Barbados! Fifty Years of Independence

Barbados Flag

Barbados is the Gem of the Caribbean Sea! Well that is what various people and a few songs say. This year, Barbados and Barbadians from all around the world have the opportunity to celebrate fifty years of Independence from physical colonial rule. I say physical because many of must be aware by now that Barbados, like any other West Indian, Caribbean, non-North American, developing or post-colonial State, is controlled by external forces, powers and economic circumstances apparently far beyond its reach. Put aside the futility that is seemingly our reality alright? It is time to celebrate!

We have sun, we have sea, we have, oh yes we have sand: lots of sand. Fifty years of Independence and all that comes with such a time. Fifty years of gloriously filthy politics where in an island number fewer than three hundred thousand people we pit one section against another in political parties. For what? Apparently instead of making our futures brighter together our time is better spent squabbling over a land much larger than few other island territories and smaller than many many many other territories (not just countries) in the world. One other thing! We have sex but hush hush we are too hypocritical to admit what tourism largely entails.

There is no need to worry and every reason to rejoice for Barbados is the land of Calyp … well no that is Trinidad and Tobago or at least they lay the strongest claim. Maybe we are the land of Reggae and Dub? Well no that is Jamaica. We cannot even claim Reggaeton. Leave that alone. It belongs to Latin America a la Jamaica of course. No, no, no. I am not trying to put Barbados down at all. Of course not. We are the land that invented rum but let us leave that alone. If I get into that now I may have no idea when I would stop. We have Spouge. A music, a beat, a language we all but abandoned as we did its pioneer and our fellow Barbadian Mr. Jackie Opel. Surely, we will hear a bit of Spouge now that we are celebrating the big Five Zero.

Five-Nought! Yes, for fifty years are but a speck in the eye of so many others humans have existed but let us celebrate being adults now. Let us also celebrate all of the people who put us in this position save those who do not or did not belong to your ideological camp, was or is not the skin colour you prefer or whose ideas were just oh so far out there that you consider that person a downright fool. Yes. Celebrate. 

Poverty abounds and surely women, hard-working and industrious as they are must be feeling the pressures more than ever now. In this matrifocal society women head most households (let us not fool ourselves by thinking otherwise) yet we have men beating women at so many turns. Of course we cannot blame women for this predicament. We must blame the absent fathers and everybody else not in the child’s life. Curse me, hate me even for saying this but who raises a child matters less than how that child is raised. Children need love more than homes with nuclear families. I have always found the term nuclear family quite amusing. Sounds to me like something will explode. You know what? Blame no one. Responsibility need not be taken at all. Let us burry our heads in our glorious independent sand and wish reality away, away, away. 

Listen, I am not bashing women. Not at all. Another term I find amusing is testicular fortitude. The testicles, balls, nuts, whatever you want to call them are so fragile that such a term should be an oxymoron. Vaginal fortitude is the strength worthy of such acclaim. It should be obvious why but apparently not since that foolish term about male genitalia is still in vogue. With all of the women ever born to claim Barbados as home and only one female national hero? Alright. Whatever you say.

Who are you by the way? Who are the people who decide what, where, why, with whom and how things happen? Fifty years of Independence and not only must we still have to struggle against external forces (that is is only natural since there greedy humans abound) we must also deal with home grown oppressors using the rule of law to bind us. We must also deal with their supports hiding in the bushes intellectually and otherwise masterbating to the thoughts and wishes of their appointed leaders. What a waste of a people and opportunity.

Let us end this on a good note. We, Barbadians, have accomplished much in these fifty years. We have accomplished so much we can forget everything that ever happened before Independence. We are a proud people. We will be the best. Pride and Industry are our watchwords.  Hollow words now. The words our “leaders” often feed us like rotten porridge. We are too accustomed to drinking hollow words. Hollow words are all we have and all we will ever have until we fill them with action.

Being Yourself

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Often, we are told to change who we are but we should not do that willy-nilly. We should be ourselves. We should only change ourselves if we want to change. Normally I speak about political issues but today is a different day. The world is a different world. Children are being brought up in societies where being different is more becoming the norm yet we still have a lot more of the same.

Be like us! The world says be like us. Do what we do. Join this or that profession. This or that other career path is not a ‘real’ profession. There are times, of course, in life when we must follow the rules and conform to certain standards but that does not mean you should lose who you are. 

The message I am leaving here is not one of be different or stand out from the crowd. I am saying do what you want to do. Be who you are. Even if you do not know yourself at all get on the road and be the best you can be in the moment until you find a better you. We are always finding our better selves. Our best selves are out there . Better said, our best selves are inside of us.

We are constantly honing our personalities by our choices. I think it would be better (this is just a thought so do what you want in the end) if we make choices in our best interest instead of adhering to choices made for us. Of course we do not always know what is best for us. That is why sometimes we must choose to listen to the advice and sometimes the commands of others. Thing is that choice is still your choice to make and no one else’s . 

