Owen Arthur: Footprints

Last week, Barbados lost one of its most illustrious sons, Owen Seymour Arthur, and all from his most ardent supporters to former political foes to academics to regional and international titans paid tribute to the indelible mark which he left upon this world. 

Among his achievements now memorialized in tribute are his status as our longest-serving Prime Minister and also a masterful political tactician who institutionalized his ‘politics of inclusion’, by which he ensured his party’s high political fortune for many years due to the sheer breadth of talent and competent expertise unlocked not only within his party but also through that visionary political strategy. It is perhaps a most fitting homage to Mr Arthur’s economic brilliance that under his premiership, this country enjoyed its longest period of sustained economic growth. He also led a nation which consistently ranked in the upper echelons of the Human Development Index making it for a long spell, the most developed of developing nations. 

One person recalled Shakespeare’s Cassius in saying that Mr Arthur bestrode this nation like a colossus.

But Mr Arthur was not tyrannical in the sense that Cassius conceived Caesar to be. Rather, his foremost philosophy aligned more closely with the rest of Cassius’ exhortation to Brutus – that the superiority of one over others is artificially contrived. Cassius asked Brutus on what basis was Caesar pedestalised above all men, when in truth he was like all other men. Mr Arthur often asked the people of Barbados and the wider Caribbean why should we say the names of larger nations more grandiosely than our own names, for on what basis are they inherently better than us?

Much has been made rightly of Arthur’s economic brilliance and political savvy, but in this writer’s view, one of his greatest contributions was his fervent belief in ourselves. In many ways therefore, Arthur’s life is bound up in ‘smallness’. A man of relatively ‘small’ stature, who came from the small, sleepy area of Rose Hill in rural St Peter, who rose to become Prime Minister of a small nation. But Mr Arthur’s mind was not small nor were the people he led. That is perhaps his greatest lesson to young people today. 

We, young people, therefore, must fundamentally believe in ourselves and our own abilities, cognizant of the constraints of life, but equally undergirded by the importance of whatever it is we set about to do. For Mr Arthur, that meant being neither a deluded ideologue nor an unprincipled pragmatist, but rather balancing both principles and pragmatism. There were times when circumstance merited that he be seemingly intractable and resolute such as the opposition his government led to certain aspects of the US Shiprider Agreement. At other times, he understood the value of compromise and strategic retreat, such as the unfortunately abortive union with the OECS or republicanism, recognizing that in both instances the other parties simply were not ready. 

Regardless of whichever point on the scale of pragmatism and principles Mr Arthur had to  fall depending on the circumstance he remained committed to the ideal of building the best Barbados and playing the long game. His stance on various issues and his strategy illustrate to young people that great achievement, whether personal or for a wider cause, is not obtained in twenty overs in T20 cricket, but most often requires four innings. 

Just as West Indians decades ago, delighted in the defeat of their former colonial master on the cricket field, Mr Arthur reminded his nation and the region of the feeling of standing up for oneself, when Windies cricket was waning and perhaps that feeling was also evanescing. With the aforementioned Shiprider Agreement, he won hard-fought for concessions from the Americans, an enviable feat for a relatively insignificant nation in the grand geopolitical scheme of life. To use religious allusion, he was the Rose Hill boy who stood up, slung his shot and won against the Goliath of the world. 

The footprint which he leaves behind, therefore, is impressive and his service will stand as an aide-memoire to generations, present and future, of what is possible when life’s opportunities are grasped tightly with both hands, regardless of the circumstances of birth. When we remember Mr Arthur and his incredible footprint, let us reflect on the footprint which we can leave. He is gone, but we will not soon forget!

14 thoughts on “Owen Arthur: Footprints

  1. @ KK
    Another excellent tribute to Mr. Arthur. I like very much your command of imagery and language. That was one of his qualities.His leadership was spectacular. I hope that there are similar political aspirants in your generation.

