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Mia Mottley: Speaking Truth to the World? Part One

Education 20 Jul, 2023 Follow News

Prime Minister Mottley of Barbados

Dr Livingston Smith

Dr. Eric Williams, historian and former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

Professor Rex Nettleford, Former Vice Chancellor, UWI

By Dr Livingston Smith, PhD

Professor, Department of the Social Sciences

University College of the Cayman Islands

There are those who argue that the bonds of nationalism are being torn asunder by forces of globalization. Hegemonic ideas like capitalism and democracy, the forces of capitalism in the forms of direct foreign investment and trade, labor migrations, and capital markets are seen as operating to dramatically reduce the power and significance of nation-state. In addition, the pressures to remove trade barriers in line with neo-liberal economics, globalizing institutions such as the WTO, UN, IMF, World Bank, and regional agreements among others, they insist, are making the nationalist framework redundant. While there is significance to this perspective, nation-states are still the most critical actors in the modern global system and global inequality is the cause and basis of many of our intractable global problems.

The inequality of nation-states and its impacts on human lives and outcomes is one of the defining features of human societies. Scholars of international relations explain that though power is multidimensional, certain ‘natural’ features of states such as geographical and population size and the possession of certain vital natural resources, in particular, immediately endow a country with significant power. A large size naturally gives a state some power status- The USA, Russia, China, Australia and so on come to mind. Even though smaller countries with highly educated and skilled population can wield powerful economic and political clout, population size immediately gives great power status as it means a large potential market for outside goods, the possibility to have a large army and so on. Such resources as oil, gold, copper, bauxite, etcetera are deemed important.

A country’s level of industrial development as evidenced in higher education levels, advanced technology, and the export of higher end goods such as computers, cars, ships, aero planes, machines, research outcomes and so on, are more powerful than states which are not industrially developed. But there are also intangible sources of power, some argue, such as national image, that is how the country is viewed internationally can affect its level of influence on the world stage. There is also public support and cohesion, the ability of leaders to bring their people along with them in decisions made by the leadership the country has.

Barbados, with a population of just over three hundred thousand, is devoid of size, geographical or otherwise, does not have vital physical resources but having invested heavily in its human assets, has managed to attain a GNI per capita of just over seventeen thousand US dollars placing it in the high-income category of the world’s countries. Barbados has attained this as an independent country that has even recently become a republic having given up its constitutional association with the British Monarchy. However, as commendable as this is, Barbados is a small state, which, like many others, is attempting to survive within the vicissitudes of global realities most of which it did not create but must respond to if it is to survive. Still, its leader has shown that size, impact, and influence notwithstanding, it can punch above its weight in global affairs, or so it would appear.

Many were thus quite pleased to see the formidable Prime Minister of Barbados named by the Times Magazine as one of the most influential persons on the planet in 2022. Those who heard her for the first time, in Glasgow maybe, might have been taken aback by her consummate poise, the power of her oratory, the force of her delivery and the cogency of her arguments.

Mottley is an addition to the long list of strong Caribbean leaders who punch above the weight of the countries they lead. Between the 1940’s and 1960’s, the leaders of anglophone Caribbean countries took the lead in the movement towards decolonization moving their people towards independence believing like Nyerere of Tanzania that the political house must be in their control. During the 1950s and in the decade after independence, Jamaica stood out in the developing world in its levels of economic growth.

In the 1970’s, Michael Manley championed democratic socialism, and was one of the most fluent and irascible defenders of the none aligned movement and of the call for the creation of a New International Economic Order (NIEO). He, like other leaders in the South, had come to realize the debilitating effects of global inequality and the global institutions that keep the system in place. They had called for changes in the terms of international trade, the establishment of a common fund, the regulation of multinational corporations, and a relief of the debt burden among others. At least they could show that they received the LOME Convention for their efforts. This convention allowed for preferential accesses of goods from African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries into EC markets.

On this issue of apartheid in South Africa and the freedom of Mandela, as Fergal Keane points out, while the western world traded with South Africa and their most powerful nations maintained secret security ties with the apartheid state, and while western firms profited handsomely from their investments in the Republic of South Africa, an antiapartheid movement championed the isolation of the white state and became a remarkable community of conscience in the post-war world.

Caribbean nations and their leaders were at the forefront of this community of conscience, their small sizes and limited influence notwithstanding. Our leaders then utilized global platforms and every means possible to denounce the abominable system of racism. Even with limited trade with South Africa, and while still a colony of Britian, as early as 1957, Jamaica declared a trade embargo against South Africa and Hugh Shearer as Prime Minister of Jamaica between 1967-1972, in an address to the UN Assembly called for an embargo against that racist country.  During the 1987’s and 1980’s Caribbean leaders Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Seaga of Jamaica, etcetera, were most critical of the apartheid regime with the latter in particular working to ensure that the embargo stayed in place.

Mia Mottley speaks in the tradition of Michael Manley, Owen Arthur, Eric Williams, and such intellectuals as Marcus Garvey, Arthur Lewis, and Rex Nettleford, just to name a few. She raises some of the most pressing and urgent issues especially for small and developing states existing on the periphery of the global capitalist system: climate change, global poverty and food security, universal education, human dignity, antiracism, world peace and sustainable development. The issues have not substantially changed since the time of those who were before her. Even with changes in the global political system, the fundamentals of global inequality are still in place. We will pick up on these in subsequent articles.


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