We start with a rejoinder to the Blog last week written by Professor Havelock Brewster, a most respected scholar and friend, in which the liberty is taken to share his poignant ideas in their entirety. He challenges “Quintessential Leadership” to launch bold new enterprises and prompts our indulgence of sketches for making democracy a reality.
A quintessential leader needs to launch a bold new Barbadian Enterprise—A Rejoinder by Havelock Brewster
Yes, there are very challenging - perhaps bordering on existential- problems of sustainable economic development facing Barbados, under Mottley’s leadership. From the little I know, Barbados policy seems to be like more of the same. I don't see new, course- changing orientations., learning from new models - Iceland, Croatia, Switzerland, Lithuania, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius …..,
Yet, this is the most propitious time for a quintessential leader to launch a bold, new Barbadian enterprise. There being zero opposition in Parliament, and a virtual absence of dissent or alternatives anywhere in society.
It is surprising now how we ignore the flaws of (Western-type) democracy, even when as in the US they are up in our face, and assert its perfection in ubiquitous application, to the exclusion of all else. We overlook how much such systems demean the ideal of government by the people for the people. Might one not then be a little hesitant of the praiseworthiness of a system that results in zero representation in Parliament of a half or more of the population. This faux democracy is a condition that micro-States seem particularly susceptible to. A small space is the ideal milieu for a charismatic Hero, whether benign or malignant, to mesmerize a captive Crowd. We’ve seen this play many times in several of the Eastern Caribbean States, and in Barbados. And in some of these cases we have witnessed over long periods of time “elected” dictatorships descend into exclusive, cruel, abusive, corrupt regimes. True, there are safeguards on the books- the rule of law, human rights, non- discrimination, equal opportunity, and so on. But surely these desiderata cannot replace representation of the people by the people.
There is a regrettable paucity of research and analysis of these “democratic” aberrations. It should surely be possible to come up with ideas to ameliorate their shortcomings. For one thing, the present system of Western-style democracy in micro-States seems altogether out of date. It does seem feasible/ realistic/ cost effective, especially in these days of efficient and fast transportation and communication technologies, that, as a minimum, participatory (Swiss-style) democracy- as a proxy for government by the people for the people, could actually be implemented in the micro-States of the Caribbean.
For those who speak of the Caribbean as a (new) “Civilization”; for those who voice their disaffection with how the world is run by a handful of large, wealthy, and powerful countries in their own interest, what better way to Lead the World Community than to put their money where their mouth is, by moving beyond the Republic and Westminster, towards the creation of Real Democracies.
PM Mottley’s New Regime
Since this rejoinder was written Prime Minister Mottley has announced the appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister, a smaller Cabinet of 20 members, from 26 in 2018. It includes four Senior Ministers each to coordinate the work of a cluster of ministries. She also announced that she will be seeking an amendment to the Constitution to reduce the age from 21 to 18 years for eligibility for appointment to the Senate. She has also institutionalized a system whereby each parliamentarian is to spend a prescribed period per week (1/2 a day) in his/her constituency and hold regular constituency forums. These policies are not novel nor do they meet the transformational levels for a bold new Barbadian enterprise. But they are at least some steps toward making a difference. And despite the low voter turnout which is increasingly the trend in “COVID elections“, in Barbados no attempt was made to recapture power through denying access to the ballot box in general. Without survey data, it is difficult to ascertain if the low voter turnout at 45% percent was due to COVID restrictions, apathy or alienation.
Making Democracy Real
Consideration must seriously be given to the kernel of the Rejoinder’s argument that there is need for research and analysis on the “political aberrations” of western style democracy especially in micro states like Barbados the pivot here is to consultation and advocacy, open government and public ethics.
First, reforms must be driven by the idea of expanding and strengthening democracy and citizen participation. This means systematically examining the important features of constitutionalism which include openness toward the recognition of collective rights of citizens as distinct from the underestimated tension between constitutional reforms and state reforms driven by international financial institutions.
Second, little scholarly attention has focused on the importance of the role of deputy prime ministers. In the case of Barbados, the appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister may be interpreted as a clear signal of succession planning. According to a comparative study on political leadership this will depend on a display of qualities such as temperament; relationships with the Cabinet and caucus; relationships with the party; popularity with the public; media skills; and leadership ambition. See Political Leadership: A Comparative study
Third, is the case for proportional representation the essence of which is that all votes contribute to the result—not just a plurality, or a bare majority. Its application will surely eliminate the faux democracy that results in zero representation in Parliament of a half or more of the population as in the cases of Barbados and Grenada. Of course there are other variations such as consociational democracy as in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Suriname that forges coalition governments and power sharing.
