware that many barbs and jabs came from his own tribe and for the rest of his life he felt deeply aggrieved not only by perceived betrayal but by a stubborn unwillingness to understand his principles, appreciate his stance, share his vision or even be patient with his halting, ponderous prose.

Nonetheless, we believe that history will not beatify but assess him with fairer eyes and that he will emerge a singularly important figure in Barbadian politics who at the times of both potential and peril remained quintessentially Barbadian – pragmatic, prudent and proud.

His stewardship as minister of education and culture in the third Barrow administration and as prime minister following his leader’s sudden death on June 1, 1987, has already been cleaved into two separate halves, each indistinct from the other. We beg to disagree. With unwavering vision and insistence on principle, he transformed tertiary education in Barbados, fulfilling the dreams not of would-be academics but professionals and technicians through the Barbados Community College. A grateful nation would do worse than to ensure that the college should bear his name. Would that such an honour had been bestowed upon him during his lifetime.

Recognizing the power of education and culture in nation-building, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford actively worked to promote these domains. His emphasis on the importance of education as a catalyst for individual growth and societal progress continues to influence Barbados today. He was the culture minister of the first Crop Over Festival in 1974, inaugurating the annual calypso season in which he was often the fair game of calypsonians. Yet there is no evidence of a vindictive politician intent on crushing his critics. This is a precious gift in an emerging democracy.

One of the defining aspects of Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford’s tenure as Prime Minister from 1987 to 1994 was his steadfast commitment to steering Barbados through its worst economic crisis since Independence at that time. When faced with a severe debt crisis and high unemployment, he made difficult decisions to implement austerity measures that aimed to stabilize the economy. Although these measures were met with public discontent, they played a crucial role in laying the groundwork for recovery. Up to this point in history, no other leader of a democratic developing nation had so defied the International Monetary Fund during a structural adjustment programme by denying to take the IMF’s uniform prescription of currency devaluation.

It was after losing his no-confidence vote and the government in the General Election of 1994, that it became apparent that the bitter medicine of an eight-percent public sector wage cut had stabilised the economy. It was only then that the IMF mission chief had come to realise that the Barbadian people had followed their leader in never devaluing their dollar on the open market. The message was clear: If the people had not revalued their currency why should the IMF?

Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford’s statesmanship extended beyond Barbados’ shores, as he fostered stronger diplomatic relations with China, South Korea, Brazil, and South Africa, demonstrating his commitment to expanding Barbados’ global reach. These alliances not only opened doors for trade and investment but also added to our standing as a respected global player. As the first resident envoy to China, he was a public servant who felt duty-bound to contribute even after ending his political career.

And now, in an era where virtue is mocked as weakness, where bombast is prized above brilliance and where the cult of personality supersedes the crafting of policy, our fourth prime minister must be remembered for a calm and composed demeanour, which sought to instil a sense of stability and reassurance in the Barbadian populace. Even in managing potential social unrest and strikes, his striving to find common ground and foster unity has yielded tripartism – the informal congress of business, government and labour to stabilise wages and prices that is now the Social Partnership. This is the fruit of Sandiford’s ability to navigate challenging situations with tact and resilience which is an enduring legacy of stability in Barbadian politics.

Despite his party’s later jettisoning of free tertiary education, abandoning leadership in regional integration and betraying the Barrovian vision of social transformation, Citizen Sandiford remained true to himself. He remained as accessible and visible as the prime ministers of old, whether as a singer in his community choir or the founder of his Academy of Politics. He embodied the ideals of public service, resilience, and dedication to nation-building. Few can challenge his fundamental decency, honesty and humility.

As we pay tribute to his unwavering commitment to economic stability, education, and strengthening a very Barbadian culture of tolerance, pragmatism, pride and industry let us remember Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford as a statesman who helped paved the way for its growth and development. Beyond the tumult of the age and the blinkers of partisanship, his legacy will continue to inspire generations of leaders and citizens in their pursuit of a brighter future for Barbados.

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