Who would have thought that Barbados – as from the 30th November 2021 – would become the next Caribbean former UK colony to follow what Trinidad & Tobago did in 1976 and declare itself a republic?
The long standing assumption by Caribbean observers was that Jamaica – with its post-independence history of activism through its music, arts and trade unionism – would have been the next to dump the British royal family’s head honcho as it head of state.
But in Mia Mottley, Barbados has a prime minister (elected in 2018) who continues to move at a pace in positioning her island as one of the stand-out nations in the Western Hemisphere before she demits office. Mottley has hinted that 2 terms in office is enough for her.
Since becoming PM Mottley has transcended Caribbean politics and continues to make her mark on the global stage in ways not seen from a regional perspective since the days of former Jamaican PM Michael Manley, especially during his 1972-1976 term.
The international reaction to Mottley’s speech at the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow was evidence that she stole the event from all the more higher profile political and environmental leaders who were also there.
Whenever Mottley delivers a significant speech she has this genius knack of incorporating elements of the wider Caribbean culture in her comments. In some speeches she has quoted Caribbean literary and musical stalwarts such as Earl Lovelace, Eddie Grant and The Wailers. That wins her brownie points amongst the wider Caribbean public.
Mottely has shown on countless occasions of been fearless in taking on the Western leaders. When former US president Donald Trump tried to drive a wedge through the CARICOM leadership by creating a new alliance amongst the Caribbean conservative-leaning heads of government such as Jamaica, Mottley publicly called out the US administration in very blunt terms.
Much as Mottley has been widely praised for this republican move some of her fellow Barbadians were not impressed that such a major change to their nation was not first put to a referendum. In the lead up to the last week’s momentous day some in the local media complained of been sidelined by Mottley’s administration in preference to their international counterparts on the ground.
“Republic Is A Sad Move For Nation” – letter to the Star Tribune
Mottley’s decision to drop the stunning news that musician and entrepreneur Rihanna Fenty, 31, will become the next national hero of Barbados was a masterstroke. The decision has drawn mixed reactions especially in relation to Rihanna’s age. But I am not a fan of age being a reason to limit a person’s suitability in attaining a nation’s highest civilian honour.
In Jamaica the political and media classes are scrambling for a consistent narrative to play catch up and follow Barbados’ step to becoming republic. The pressure has been mounting in recent days for cultural icons Bob Marley and Louise Bennett to be elevated to national hero status. Will all this recent talk be the usual 9-day wonder?
There is much outrage and embarrassment by some Jamaicans over Barbados beating them to the republican door. But some have also made the mistake of unfairly comparing Rihanna to Marley. But they miss a crucial difference.
Barbadians loves and appreciate Rihanna in her lifetime. The universal love and appreciation for Bob by many Jamaicans came after his death. Let’s face it the State at the time gave the likes of Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (& many other Rastafarians) a truly brutal time.
Jamaican politicians – whenever in opposition – have long promised major constitutional reform such as a republican Jamaica, term limits and fixed election dates. But political amnesia quickly sets in when they get actual power and nothing happens.
But you see some of the Jamaican political and legal classes are still charmed by the British system and do love the pomp and regalia that goes along with it.
When then then Manley administration decided to end the tradition of Jamaicans accepting gongs such as knighthoods from Buckingham Palace some senior members in his own political party (PNP) were angry.
Only in July this year Jamaican PM, Andrew Holness, was made a member of privy council.
“Her Majesty The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve that the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, PC, MP, Prime Minister of Jamaica, be appointed a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.” –
Governor General, Patrick Allen
Would a leader of government accept the title of Privy Council if he or she had intentions of ditching the monarch?
It is indeed time for Jamaica to take steps towards becoming a republic. But it has to be done through a referendum and not railroaded as Mottley did in Barbados. For one thing the British royal family is still a very influential institution across their former colonies and until those countries remove it as head of state such leverage will just continue.
It is also time to elevate far more Jamaicans to national hero status. Although I think the term “national hero” is out of date to use for a nation’s highest honour. For one thing the word “hero” has combative connotations and thus some find it uncomfortable to accept social reformers, sport stars and musical high achievers as on the same level as those official named heroes who fought colonialism.
But times are different now and society has to adapt and confer more Jamaicans to its highest national award. Society needs heroes from a wider cross section.
How can it be that Jamaica has never given its highest national award to anyone born in the 20th century?
At the last general election Mottley cleaned house with her party (Barbados Labour Party) winning all 30 seats in parliament – 73% of the vote. Given Mottley’s growing influence on the international stage and the recent republican push, it will be interesting to see how she and the BLP performs at the next general election due in 2023.
If Mottley wins big again and maintains that positive profile then she must be destined for even greater things beyond the Caribbean Sea.
Do not be surprised if Mottley is under serious consideration to succeed António Guterres as UN Secretary General.