Fourth, reforms should seek not only to restore representative democracy—which is itself momentous in overcoming military dictatorship especially in the political history of Latin America — but also to create new spaces for citizen participation. Such reforms may be achieved through the recognition and expansion of direct-democracy mechanisms such as popular consultations and referendums and second, through the creation of citizen bodies to control public affairs such as associations of users to oversee the management of public services. In this regard, the new Bolivian and Ecuadorian constitutions stimulate new forms of participation—which seek to overcome the limitations of liberal democracy—and incorporate the recognition of the community democracy developed by indigenous peoples.
USA - a Democratic Aberration
Ironically, Professor Jay Mandle in a very interesting blog "The arc of Justice" in Democracy Matters, January 2022, places in stark relief the "aberration of democracy" in the USA. As was the case after reconstruction, he identifies today's anti-democrats as explicitly attempting to purge the voting rolls by making registering and voting more difficult, by corrupting election administration, and by falsifying the counting and certifying of votes. His synopsis is blunt:
"When people say that the arc of history bends towards justice, what they really mean is that the extent to which justice prevails depends on whether a population can defend itself against oppression. But successful defense requires political power, and political power means having access to the ballot box. That is why the opponents of voting rights have always fought so hard. In the past, they have restricted the right to vote to protect their privileged access to power. Today, their attacks on voting rights seek to recapture the power that they fear they are losing.”
"The arc of justice" - Money in my Mind Democracy Matters, January 2022
As yet there is no evidence of this form of "democratic perversion" in Barbados and most of the Caribbean. But it is fair to say that quintessential leaders like Prime Minister Mottley can launch a bold new enterprise in Barbados and inspire a new politics in the Caribbean and beyond.
Basking in her second straight landslide clean sweep victory, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley made her recurring promise to uphold the values of Errol Barrow, the first post-independence prime minister of Barbados, who said Barbados would be “a friend of all and a satellite of none”. Consider the significance of this BLP leader removing the political sand under the platform of her opposition by aligning her vision with that of the former DLP leader. Her decision to call a snap election reinforced her acute political sensibilities. When matched against her spectacular articulation for social justice on the international stage, it elevates her already high regard as the Prime Minister from a small viable state with an incomparable global acclaim. Most recently in November 2021, she was the breakout star of COP26, in Glasgow taking global leaders to task for their inaction on climate change. Hers is an innate gift of creative leadership for which the Caribbean and the world are blessed to behold. Barbados is indeed fortunate and from the results of the elections on January 19, 2022 Barbadians know it all too well. At the BLP’s final rally on the night before the Elections, Liz Thomas, Barbados’ Ambassador for climate change graphically summarizes Mia Motley’s star qualities: “White people from all over the globe say to me: how do I get a Barbados passport? Caribbean people say to us: ‘How do I get a Mia Motley?’, ‘I wish we had a Mia, give us Mia, lend us Mia’, but Barbados got Auntie Mia,” she said.
COVID, Voter Turn Out and Human Rights
More than 266,000 people were eligible to vote, but preliminary information suggests that only 50% participated. More than 5,700 were unable to vote because of COVID-19 infections which disenfranchised them in accordance with the rules established for maintaining safety during the elections. One opposition candidate brought an injunction to stop the election on the basis that the regulation would prevent those with COVID from voting and is an infringement of their human rights. The court rejected it. Others claimed that calling a snap election, especially during COVID era was an abuse of power and portends to authoritarianism. This notwithstanding the fact that it was within Prime Minister’s constitutional entitlement and she demonstrated shroud judgement.
Several commentators based on idiosyncratic information and speculation, wagered that the majority of the BLP would be whittled away because of disaffection, mainly due to the fact that the Prime Minister foisted Republican status on the country without due consultation. Again notwithstanding that unlike most other Caribbean countries whose Constitutions require a referendum to decide this change, Barbados’ Constitution has no such requirement. In addition, a poll administered by UWI Cave Hill political scientists, Dr. Cynthia Barrow found that while only a minority of Barbadians wanted to retain the British monarchy as head of state, most objected to the lack of consultation.