This life is a curious life. It is a life like the game of cricket; full of glorious uncertainties. If life were straight-forward all of the time it would surely be too dull for many of us. There would be some of us who would love it that way. They have their slice of life on earth too where some things are as straight as they can be. For the rest of humanity, wherever you are, actually for all of humanity just enjoy whatever it is you are doing, be yourself and do you to the best of your ability.

Time For Change?

Close-up of a clock showing the words "Time For Change". Shallow depth of field.

From time-to-time we often hear there is a need for change in the country. Someone calls in on a radio programme. Another person in your neighbourhood, maybe a friend, makes a comment about how the politicians are ‘wicked’ or ‘corrupt’. You know how it goes. Election time comes and the politicians begin campaigning with promises of ‘change’. Yet, somehow, after all of these calls and decisions made in hope of change things, today, seem so much like the same. 

From election cycle to election cycle in countries around the world the calls of change are made. Outside of election time, committees and organization, local, regional and international, are created with the purpose of making some change in some place in this world. Where is the change? 

I will list some questions for you. You can take the time to think about them when you have a chance. I have some responses but I will keep them to myself at least for now. Here they are:

  1. If the world is supposed to be such a loving place why is there so much poverty?
  2. If certain doctrines, religious and legal, label us all as created equal then why are we making a world that is not?
  3. Why is it that that in many parts of the world people have the right to live in poverty but are barred by lay from ending their lives?
  4. Is there really a way to end poverty?
  5. Is political correctness the way to conduct public discourse? Maybe there is room for the not-so-nice-talk.
  6. Are safe spaces necessary?
  7. Why is it important to have Black people represented at awards shows?
  8. Is atheism the answer? One may ask the answer to what?
  9. Do we need governments?
  10. What would the world look like without money?

It seems as though we have a lot of the wrong change in this world. People doing little things with little effect. Pocket change maybe?

Energy and The Future of Barbados

As the 21st. Century speedily moves on, we, as a people, just like those in the rest of the world, must assess and evaluate challenges to our future. We must plan and implement our solutions with some proper speed in order to preempt any future unforeseen reality. Whether future events be positive, neutral or negative we must plan to our best ability for the the dynamics of life; especially living in this world with others. It is with this preamble in mind that I make a case for the need to seriously and comprehensively tackle the issue of energy-use in Barbados. Maybe even this argument can be applied with some modification to public utilities in general.

Barbados, in the global sphere, is a non-player in oil. Oil in the previous century ruled the day. In this day it rules in places it is still needed and in others where it is no longer a necessity has declined. The government of Barbados reviewed its energy policy and made way for the advancement of  the already growing alternative energy sector but its regulation needs to be brought into line with the policy outlined.

If it is that Barbados wishes to be less dependent on the importation of oil, if not independent of it, then it must allow the use of alternatives to flourish. Not only is alternative energy a more environment-friendly solution, it is a more cost-effective one. The importation of oil is still needed when it comes to powering certain things such as transportation (until we change our appetite). However, when it comes to powering our homes, hospitals, businesses and other utility plants we can do better and we must.

Currently, Barbados’ sole power company enjoys a monopoly on the supply of that form of energy to the market which is primarily utilized by households and business; the circumstance of which is to the detriment of us all. If monopolies are to be tolerated, it should be as a result of the country not being able to do better. Before the liberalization of the telecommunication market in Barbados, there was one monopoly enjoying the rewards of such a status because we could not do better. When we could do better. When that monopoly afforded us space to get to a better standard of development, we eventually encouraged other players to compete. With competition came relatively more growth and dynamism in service to the market. Imagine the implementation of the government’s increase on Value Added Tax on data-usage for cellular phones with only the monopoly of one telecommunications company.

Currently, the people of Barbados are beholden to the whim and fancy of one artificial monopoly for power which is a necessity. It is an artificial monopoly because we can do better. Better yet, is the circumstance that unlike the telecommunications industry, the alternative market players are home-grown. From within we have provided solutions to our woes. The forcing of producers of alternative forms of power to supply the monopoly with their produce to repurchase it is akin to theft.

If it is that without the government-assisted monopoly power a company will die this means it is no longer needed. At all times we must look to ourselves to be our own saviours. Our present monopoly is not owned by us but we are protecting it in a circumstance where its own country’s laws would not. We must do better (not as a symbolic gesture of independence) simply because we need to do better in order to move to a higher stage of development.

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When Will People Take Control of Their Lives?

