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No Longer on Colonial Territory: Barbadian Republicanism and the Future of Caribbean Nationalism. PART TWO

Education 27 Jul, 2022 Follow News

Dr Livingston Smith

But what does this all mean?  What is its significance? What is a parliamentary republic as distinct from a parliamentary monarchy?

Upon attaining independence in the 1966, like other Caribbean countries, Barbadian politicians like Oxford trained Grantley Adams, did not allow their countries to engage in a real substantive examination of the type of political structures they wanted to have, the constitutions that they themselves wanted. They received, essentially, constitutional instruments that were decided by oligarchs and elites in the UK, instead of the expression of the collective will of Caribbean peoples that came out of deep discussion, consultation, and education.

 Parliamentary monarchy is what is practiced in England and that was passed on to us. It is sometimes called the Westminster System, the Westminster Whitehall model, or the Parliamentary Monarchy or constitutional monarch. Essentially, there is a head of state, the Monarch, currently the Queen, whose role is largely symbolic and ceremonial, and a head of government, the PM, who, along with Cabinet are responsible for the day to day running of the country.  A proper examination of the features of the parliamentary system, sometimes called constitutional monarchy, is outside the scope of this lecture suffice it to say that it is called the Parliamentary System because of the doctrine of Parliament Supremacy.  Parliament, meaning the House of Representatives and the House of Lords, but principally the House of Commons, is the supreme law-making power, unchecked by a constitutional court.

What Barbados has done is to permanently remove the British Monarch as Head of State in the belief that the British Monarchy, arising as it did from the unique features of British constitutional history, was suitable for Britain but that the sovereign authority of Barbados must be rooted in the Barbadian people, its own head of state, now the President, to whom new heads of government are sworn into office. The constitution was amended to remove all references in the law of Barbados to her Majesty the Queen, the Crown and the Sovereign to now meaning the state; Amending the official oaths of Barbados to remove references to the queen and others which need not detain us.

While it is true that with the current movement to a Republic, the fundamental aspects of the political structure is still very much Westminster Whitehall, a topic for a separate lecture, it is still the case that this is a critical point of movement for the Barbadian people in their quest for full decolonization.

Though in the main, purely historical and ceremonial, the symbolism and reality of this fact is very significant for a people who seek to be fully in charge of their own situation, their political, cultural, and economic destiny. A country with a population of under three hundred thousand and a literacy rate of 99.7 %, is one of the highest in the world.  A small country with little or no natural resources, yet the CIA Fact book says that ‘Barbados is the wealthiest and most developed country in the Eastern Caribbean and enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in Latin America.’ Even though this does not yet match up to those of the developed countries of the western world, it is still a significant achievement.

‘Historically’ the CIA commentary continues, ‘The Barbadian economy was dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities. However, in recent years the economy has diversified into light industry and tourism with about four-fifths of GDP and of exports being attributed to services. Offshore finance and information services are important foreign exchange earners and thrive from having the same time zone as eastern US financial centers and a relatively highly educated workforce.’

Barbados has historically been known as a society of strong shared values and networks of social connections which make social cooperation and the achievement of collective goals easier. This internal social cohesion and consensus is what is called social capital. In addition to the fact that Barbados has invested heavily in the education of its citizens to the highest levels, it has also been known for the maturity in which it conducts its politics. It has also had favorable ratings in Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

Even with its current economic woes, by all indications, Barbados has done quite well as an English-speaking Caribbean country which made the deliberate decision to attain sovereignty, that is, independence.

Implications for the rest of the Caribbean

The attainment of republican status by Barbados would have the strong approval of Caribbean nationalist leaders who had emerged in the late 1930’s and 1940’s and advocated the importance of giving heed to the collective desire of a people to oversee their own situation. Norman Manley of Jamaica, for example, who evolved into a nationalist, identified full nationhood as the legitimate end of political activity in the context of colonial society- in his own words ‘We must accept as essential to our salvation that we recognize that every country has a destiny of its own, separate and distinct from the destiny of any other country.’