  2. Owen was a crook alive and dead, let him in shame, I see people just love crooks and forgive them when dead, They leave Barbados in a mess, 2001 as Prime Minister and Mia as AG they did nothing good for Barbados, Criminal all the way robbing Bjans, Kensington Oval build on the stolen lands People were moved house built without the permission of the owners and people moved to make way for 2020 games. Vat money missing at 15% for now 23 years and roads and money missing, Billions missing to his own account, Owen died with over 100 Million of Bajan People money in his account, They said he died on the 27th My Infor and posted he was dead on the 26th,They took 7 hours from my time, the reports came in at about 4 pm on the 26th, As his AG Mia at the Airport taking Vaccine from Canada to kill lap rat Bajan for WHO money what a timeline of events as he had his last supper with Mia from Guyana where the word Mercury pop up again as with David? Owen need not go to Guyana to count votes a lap Dog for Mia and she passes Gay marriage in discrimination while the People of St, John, St, Joesph, and St Andrew has no water, As People from Canada build on other people land with fraud deeds from George Payne now fired but not jailed, is this the training of Owen to Mia? If not he could have locked her up, But No Rule of law DPP and AG and CJ is no more!

  3. Stuart: Arthur used powerful intellect to serve

    The following is a tribute by former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart given at the passing of former Prime Minister The Right Honourable Owen Arthur. I RECEIVED with sorrow and regret the news of the passing of former Prime Minister The Right Honourable Owen Arthur.
    His passing has come at a time when he was still active in public service because he thought he still had much to give to Barbados and the region.
    His political career was always spiced at critical points with dainty pieces of drama, whether it was in having the first St Peter by-election in 1984, which he lost by one vote, invalidated by the court and fought over, thereby ensuring him an emphatic election to Parliament or, in being the leader of the parliamentary opposition in 1994 when the historic no-confidence motion brought an end to the Democratic Labour Party Government of Erskine Sandiford or, more recently, as in the year 2010 when he experienced momentarily the resurrection as Opposition Leader when the group replaced the then leader in his favour.
    Whatever role he was performing as a polititican, he brought the full resources of a powerful intellect to bear on that role.
    As Prime Minister and Minister of Finance he presided over the destiny of Barbados with level-headedness and resolve.
    Never one to be doctrinaire in his approach to policy when the country faced the potentially destabilising fallout from the 911 tragedy in 2001, he abandoned economic orthodoxy and focused on ensuring the welfare of the country and its citizens.
    Mr Arthur was an unrepentant regionalist and believed fervently in possibilities of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. He championed his cause with vigour, with clarity and with determination. He was, in fact, one of the architects and a spiritfilled evangelist of theRevised Treaty Of Chaguaramas.

    He enjoyed political combat and gave as good as he got in those joustings which are a defining feature of Westminster-style parliamentary politics.
    He served Barbados and the people of St Peter well. He never allowed himself to forget, in fact, the debt of gratitude which he owed to the people of St Peter for making his vast and varied opportunities possible.
    He has done the state some service and we know it. Like all prime ministers he embodied our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations. Like all prime ministers he bore our grievances, our disgruntlements and our disappointments. He never wavered. He carries to his final rest, therefore, the gratitude of the nation he led and loved.
    To his beloved wife and his daughters and to all those countless others who were gladdened by his life and who are now saddened by his death, I should like on behalf of my own family and myself to extend heartfelt condolences.
    May he rest in peace.
    Source: Nation

  4. @ bajanfreeparty

    You ain’t got nothing better to do than being all over social media every single day talking a whole heap of shyte?

    When Owen Arthur went to Guyana to count votes?

    Give some details bout how you know Owen Arthur had over $100 million of Bajan people money in his account?

    You was at the QEH that you know he died on the July 26? Even so, if he died the 25, 26, or 27, what difference it make?

    You ain’t realise yet that you is the laughing stock on social media?

  5. A good essay. Without a doubt, King OSA has been the best prime minister for Barbados to date. Everyone else before him, especially Barrow, ruined the country out of pure ideology.

