Letters & Opinion

The Bottom Line: Independence, Republicanism, Reparations and Caribbean Citizens

‘What’s in it for Me?’

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

At the risk of being misunderstood too early, I’ll again say I can’t help not going overboard about Barbados following Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago as CARICOM’s newest republic.

It’s possibly the biggest regional political development in the past decade, after the 14 CARICOM governments decided in 2013 to together pursue Reparatory Justice from European Union (EU) member-states for Slavery and Native Genocide.

But how big a move it is will be measured not by the celebrations and observances that coincided with Barbados’ 55th Independence Anniversary on November 30, but by how Barbados puts its republicanism to work in a way that Barbadian citizens will basically feel and identify with it for what it’s really worth.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s administration has taken decisions that many others can only wish for – from dumping the British Privy Council to taking-down Lord Nelson’s statue in Bridgetown, where it stood proudly for over 200 years despite him never having set foot on the island.

Yes, the former ‘Little England’ that had a parliament before Great Britain and was the first formal British slave society in the Caribbean, has formally done away with the Queen as Head of State and replaced her with a homegrown President.

And Rihanna is now a National Heroine…

PM Mottley has demonstrated, yet again, that she has the testicular fortitude to go where most of her fellow CARICOM leaders wouldn’t even dare try to.

Whether the Queen’s head will continue to adorn Barbados’ currency and whether remaining in the British Commonwealth with Queen Elisabeth II as its queen removes the island from the extended breadth of the royal realm, are among questions they’ll ask after Barbadians get accustomed to waking-up every morning as republicans.

As Barbados embellished the ingredients of the positive progression from a monarchy to a republic earlier this week, I was again reminded that concepts like Republicanism, Independence and Reparations are still largely misunderstood by to too many beneficiary Caribbean citizens.

Take the Saint Lucia experience, where Independence was not just a textbook example of how it should not be done, but also a crystal-clear example of why people should be made ready for these constitutional changes that are taken in their names, but reside more in the minds and on the tongues of politicians and lawyers.

Here, Independence became a sorry partisan election campaign project hurriedly undertaken by an outgoing government that had seen and read the goodbye writings on the wall.

As a result, Independence Day, February 22, 1979 — a date virtually drawn out of a cork hat during the Constitutional Talks in London in late 1978 — was like a national lockdown: more-than-half the nation staying home in political protest and demanding general elections; Her Majesty’s Prison set afire by inmates; and British SAS snipers with cocked rifles atop nearby buildings around the Queen Elizabeth Berth to protect Princess Alexandria (the Queen’s cousin) who was standing-in for Her Majesty at the lowering of the Union Jack for the last time in the Helen of the West that Britain and France fought 14 wars over.

Forty-two years later, older Saint Lucians continue to see and treat Independence like partisan political event, while the majority – born after 1979 – have no idea what really led to and actually happened on Independence Day.

National symbols fly high, but in too many cases the national flag sporting the wrong blue – any other than the Cerulean Blue invented by National Artist Dunstan St Omer when he designed it.

Not that Saint Lucians don’t give a hoot or a boot about Independence, but most more prefer the celebratory aspect than all else.

Same with Barbados: Bajans woke-up on December 1, 2021 with no change in the cost of living, no better salaries and nothing materially different than before midnight on November 29 – except, of course, the giant leap forward in constitutional advancement that came with their republicanism being ushered-in by a government with all the seats in the House.

But some parliamentarians also stayed away from the proceedings, one absentee describing it as ‘theatrics’ and ‘a big show…’

I read a call for ‘Drax Hall’ (an old slave plantation still owned by a British family) to now be made accessible to ordinary Bajans – as if republicanism status had now automatically transferred it to public ownership.

I also read how Prince Charles was roundly-praised for saying that ‘Slavery was wrong’ — something he’d also already said in Africa in 2018.

Sorry if I sound like a tropical grinch, but I don’t think Christmas 2021 will be that different for the average Barbadian family that will have gotten over the celebrations in a few weeks’ time.

Ditto Saint Lucia: The new DBS’ daily ‘Street Vibes’ Vox Pop’s Thursday question was: ‘With National Day (December 13) coming, what do you wish for?’

Most of the five responses (in different ways) were for Saint Lucia to honour its national heroes in public and at school — from its First People to Sir George F.L. Charles and Sir John Compton, Saint Lucia’s first Chief Minister (1951) and Prime Minister (1979), respectively.

But one said he had ‘Nothing to celebrate, because I have no money in my pocket…’

Different island, same old story: Many citizens measure progress, not by the legal or constitutional value of steps taken in their interests, but by how these measures affect their pockets.

Same with Reparations:  The main concern of many is not Why or How, but ‘When will we get our money?’

If people don’t feel such major constitutional changes in the ways they should because they were unprepared and therefore unable to measure the direct benefits, they will not warm-up to the new political norm outside of asking: ‘What’s in it for me?’

Until and unless that question is answered, there’ll always be less understanding of the value of Independence and Republicanism – and Reparations.

And that’s The Bottom Line!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend