A REPUBLICKE OF FOWLES? OR, AN ENDURING VANITY PROJECT?
Submitted by Caleb Pilgrim
Hon Blogmaster, I read somewhere that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit”. Maybe! But, can this maxim equally apply to the issue of the coming Republicke of Barbadoes?
Candor demands that I confess at the outset that such a prospect does not particularly exercise me one way or another. However, it may well be that, as many bloggers have noted, absent collective discussion via a properly executed national referendum – notwithstanding past public and parliamentary discussion – to foist some feel good, happy talk “republic” on the Barbadian public, may well represent a little bread and circus, if not a mindless, (some might even say despotic) descent into an empty constitutionalism largely irrelevant to Barbados’s national growth and development at this particular historical juncture.
Come November 30, 2021, we may well have succeeded in putting the cart before the horse. But, rather than a gold standard of political re-structuring, are we now being asked to buy a pig in a poke; to walk by faith, and not by reason, on a bridge to nowhere?
Or, in the final analysis, a decision having been made, are we now to scramble to meet a preordained deadline? What makes this exercise more than sheer symbolism, a magical, manipulative, calculated, political exercise, more swagger than substance?
Pray tell us, Blogmaster, why now, if both parties have toyed with this subject for a relatively long time? And why is this not another band-aid solution in search of a problem; “all vanity and vexation of spirit”?
As a rationale, some will have suggested that “advanced”, industrialized countries, e.g the U.S, France, Germany et al, are republics, inferring that their prosperity somehow derives from or correlates with their republican status. I find an alluring, Eden like simplicity to the argument.
I would wager to the contrary that a cursory survey might show that out of the poorest 20 countries in the world, 20 are republics. Out of the 20 most crime ridden countries in the world 20 are republics. Out of the 20 most debt ridden countries, an assortment of republics, monarchical systems, etc, etc.., prevail.
Republican status, therefore, as an instrument of political organization, guarantees little or nothing, per se. it can represent the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent in any people. It does not guarantee political, economic, cultural, social progress and development. The label, “republic”, without other assets, properly utilized, can be utterly meaningless.
As of 2017, per Wikipedia, there were 159 countries out of 206 which used the term “republic” in their names. This means that approximately 78% of states operating in the international community represent themselves as “republics” of some sort.
True to form … Comes now, Barbados, 55 years after, in November 2021, late to the party, republic # 160, “a friend of all”, “a satellite of none”, history made by “effluxion of time”.
It is also worth noting that in recent times, some critics concerned at problems confronting Barbados, have labeled Barbados a “failed state”. If true, how will a “failed state” come November 30, 2021, transform itself, or morph into a successful, thriving “republic”? Shouldn’t a failed state, whatever its causes, logically lead to a failed Republic? How does a toad or a toadie suddenly become a prince or princess? And, while we are at it, who really needs another toothless, bootlegged republic? Aren’t there already a dime a dozen?
To be poor often means to be defined as who, or what we are not. In this vein, which right thinking person would wish to be a President Moise of Haiti, recently assassinated; or his wife shot in the wee hours; or a President Henry currently under investigation? Or, a much maligned and misunderstood President, Idi Amin? Or, a President Mobutu? Or, a President Macias Nguema? Or, a President Bokassa? Or, a President of Afghanistan or of Albania (notwithstanding Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”), or of El Salvador, Guatemala, et al? Who would wish to be another pompous fraud with abundant airs, royally presiding over some squalid, political farce in a failed republic historically beset and bedeviled by countless political and socio-economic problems? And, this is in no way intended to disparage those leaders who seek to do the best they know how.
On the other hand, which reasonable person would wish to be bound to an arcane monarchical system, with empty posers, e.g here, a wayward Prince historically useless, an alleged paedophile or child molester, and a royal ne’er do well; over there, a philandering Princess heavily subsidized by the hapless British taxpayer or taxpayers in the U.K. and Colonies?
In terms of national priorities, then, are there not enough immediate problems in Barbados without hog tying the current system, imperfect as it is, to empty drivel about a Republic? Covid-19 and its increasing havoc? The excessively high cost of living, food in particular? The national Debt? Perennially high unemployment, and underemployment? A widely criticized legal system? Endemic corruption? The 1m trees promised, etc, etc?