    And in second place so far is our leader, Mia Mottley. So far, she has managed financial stabilization with the IMF and the pandemic very well. What is still missing is an economic boom. For that to happen, our leader would have to get the locals on their toes and get them to work. Of course, she cannot do everything at once. So we wait for the second, third and fourth terms until 2038 🙂

  6. Addendum

    K2 has what it takes to be a Cabinet Minister or even a Prime Minister of Barbados (see Prince Ali in El Dorado now) in the distant future – if he restrains himself a bit on the subject of China. As a small island we should strive for good relations with all superpowers.

  7. Owen Arthur — a full Jamaican, who happened to have been born in Barbados

    Omar Davies

    Monday, August 03, 2020 4 Comments

    ARTHUR…hope to retire in Jamaica

    News of the passing of the former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur has prompted an outpouring of tributes, particularly with regard to his multifaceted contributions to the strengthening of Caribbean integration and regionalism. His body of work, by which he sought to give concrete form to concepts of regional integration, remains as a testament to the value of his contributions as a Caribbean leader.

    Owen’s commitment to regional integration was not restricted to conceptual and bureaucratic structures. Particularly with regard to Jamaica, his credentials as a regionalist transcended discussions at official fora, or resolutions passed at meetings of heads of Government. Rather, his life was an embodiment of a Caribbean being.

    Whilst it is known that Owen lived in Jamaica for an extended period during the 1970s, very few would realise the extent to which he became fully integrated in all facets of Jamaican society. His period living in Jamaica started as a graduate student in the Department of Economics at The University of the West Indies, Mona, followed by employment at the National Planning Agency (now the Planning Institute of Jamaica), and then as director of economics at the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI).

    If I may interject a personal note, his move from the planning agency to JBI resulted from a request from my brother, Carlton — then executive director of the JBI— for a recommendation to fill a vacant post at his institution. He remained in this position at the JBI until his decision to return to Barbados in the early 1980s. The factors which influenced that decision is a story for another time.

    Owen became deeply immersed in all facets of Jamaican society and culture. Whilst developing and maintaining excellent relationships with his technical/professional colleagues at the planning institute, his closest “sparring partners” were Miss Sylvie, who ran the canteen; Willie, the chief messenger; as well as Clarkie and Casserly, for the after-work domino sessions. His first wife, Beverley, was a co-worker at the planning agency.

    Even after returning to Barbados and entering politics, Owen’s deep personal links with his Jamaican friends remained intact. There were occasions when on visits to Jamaica, as prime minister, that he would take members of his security detail with him to visit his friends in deep, rural Jamaica, introducing them to villages they had never visited before.

    After his return to Barbados, Owen would lavish hospitality on any of his close Jamaican friends who visited that country. In the heyday of West Indian cricket, each year he would host my brother and me when we went to watch Test matches at Kensington Oval. Our last such visit was to watch the titanic struggle between the West Indies and Pakistan, led respectively by the all-time greats Viv Richards and Imran Khan.

    Owen had a deep love for Jamaica and Jamaican culture, including sports. He once proclaimed that the thrashing administered to Calabar by the Winston Chung Fah-coached Clarendon College team in the 1977 Olivier Shield final was his greatest sporting experience. Even years later he could, and would, describe in detail, each goal scored in that epic.

    He once confided to me that his dream was to retire to a small bungalow in southern St Elizabeth. Although that dream did not come true, there can be no question that, in his mind, and in the minds of his Jamaican friends, Owen Arthur was a full Jamaican, who happened to have been born in Barbados.

    Omar Davies is a former Member of Parliament for St Andrew Southern and former minister of finance and planning.

    Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaper-login

  8. A brilliant tribute and one that recognises the quality of Jamaican culture. I am glad that Mr Arthur appreciated that quality. I still say a book would have clarified many of his views.

  9. Without a doubt OSA was a people person
    One of his many traits was to exude warmth and affectionate to outsiders and those at home
    Have never met him just on occasion during travels i recognized him on the same flight
    Yes he would be remembered by many for his hard work and love of country
    A true patriot at heart unto his death

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