Next Tuesday, November 30, the people of our eastern neighbouring country, Barbados, will not only celebrate the 55th anniversary of their reclamation of national independence from Britain, after more than 300 years of colonial rule, after more after more than 300 years of colonial rule, but this time they are celebrating in grand style.
On that date, the country long referred to as “Little England” will take a big step forward in removing the formal yoke of British colonial rule by becoming a constitutional Republic within the Commonwealth. In so doing it will formally take the right to replace the Queen of Britain as its Head of State by a local, home-grown Head, a President. It will then move ahead of many of its neighbours, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, in removing the formal trappings of allegiance to the British crown. Ironically, many of the people of these neighbouring islands were fond of referring to Barbados and its people as being “the Black British” of the Caribbean.
Barbados is moving on leaving us still holding on to the colonial coattails. Worse, the Vincentian electorate voted in 2009 to reject republican status and endorse the British monarchy. Perhaps we owe Barbados an apology.
Painfully, many of our people still do not understand what it means to be taking steps to remove the formal colonial trappings. Their confusion is aided and abetted by some among us who are well aware of the significance but who use all kinds of diversionary arguments, (“no big thing”), to add to the confusion.
Barbados under the leadership of Prime Minister Mia Mottley has, after much hesitation over the years, and in spite of residual disapproval by conservative sections of the population, summoned the courage to take another step along the road of decolonisation, by going for the Republican route. In so doing, though the actual form differs, it is to join Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica, among English-speaking CARICOM members, in achieving Republican status. Shame on the supposed “progressive” people of Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines for example!
There are those who, for political reasons, have over the years confused becoming a Republic, with an abandonment of democratic principles, even equating it with “dictatorship” and “communism”. It has misled the gullible, many of whom hold the United States of America, as the paragon of democracy. But the USA is itself a Republic. How did it get there? By militarily overthrowing British rule, not peacefully as those CARICOM Republics have done!
Similarly some of the much admired “western democracies” of today, the likes of France, Germany, Italy and Greece, took violent routes towards republicanism. But when the subject is even broached in the Caribbean, all kinds of negative images are conjured up. That was the case just over a decade ago in SVG when a constitutional review process was set in train and the idea of Republican status was raised, and later endorsed by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) led by the late P.R. Campbell Q.C.
Do you remember the wild charges led by the political opposition? That if SVG became a Republic there would be no visa-free travel to the UK! That we would replace the head of “THE QUEEN’, (as if Queen Elizabeth were the only Queen on earth), on our currency with the head of P.M. Gonsalves or Venezuelan President Chavez, the likely replacements on what would have been a “worthless” currency!
That was only skimming the top of the filthy gutter down which anti-Republican propaganda flowed. It was worse than when we were about to achieve independence 30 years before! It succeeded, led by unscrupulous opposition forces, in registering a decisive NO to the proposed Republican constitution of 2009. But that was 12 years ago, so where are we now?
P.M. Mottley has taken a bold initiative, but what of the rest of us? Are the young, “progressive” leaders of the ULP so cowed by the referendum defeat that they are afraid to broach the subject again? Surely they cannot feel as trapped as P.M. Gonsalves seems to be about having his “legacy” dented once again?
And what of “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”? Is the NDP so backward that it is afraid to take the initiative on the matter and so place the ULP on the back foot? It can’t be afraid of the late Sir James Mitchell now? What is its perspective on a post-colonial future?
In the meantime we cannot even reach a consensus about national honours, cannot place a stamp on our future. The generations of George McIntosh, Ebeneezer Joshua, the “Forum Boys”, and Yulimo and the Black Power, were not afraid to challenge colonialism and plantation rule, to put forward our perspectives for an independent, post-colonial future. Today we have droves of young, educated people, so come forward, let us not remain prisoners to an opportunist past, and put your stamp on our future.
WHO WILL BELL THE CAT?
My sincerest condolences are extended to the family of the former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell on his passing as well as to the family of female radio pioneer Sis. Jean Duncan.
May both rest in peace!
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.