Dr. George C. Brathwaite
One would hope that as Barbados closes in on its 50th year of Independence, this society takes serious stock of where it has come from, its current position, and where it intends to go. This article will boldly claim that Barbados is at a crossroads where it must urgently address the mounting issues that are perilous to obtaining a just society.
Barbados is today challenged to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth, lessen the existing institutional discrimination, increase the pathways to progress and those that lead away from poverty, and to do significantly more by way of delivering social justice to the many in our midst who are seemingly being marginalised daily.
The results of the recent presidential elections in the United States of America (USA) have left numerous lessons that Barbadians can draw on if it is to meticulously review its value system and practices with the intention of bringing about enhanced governance. Of course, very few persons in Barbados appeared to have supported Donald Trump for presidency. One can assume that many more persons reacted dismissively to his inflammatory rhetoric which not only blasted his rivals and the media, but pitched battle directly against the so-called establishment.
Trump’s main and often repeated campaign messages were laced with the toxicity of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and outright resentment against any resemblance of normalcy. Trump used the potency of populism to expose the worst of American way of life and hegemony. Indeed, he successfully managed to rekindle the undercurrents of right-wing conservatism in a style which could easily be mistaken as naked fascism. To leave the conversation at that point would be too simplistic and short-sighted.
The reality is that Donald Trump exposed deeply embedded fears and apathy with those at the periphery and centre respectively. He showed that the USA, although priding itself as a paragon of virtuous democracy, was realistically more exclusionary and may have long abandoned the tenets supporting equality and the rule of law.
The premise that the USA through unbridled capitalism was creating greater economic opportunity for its citizens, proved to be farcically untrue. Instead, it was neglecting the poor and underprivileged and equally socially constructing the ‘deplorables’ at a rate which could not be contained by maintaining the status quo. Trump revealed this façade that was being preached around the world in which the USA saw itself as the unilateral power exporting its version of triumphalism through liberal democratic governance.
The USA’s dishevelled underbelly, as pointed out by Trump when he highlighted the plight being experienced in the inner cities across the USA, clearly demonstrated that today’s insanity may be the last hope for those who no longer see greatness in the normal, but find comfort in the absurd and the apolitical.
Being strict guardians of our heritage and firm craftsmen and craftswomen of our collective fate, it would be a sad day if Barbados ever relinquishes the mandate that was set by our pioneers and nation-builders. National pride and industry must continue to have a central value effect on local society.
While there are some Barbadians – particularly the political elites in our midst – that would want to derail or even silence the popular discourse, it is imperative that the country sees that a badly faltering society is the outcome of a poorly managed and performing economy. Governance overall becomes perilously affected and dislocated, and is seen to work against those for whom it ought to bring benefit and safety – the citizens.
The current administration will welcome the celebratory mood at this juncture of 50 years Independence, and rightly so; but, the nation cannot mistake or forget the imposition of bad governance and economic austerity that was shoved on this country through the back door of political expediency. Accepting Amartya Sen’s determination that “the world in which we live is not only unjust, it is, arguably, extraordinarily unjust,” is to also accept that Barbados’ political class owes it to the population to start doing business through the front door of trust and transparency.
Trust in our democracy, is an exercise involving the sharing of information and removing the veil of secrecy from deals of procurement of goods and services from which the public purse must pay. To be transparent is to have the capacity of information and things being seen without distortion. For information or a process to be transparent, is for it to be open and available for examination and scrutiny. Barbadians are demanding this trust and transparency. The fact is, good governance is not a shield to displace accountability and transparency, but it is a means to develop trust between the governing and the governed.
In 2016, how can right thinking and serious politicians talk about representation in the House of Assembly, either as continuing members or as first-timers, but avoid putting to Barbadians modes of policies that would enhance the trust relationship? Can it be fair that as a country we have not sought and introduced a Freedom of Information Act and other mechanisms for ensuring accountability and transparency? How can Barbadians step into its 51st year as a maturing and sovereign nation, but is being held back by those in the legislature and specifically those forming the besieged executive? Living in an era when the dissemination of knowledge is privileged, is it a matter of political parties wanting to maintain the status quo?
Surely, there are too many thousands of Barbadians that are distraught from prolonged underemployment or outright unemployment. They have been suffering from the pangs of hunger and are observed to be discriminated against in many more ways than one. The recent promise of means-testing in areas of education and health for example, would only go to further imperil the livelihoods of those facing hard times in Barbados.
So, at 50 years, to express rising concerns on one or more issues of survival should not be condemned as complaining, as incumbent Cabinet Ministers have been prone to claim on several occasions. It is not in the interest of Barbadians that we experience the executive clamouring around the morality bush. This present administration has become tainted with cries that they are uncaring, stealthy (not necessarily equating to corruption) in their dealings, and mostly unresponsive to the citizens facing water and garbage collection crises among others.
Now there can be no curse on a flailing Prime Minister whose stewardship will one day be best remembered for political rhetoric instead of political will. Coming across as almost obsequious to the internal squalls within the Cabinet he leads, PM Stuart’s display has been one of failing to implement practical, creative, solutions to the problems challenging Barbados. Mr. Stuart has not adequately delivered.
The Leader of the Opposition, while seemingly better connected to the communication median with those that have been pushed into situations of pauperisation or are jobless and often are marginalised by the bad policies and discriminating system of governance, must be reminded that where you stand is where you sit. Many Barbadians need a strong voice in which political correctness is not the key to their future prosperity.
Populism has the tendency to mobilise those individuals and groups that have been neglected and pushed aside; it positions the ‘common sense’ of ‘common people’ against the corruption and abuse of the elite as stated by Anton Derks, Professor at the University of Brussels. Emerging in the popular discursive spaces of Barbados are voices screaming at the politicians for empathy, so that the suffering voiceless can be heard and given presence of mind.
The population is demanding that the popular will shows by implementation that civic and political leaders are listening. Barbadians on the eve of this 50th anniversary are requesting that the means for empowering those previously disenfranchised happen sooner rather than later. Any form of populism that emerges in the context of the next general election, and more broadly, in Barbados going forward must bring at its core an ethics of people-oriented development posited in the national interest.
(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the UWI-Cave Hill Campus, and a political consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)