On November 30, 2021 , Barbados officially removed Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State to become the world's newest Republic. The Queen was replaced by an outstanding Barbadian woman, The Most Honorable Sandra Mason who transitioned seamlessly from being the nation's Governor General representing the Queen to President in her own constitutional right. This signified a watershed moment for the Caribbean nation that will officially set its own course without consulting the monarch. It was preceded and followed by a world class production of song, poetry dance, memorable speeches of reflection and aspiration and of a discipled and colorful display of military precision that defies description. Magnificent! Awesome! Soulful! Creative! Massive! are all acclamations that when applied collectively would still not do justice to the magnificence of what the world witnessed -- the excellence of the Barbadian Spirit.
Landmarks in the Journey from Slavery to Independence and to a Republic
In December 1966, Errol Barrow stood before the United Nations as the first Prime Minister of a newly independent Barbados. In his speech before the body, which had just admitted Barbados as a member, Barrow famously declared, “We will be friends of all, satellites to none.” In the long road to independence Barbados originated as one of England's first slave colonies and a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Then its sugar plantation economy thrived by bringing in enslaved people from Africa and transferring profits to its English masters. Reflecting on this ignominy in his speech before receiving the Order of Freedom , the highest national award, Prince Charles representing The Queen, spoke of the "appalling atrocity of slavery" which he said "forever stains our history".
With the change to a Republic as outlined by the Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed earlier this year, Barbados officially sets its own course for self-determination. It was revealing to note that a collage of its political history at the Road to Republic celebration, depicted the contributions of previous Prime Ministers. Besides Errol Barrow were Grantley Adams before him, and after him, Tom Adams, Owen Arthur and Erskine Sandiford whose presence at the event was recognized. It also paid homage to the local but world renowned writers, George Lamming and Kamau Braithwaite; the professionals and ordinary people many of whom representing public, private and civil society received various national awards including for invaluable contributions to the fight against the COVID -19 pandemic https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-59470843
The Essence-of the Watershed Moment
Prime Minister Motley puts the watershed moment in perspective in her November 2020 announcement of the Government’s intention to become a Republic, stating that the decisions of the country’s Parliament and its executive, should no longer be signed off on by “those who are not born here, who do not live here, and who do not appreciate the daily realities of those who live here.” In advocating that Barbadians want a Barbadian Head of State she continued by advocating that ‘this is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.” Two months after, the bronze statue of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, the British naval commander and a slavery sympathizer which was erected in 1813 by Barbados’ ruling class to commemorate Nelson’s victory over the Franco-Spanish forces, was dismantled from its prominent location in Bridgetown.
While the Republican Constitution has become the supreme law of Barbados there is no guarantee that it would bring the elements of self governance or the desired transformation of civic virtue for the common good. What is necessary is a consolidation of national identity of the citizens with historical and cultural traditions; and moral values, ideals, beliefs with national sovereignty. These become meaningful manifestations when individuals or groups come to believe that they belong to a country as a political community. The psychological basis of identity politics lies in the feelings of humans that they possess an inner worth or dignity which the society around them recognizes. These revolve around issues of equity and access to opportunities; diversity with inclusion; social protection and security. The philosophical aspects of this discussion have already been introduced in GOFAD's Blog that highlighted the profound thoughts of English philosopher, Isaiah Berlin's "Two concepts of Liberty" Inaugural Lecture, Oxford University (October 1958); America's philosopher John Rawls A theory of Justice (1971) and 1998 Nobel Prize winner for contribution to welfare Economics Amartya Sen's Nobel Lecture, "The Possibility of Social Choice" (December 1998). Their varied portrayals of identity, nationality and sustainable development have relevance for the future of the Republic of Barbados and for the Caribbean.
See GOFAD Entombing Moments of Humiliation with the Ashes of a Disastrous Presidency 7/1/2021”
We ain’t Done the refrain from Cindi Celeste
This vision of a national identity that frames the context and prospects of the Republic of Barbados was fully articulated wittingly or unwittingly by Ms. Cindi Celeste in her profound and prophetic poem, “We ain’t done.” Delivered with youthful vigor and passionate commitment, it was appropriately scheduled and performed following the announcement by Prime Minister Mottley that Ambassador Robyn Rihanna Felix, the internationally renowned Barbadian singer and philanthropist was recommended for the award of National Hero, joining Sir Garfield Sobers the only other living National Hero. Ms. Celeste looking to the future espouses in rhythmic expressiveness a few takeaways that I recall:
Conclusion: Unravelling Identity
Ms. Celeste’s poem is worth reproducing in its entirety. Its message “we ain’t done” is a refrain especially but not exclusively for the youth. It however has left us to ponder what happens when multiple identities emerge. For me, the major issue is - as Barbados forges ahead with consolidating its national identity, whither the CARICOM community?. A wise and most revered colleague and friend provided a possible and plausible answer. He pointed out that consideration be given to the assumption that compatible or parallel identities are more likely than conflicting identities to coexist and achieve positive results for the new Republic. I interpret this and the received wisdom from many writers on this subject to mean that:
As the spectacular fireworks illuminated the early morning skies over the island in the finale to an indescribable Republic Celebration, my soul like those of many others was bursting with pride and my mind imagining what the future holds. I said a prayer giving thanks for this awe inspiring achievement of Barbados to trigger lessons learned from its Road to becoming a Republic sparkling rays of hope for a mature CARICOM project to indeed become a "Community for All".
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.