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In democratic societies, especially the liberal kinds, the electorate is often faced with the challenge of weeding out, from among those who offer themselves for public service, those who ‘know’ and those who think they ‘know’ but in reality do not. It is a peculiar case for any people to have to carry out such an action because it means we have to think. Each eligible person and even those under the age of voting, to a lesser extent, must peruse their minds about what they want to see become of their country, whose message resonates with how he or she feels and who is the person most likely to make this happen. Unfortunately, thinking or maybe I should say critical thinking is quite lacking among the general populace. Even those who think they think critically do not.

Ever so often, about every four to five years, the Caribbean people in particular are faced with a melancholy. They must elect without knowing the candidates. Arguably, aside from politicians in very authoritarian democracies and dictatorships, Caribbean politicians enjoy a large cushion of protection from scrutiny. I should say here that when I say Caribbean I really mean primarily those in the West Indies. Yes, that place which like most other post-colonial regions adapted the British West Minster System into ‘models’ to ‘suit’ the New World Environment.

When one really thinks about the whole situation, there is little surprise coming to mind as to why the people do not really know the policies of those they elected and those who want to be elected. The ‘models’ we have, we, as a collective, did not make. We trusted our pioneers and founding fathers to make certain decisions such as the construction of our Constitutions which dictate almost every facet of our living instead of taking a stake in the pie. Yes, one may argue that West Indian Constitutions are Acts of the British Parliament and not even our leaders of the time really had a say. Yes, we may also argue that the ‘we’ about which I speak really means our foreparents so today’s people are not to blame for what we experience presently. Surely, we know all of that to be erroneous.

We are the ones living today and every day we let pass without engaging the very nucleic forces of our society is another strike taken off of the ‘we’ of the past to be marked against the ‘we’ of today. The politicians need not go beyond a manifesto to debate because we have hardly ever challenged them to do it. Think about it. If it is that those who sell goods and services usually provide a certain quantity and quality commensurate with market they serve then would not it be reasonable to assume that our leaders (trade union leaders, parliamentary members, clergy, teachers, government administrators) would respond to our demands since we are the market and the only market to which they can ply their trade? Normally markets are held captive but geography and nationality hold our suppliers captive; making us their masters and them our servant-leaders. 

With this small argument in mind, hopefully you recognize that it is within your rights to demand from those you employ the deliverance of what you want. It is also your right to do and say nothing to affect this occurrence. However, if you neglect your duty, even though you may benefit from the actions of those who demand what they want, in the long-run you, mostly likely, will also be neglected. 

The Caribbean Reality

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Drawing from the colonial period, which only functionally ended with the British West Indies’ labour unrest in the 1930s, the West Indian reality is today one of systemic un-freedom due to the maintenance of the plantation society which perpetuates a plantation-like socio-economic structure. To believe that the end of colonialism-proper means the end of authoritarian governments and anti-democratic mechanisms such as criminal libel laws to control the media would be a mistake. One must understand that the Caribbean in general, and the West Indies in particular, are substantially defined by colonialism. Consequently, the Caribbean may be seen as a post-slavery civilization with a mirroring politico-economic structure.

The influence of Euro-American foreign policy, facilitated through international aid, dictates the Caribbean development agenda; limiting the extent to which the region exercises its right to self-determination. This situation dates back to independence of the then colonies; being preceded by the implosion of the West Indies Federation in 1962. Though popular sentiment may resist Euro-American policies which, inherently carry with them the refashioning of the Caribbean way of life, there is a tradition of compromise with international powers to facilitate local development. This explains why, for example, even though in many Caribbean countries while corporal punishment is a popular statutory mechanism for disciplining school children, the UNICEF’s call for its end was not vehemently rebuffed as imperialism; but instead compromise was made by establishing ‘child-friendly’ non-‘flogging’ schools.

The Caribbean understands its dependent disposition relative to more developed economies and uses diplomacy to safeguard its future. This inherently means compromise at the expense of sovereignty. The Caribbean way of life, like Latin America, has a fixation on peace and investment in our greatest, and in the case of countries like Barbados, our only abundant natural resource; its people. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) declaration of our region as “a zone of peace”, and the exclusion of this hemisphere’s military and economic great powers, the USA and Canada, from its ranks at its establishment in 2011 are testimony to this fact. This concept of peace, created through mutual respect for culture and individual history guides the Caribbean, of which various Latin American and South American countries are geographically a part, in its quest for prosperity; however limited it may be. This exploration of the Euro-American Nexus’ relation to the Caribbean creates greater appreciation of the ensuing topic of Caribbean domestic policy.

Barbados proves the greatest case study for understanding Caribbean development philosophy and its inextricable link to education as evidenced by 14.27% (2009) of government expenditure allocated to that sector. Unlike Jamaica with an abundance of bauxite and Trinidad and Tobago controlling vast oil reserves, Barbados is without natural resources; circumstancing a people-centred society. Historically, Barbadian politics and economic initiatives were primarily constructed by the people’s needs. Consequently, profits derived were used for their benefit. With a size of 166 square miles and a population under 300 000, Barbados has over 70 and 20 primary and secondary schools respectively, leading to being among the top 5 literate countries at 100% in UNESCO world rankings.