An example from comparative politics may also be instructive. The French Republic has had several iterations: The First French Republic, 1792 – 1799; The Second French Republic, 1848 – 1852; The Third French Republic, 1870 – 1940; The Fourth French Republic, 1946 – 1958; The Fifth French Republic, 1958 to the present. How many iterations will a Republic of Barbados require over time to right maladies confronting Barbadian society, past, present and future; from slavery, through colonialism to post-“independence”?
Still from the comparative politics standpoint, another issue, that of an electoral college continues to generate much controversy, e.g in the US ….
Since 2000, two out of five U.S presidential elections have been won by the candidate who lost the popular vote. They have won because of the Electoral College. This kind of consistent rejection of the public’s will breeds frustration and antipathy. Shouldn’t a properly functioning democracy ensure that every vote counts – that every citizen has a voice in their government?
However, altering or eliminating the Electoral College in the U.S requires a
Constitutional Amendment. This is therefore an enormous undertaking, requiring the support of at least two-thirds of the members in the U.S Senate and in the House of Representatives, and the ratification of at least thirty-eight states. At this time, Congress has virtually abandoned any proposal to reform the Electoral College.
In recent years, at the state level, several legislatures have voted to enter into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (an interstate agreement to award all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote). The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would not alter or eliminate the Electoral College. However, it would ensure the winner of the national popular vote becomes the U.S President when enough states to represent at least half of the Electoral College votes enter into the agreement.
In a different vein, to the friend who cautioned me that I was one of those Bajans who would have opposed Barbados’ “Independence” in 1966; I say “not really”; even though I recall that the late Sir Grantley and others opposed independence for Barbados in 1966.
The facts and circumstances were different in Nov 1966. By then, a substantial number of former colonies had gained their titular “independence”, so much so that 1960 had been known as “Africa’s Year” at the U.N, Ghana having been first to attain independence in 1957. Even the much vaunted Singapore (model) had assumed status as a republic in 1965. (If “Big Ghana” had become an independent republic in 1957, doesn’t “Little Ghana” seeking republic status in 2021 not now seem too little too late)? Why therefore preoccupy ourselves with stale political ideas about a republic now? It all now seems a bit passé as a flavor of the month. Remind me when was it that Plato originally wrote his “Republic”; a text known to every first year political science student; circa 375 B.C?
Certainly, it is undisputed that Barbados, as a sovereign, independent state, has the legal right to exercise its sovereignty, and renounce any subservience to the British monarchy.
But, where, what and why is the compelling urgency of now? In sum, what makes it so necessary to declare Barbados a republic at this specific juncture? And, specifically, who benefits? Qui bono? Perhaps, a politically astute Prime Minister who would eradicate and supersede the popular memory of EWB’s legacy as “Father of Independence”. Perhaps, a few merchants benefiting from a spike in temporary sales of republican memorabilia. How also will becoming a republic raise Barbados’s status at the international level?
In the final analysis, this move towards a republic appears a fading replica of a once faddish meteor of little or no enduring value. Like the crumb from Dives’s table, or some cheap mascara, it will do little or nothing, to advance the fortunes of the average Barbadian, even if it might yield another bootleg republic doomed to a pretentious mediocrity in the oblivion of history.
The U.S Embassy (per Wikileaks) once spoke of “Mottleynomics”. Perhaps, better “the economy stupid” as a priority. Or, a serious attempt to rollback “crime and violence”. Who can forget the many political ads lambasting the late P.M. Thompson re his seeming obsession with “crime and violence”?
Honorable Blogmaster, would you do an aging comrade a favor and kindly have the PIP (the People in Power) delineate in precise detail the specific benefits which will inure to Barbados on becoming a republic come November 30, 2021? Nothing fantastical; no fluff; no flummery; no fluckrry; no folderol.
For, as we attempt to rewrite our constitutional history, re-casting Barbados as a republic, as a priority, will neither reconstruct Barbados’s sorry past as a captive, slave, plantation society, nor usher in any type of Utopian future. Better perhaps to focus on promptly resolving persistent, fundamental issues; call a snap election depending on one’s record of substantive achievements and one’s internal polling; and moving the electoral process swiftly forward; rather than drift or limp along like some previous administrations.
Let us not trample the truth. There are few risks, but even fewer objective benefits in declaring Barbados a republic.