The objection by opposition groups to holding elections during the COVID era turned out to be a red herring. A December 2021 Report from the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) for example, showed that 14 Latin America and Caribbean countries had elections during the COVID era. These are prior to those in Barbados. It compared the average of elections between 1990-1999. Of special interest is that information for 10 CARICOM Member and Associate member states revealed interesting results. Belize (+ 9%), Suriname and St Vincent (+7) and the Grenadines (+5) had higher turn outs in the COVID elections while there were lower turn out in others: Guyana (-7%), Trinidad and Tobago (-8%), St Kitts/Nevis (-11%), Anguilla (-13%), Bermuda (-15%), and Jamaica (-21%). If the projected turnout for 2022 in Barbados is confirmed at 52% then its turn out will be 8% lower than in 2018. See Global over view of COVID 19 - Impact on elections International IDEA https://www.idea.int/news-media/multimedia-reports/global-overview-covid-19-impact-elections
A Reemergence of the Hero and the Crowd
Yet the margin of the 30-0 victory a second consecutive time is unprecedented, even though Grenada’s governing New National Party led by Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchel boasts 3 such clean sweeps, the last two in succession. Like Grenada, Barbados benefited from a disorganized major opposition, Democratic Labour Party, whose leadership also lacked widespread appeal. So much so that the opposition groupings and independent candidates that competed against the BLP were unable to ride on the real or perceived anger of those who felt disaffected and or alienated from the government. The inevitability of the opposition’s dilemma is partly due to its failure to learned lessons of pivoting its leadership as the BLP did when in 1993 Henry Forde (now Sir Henry) retired as Opposition leader on grounds of ill health, and made way for Owen Arthur with the talent to consolidate and widen the base of the party. This led to its subsequent success in leading the BLP to power at the 1994 snap poll that resulted from the downfall of then Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford's DLP and to electoral victories in two other consecutive elections that followed.
What is undeniable is that Mia Mottley, more than any other modern Caribbean leader has exuded the Charisma that characterized Archie Singham’s book “The hero and the Crowd” in reference to the pre-colonial leadership, principally of Gary in Grenada, but more so applicable to Eric Williams, Errol Barrow and Michael Manley. These are the heroes whose incarnation is jointly blossoming in the reflected radiance and brilliance of Mia Mottley.
The Challenges Ahead
Despite the BLP’s thumping victory, there continues to be challenges ahead for the Mottley government. Barbados is reliant on long-haul flights and polluting cruise ships for much of its economy activity. These are in jeopardy due to COVID restrictions. Mia Mottley’s second term is likely to be dominated by efforts at recovering and diversifying Barbados’ post-COVID economy. As part of a loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, the Barbados' government needs to achieve a 6% surplus of GDP. This is likely to lead to austerity measures. But the Prime Minister is no doubt aware of the rocky road ahead.
The BLP’s seminal manifesto is replete with aspirational promises including placing priorities on financial security, nutrition, renewable energy, building 10,000 homes, investment in the medicinal cannabis industry, enhancing human capital by accelerating widespread training schemes, attracting more “digital nomads”, and luring back the Barbados diaspora. In this regard, Mia Mottley described the elections in her inimitable style as, ”a stop to refuel and to continue transforming the country”.
It is clear that Mia Mottley more than many other leaders must feel that holding elections is the easy part. With such an overwhelming majority in parliament; without the intervention of an opposition, the challenge will be to sustain democracy to which she pledges is the mission of the new Republic of Barbados. That means among others upholding the rule of law, civil liberties, freedom of the press, gender equality, and government transparency.
A quotation from the book, Eric Williams: The Myth and the Man by Selwyn D. Ryan provides a pertinent refrain for Prime Minister Mottley and members of her government to be sworn in by Dame Sandra Mason not as a representative of Her Majesty the Queen, but in her own right as President of the Republic of Barbados. Democracy means much more than the right to vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age. Democracy means recognition of the rights of others. Democracy means equality of opportunity for all in education, in the public service, and in private employment—I repeat, and in private employment. Democracy means the protection of the weak by the strong.– Eric Williams, Independence Day Address, 1962.
We begin the New Year with great uncertainty. As we reflect on the overhang of a COVID year and a COVID Christmas, New Year resolutions are conflicted by the simultaneous images of who are we and what are we becoming, tumultuous beckoning of justice and injustice, fundamental values of humanity against dehumanization, affirmation of mature communities based on trust or those based on extremism leading to chaos. 2021 was indeed the year that was. It was a year that established the challenges to be overcome. The most popular GOFAD blogs last year listed below on the basis of our readers choices foretold many. We choose to highlight Democracy, COVID-19, and Climate Resilience.
Prospects of Reversing the Fatal Weakening of U.S. Democracy
Exactly one year ago, a violent mob broke into the United States Capitol in an effort to halt the certification of the electoral vote and overturn the 2020 election in favor of Donald Trump. While the insurrection was, thankfully, unsuccessful, its echoes continue to reverberate. One of the best illustrations of the dilemma is presented by Thomas Homer-Dixon "The American polity is cracked, and might collapse- Canada must prepare" in Canada’s Globe and Mail January 2, 2022. He may as well have inferred that the democratic world must be prepared. It is important to note that in November 2021, 150 professors of politics, government, political economy and international relations appealed to Congress to pass the Freedom to vote Act, to protect the integrity of US elections. The problem to be tackled is Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. This falsehood that nearly 70 per cent of Republicans now accept as true is such potent anti-democratic poison. Homer aptly describes the "big lie" amplified in outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax as “ the cracks have steadily widened, ramified, connected and propagated deeply into America’s once-esteemed institutions, profoundly compromising their structural integrity".
