The announcement by the government of Barbados that this sister-isle of ours is to end its centuries-long status where the Queen of England is its Head of State has caused quite a shock throughout the Caribbean.
In delivering the Throne Speech in Parliament this week Governor General Sandra Mason, indicated that her government intends to complete the process of having Barbados become a Republic in time for the 55th anniversary of its independence in November 2021. Barbados will however remain in the Commonwealth of which the monarch of the United Kingdom is nominally head.
Most independent Caribbean states have maintained the British monarch as Head of State after becoming independent, in spite of expressed sentiments by sections of their population to seek republican status. However Guyana, under the late Forbes Burnham first bucked the trend in 1970, a mere four years after it became independent, in 1966, the same year as Barbados.
Trinidad and Tobago followed in 1976 and two years later, Dominica became the first eastern Caribbean island to abandon monarchical status becoming the Commonwealth of Dominica, a republic on attaining independence in 1978. All three nations have however remained within the Commonwealth of nations.
But while shock and surprise are being expressed in several quarters in the Caribbean, the reaction from Buckingham Palace, home and headquarters of the British monarchy is very instructive. According to a BBC report, Buckingham Palace has said that “it was a matter for the government and people of Barbados”. BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond quotes a source at the palace as saying that the idea (republican status) “was not out of the blue” and “has been mooted and publicly talked about many times”.
Indeed a Constitutional Review Commission set up in Barbados recommended in 1998 that Barbados should go the republican route. It has taken more than 20 years to follow that recommendation and even now, one never knows if cold feet may be ahead, an affliction not uncommon in the Caribbean. One expects the voices of conservatism and slavish adherence to colonial trappings to have their say, but it is a bold step for a country widely regarded by many, including its neighbours as “Little England”.
Among those neighbours is the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines, immediately to the west of Barbados. Our country, like several others in the OECS set up a Constitutional Commission which recommended republican status. But an unholy alliance of colonial hangers-on, conservatism, political opportunism and plain ignorance gave a resounding No to any move towards republicanism in the 2009 referendum.
The bold step of Barbados must make us feel small for spurning the opportunity we had to do the same. But this is no time for self-recrimination, we must take up the mantle once again, educate our people to be rid of backwardness and colonial vestiges. Republicanism is but a symbol that a country is taking on its own identity, just as the United States of America did when it ditched the British monarchy in 1776.
It has nothing to do with relations with Britain or other states, nothing to do with visas, just an indication that we are as sovereign as India, Ghana, the Republic of Korea, South Africa or Taiwan. Time for us to stand up and be counted!