Eric Williams, that iconic Trinidadian politician also had a nationalist commitment. His analysis of the wider historical context of imperialist domination in the region, led him to see the mechanics of economic emancipation in the region essentially in political terms, which required the termination of the colonial relationship. His thinking is strikingly like those of former Jamaican PM, Michael Manley who in explaining why he thought Jamaica should go republic said in Parliament: ‘I remain unapologetic, committed to the view that in our country here in the Caribbean with our social background and history, that we ought to repatriate the symbols of our sovereignty and become a Republican country.’   

It was his view, which was shared by other Prime Ministers, certainly Patterson and Golding who followed later, that the taking of oaths to the Jamaican National Flag and other symbols, in a symbolic way, facilitate an understanding of the people’s responsibility for their own destiny and nation. He felt that the repatriation of national symbols can be a way of breaking the colonial/psychological matrix when it is known and understood that real power to solve problems is a responsibility of the people and their leadership collectively. 

Before resigning as Prime Minister, Golding in the 2011-2012 Budget Debate expressed his view that as part of Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary celebration, the monarchical link to Buckingham Palace and the heirs and successors to Queen Elizabeth 11 should be terminated. This would allow for the establishment of a republic with its own Jamaican Head of State.

To quote him: ‘Transforming Jamaica from a constitutional monarchy to republican state means no disrespect and must not be interpreted this way.’  The truth is that it can be easily predicted that in time, all the current independent English-Speaking countries will be going Republic joining Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Barbados even though only Belize will be able to do so through its National Assembly. The other seven countries require referendums- Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia needing a simple majority vote in a referendum while St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada need a two thirds majority vote, thus making the transition to republican status much more challenging.

Implications for Caribbean nationalism going forward

Even though I have not given a formal definition for nationalism, you would have deduced that it has to do with the forging of a national identity and the belief of members nation that they should take action to achieve full determination.

From the current scholarship on the future of nationalism generally, once can deduce two perspectives. The first, defended by such writers as Yuval Harari author of A Brief History of Humankind (2014), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016) among others,  is that the bonds of nationalism are being torn asunder by the forces of globalization such as hegemonic  ideas such as capitalism and democracy, the forces of capitalism in the forms of direct foreign investment and trade, labor migrations, the erosion of sovereignty by capital markets and 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 are making the nationalist framework redundant. It is argued from this perspective that current global problems as the nuclear issue, ecological/ climate challenges and disruptive technologies do not find answers in the historical understandings of nation-state demarcations and practices, that nations do not present the right framework for tacking these urgent issues, but in the development of a global citizenship, a global perspective which understands the broader issues at hand. In other words, less nationalism, and more globalism.

The other view is that whether forged in the crucible of tribes in which humans existed some five or so thousand years ago, or in the current nation-state system which has its genesis in small tribes merging to form large kingdoms and nations, our identities are  formed within the contexts of nation-states as seen in such forces  as language, history, and culture and that there is a necessity for nationalism as the foundation of liberalism which teaches the right to self-determination. From this perspective,  the concept of democracy, the nation-state and civil liberties, also require national self-determination. Note the British vote to leave the EU and Trump’s America great slogan, the Russian invasion of Ukraine- all have nationalistic reasons and underpinnings. Nationalism is not going away with globalization.

The future of Caribbean nationalism, I believe, will straddle these two perspectives as we are now attempting. Even as Caribbean countries work in the global community to take on global issues, the fact is that we are far from leaving colonial territory as there are many areas in which we still loiter, and I mention three in conclusion:

1. Decolonization is not only nation-building but especially for Caribbean countries, working to readjust global frameworks, to dismantle economic structures of inequity – for example, the call for a new international economic order (NIEO)  in the 1970’s led by such nationalist as Michael Manley, Eric Williams, and Nkrumah.

2. Our academies must invent and reinvent theories and epistemologies that reflect us and our circumstances.

3. We must invest more in our culture and our cultural outputs

4. There is much left to be done to decolonize our education system and received religious paradigms.

5. Much has been done in literature and the arts, but the project is incomplete.

6. We must reinvent regionalism to secure political and economic independence.

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