The implication is that political extremism feeds on itself, pushing polarization toward an irreversible tipping point. As a result, the January 6 storming of the U.S. capitol must be understood in the context of a series of factors . These include the rapid changing demographics that have reduced the percentage of non-Hispanic white Christians in America and inflamed the fears of right-wing ideologues that the traditional U.S. culture is being erased and whites are being replaced. The renowned Harvard Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology Dr. Theda Skocpol in her recently edited volume puts it even more starkly, “The GOP has become a radicalized marriage of convenience between anti-government free-market plutocrats and racially anxious ethno-nationalist activists and voters”.
These factors are compounded by two major factors. First, elite selfishness with the wealthy and powerful in America broadly unwilling to pay the taxes and invest in “build back better” public and social security services to reduce inequities. Second, Trumpism increasingly resembling European fascism in its contempt for the rule of law and glorification of violence. The biggest danger stems from the fact that the people involved didn’t think they were attacking U.S. democracy – although they unquestionably were. Instead, they believed their “patriotic” actions were needed to save it.
COVID's Public Health Response; Get the Vaccine
New COVID infections and new restrictions have curtailed social life, effected trade, the supply chain, commerce, tourism and sport. The cancellation of flights made Christmas 2021 a misery for tens of thousands of travelers and subdued New Year’s Eve festivities, many of which were cancelled.
When the RNA vaccines became available just before Christmas 2020 they were hailed as the most striking technological achievement predicted to bring the pandemic under control within months. Instead a series on unpredictable consequences, including the reticence of developing countries to share in the distribution and access of vaccines together with an upsurge in anti-vaxxers, revealed that biomedical advances -- testing and vaccines -- are only half the battle. Those breakthroughs, along with genomic sequencing that can identify new variants and the promise of powerful antiviral pills, represent a revolutionary assault on the coronavirus. Yet , a year later, little more than 60 percent of the U.S. population are fully immunized with two RNA shots or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson product. In many developing countries that figure is less that 25 percent. What this means is that the vaccines are providing huge benefits to individuals while failing to fulfill their public health potential of protecting the entire population. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the case of tennis star, Djokovic, seemingly caring more about his anti-vaccine stance and shattering Grand Slam records. The deportation of Djokovic by the Australian Government as we write is a stain not only on Djokovic’s legacy, but also on the Australian Open and for tennis in general. One sports commentator puts this in perspective when he said “if he goes home with a new understanding that the world doesn't bend to his will just because he’s great at hitting tennis balls, maybe Australia will have ultimately done him a favor.” It may also have disseminated a meaningful lesson to the world.
Saving our Planet: A Clarion Call
In her end of the year Report, WTO President, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called for changes to ensure developing nations are resilient to the effects of extreme weather and pledged the removal of trade barriers around the world to help tackle the climate crisis, enable a “just transition” away from fossil fuels and make developing countries more resilient to the impacts of global warming. At the same time, many are skeptical of including climate issues, and fear that “environmental” standards insisted on by some developed countries would be used as a cover for raising barriers to cheap imports from the developing world. Green campaigners have at the same time claimed that the WTO has encouraged high-carbon trade.
Hon. Gaston Brown, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Chair of the Small Island Development States (SIDS) and the Caribbean Community during COP 26 highlighted six key demands for World Leaders that, if met, should ensure developing countries like those in the Caribbean are not entirely submerged by rising sea levels. They include:
• Decarbonize by rapidly phasing out fossil fuel extraction and ending subsidies.
• Commit to climate finance for small island states to mitigate and adapt.
• Ensure international institutions push harder for cooperation.
• Cancel developing countries debt so they can deal with the impacts of climate change.
• Implement a climate damages tax to make corporations compensate countries for climate related damage.
• Commit to limit global heating by 1.5°C.
Honoring the Legacy of our Heroes and Ancestors: Remembering Desmond Tutu
As we beckon hopes of a Happy New Year, we give thanks to the front line workers, the real heroes during these COVID times. It is with sadness that we mourn those family members, colleagues and friends who died during the past year and over the festive season. We think and care for those who continue to suffer as climate or political refugees. We therefore must contribute to, pledge and pray for peace and happiness especially for those “left behind”.
GOFAD is particularly saddened by the passing of the prince of a man, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an advocate and believer in humanity, a truly fearless moral figure who spearheaded the tortuous journey from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. He understood that justice is not simply a concept to be grasped but a challenge to be lived. In his words so relevant as we contemplate New Year's resolutions: "Indifference to oppression victimizes the oppressed, comforts the oppressor and grieves the very heart of God."
ELEVEN (11) MOST POPULAR of 50 BLOGS FOR 2021
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.