Human development policy emphasis and the creation of the welfare state directly derived from colonialism and cannot be ignored. Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor designate of the University of The West Indies (UWI) and Chairman of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Committee On Reparatory Justice, in addressing the British Parliament in 2014 explains that Caribbean poverty is systemic because the British Parliament, “in 1833 determined that the 800,000 enslaved people in the Caribbean were worth, as chattel property, £47M [£3.892B Conservatively (2013)]” and in compensating slave owners for the loss of ‘property’, “provided the sum of £20M [1.656B (2013)] in grants”, while refusing compensation to freed Blacks. Compensation was denied and poverty institutionalized by way of British Emancipation Acts which gave Caribbean countries independence while holding that, “ ‘property’ cannot receive property compensation”.

Less than a century ago, Barbadian children attended school barefooted while pit-toilets and outdoor kitchens fuelled by firewood were commonplace. In fact, these conditions are but some of the reasons for the labour unrest earlier mentioned. This reality is only but a half-generation (25/2 years) removed from the general populace but various aspects are a mainstay in contemporary Caribbean life. Circumstances like mass child labour prompted Caribbean countries, to compromise with the economic (white planters) and political (black descendants of the enslaved as well as indentured servants) majorities in order to secure the universal right to education but it was Barbados that made it free up to tertiary level.

Contextualized by these maladies, one is dismayed by the Barbadian government’s decision in 2013 to limit the access to universal education. Until then Barbadians enjoyed, through heavy direct income taxation (20% to 35%) and indirect value-added taxation (17.5%) tax-payer subsidized education up to university level. The ruling party’s argument during the Fiscal Estimates Debate (2013) highlighted education as exponentially increasing government spending to uncontrollable levels; resulting in debt of student fees to UWI exceeding $100M BBD ($50M USD). In accordance with the ruling party’s solution students now pay tuition fees while the economic cost is tax-payer funded.

While this seems fair, understanding the Caribbean reality illustrated above, the payment of tuition fees is a barrier to social mobility for the average Caribbean person because Barbadians still pay heavy taxation rates in addition to this new barrier. What placed Barbados ahead of many Caribbean countries including the more historically powerful Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and what makes Barbados’ achievement the Eastern Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis is the rapid transformation of the socio-economic status of individuals unilaterally facilitated by way of ‘free’ education. Though great strides have been made, the reality remains, that systemic generational poverty bars many from being able to pay the tuition fees. Notwithstanding the assurance of loans being available, the impact of high cost of living induced by heavy taxation makes the loan repayment simply impossible.

The generational revolution is under threat!

BackStory “Nyanda”

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This installment of BackStory features Nyanda, Caribbean global-trotting recording artiste. She keeps things real, bubbly and full of fun and laughter. Definitely the total package.  Nyanda joins the conversation, sharing with us her journey and desires. Share your opinions in the comments and Join The Conversation.

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The Occupied Mind

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        The occupied mind, today, is a level of consciousness predominantly consumed with something called ‘happiness’ which is, in actuality, a ruse for control over the individual and Collective’s labour. The central point to be made about the mythical ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ is that it does not bring the glories of life which we imagine. If it did, surely by now, the world, not just a miniscule fractional percentage of global minority would be enjoying the fruits of their labour. Something must be wrong when a world predominantly obsessed with reaching material nirvana not only fails miserably in the endeavour but catapults itself to the opposite pole; impoverishment.

            Evidence to the idea that ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ is a ploy to keep the eyes from seeing beyond the nose is the fact that, though many of our countries claim Democracy as a fundamental pillar, it is systemically corrupt to the point that our very elected representatives are unresponsive to the organic calls for reform. This unresponsiveness about which I speak has been facilitated by the blind generally called ‘rat race’ in which many of us are actors. We are so consumed by this pursuit that we turn away from policies and politics of the day. Beyond and undergirding the facts and figures published by others which speak to this truth is a philosophical question; better put, a collective idea expressed by the mouths, feet and arms of those who dare to protest. These demonstrations beg us to inquire into the extent to which, in general, we truly own the land, air, sea, skies around us and more specifically, our governments, families and bodies.     

            Many of us are set to work from early ages, toiling away behind a desk, on the road collective refuge, in some factory or call centre of some sort and at the end of it all, when the road comes to close and retirement looms happiness is still fleeting with even funds promised after saving for years being refused or limited to the point where living becomes brutal survival. The story of this pursuit is like the story of the dog and bone. In order to gain the riches others such as ‘elite’ businessmen, politicians, labour and corrupt civil rights leaders have placed before us, unlike the dog who did it unwittingly, we give up the internal joys we have such as our youth, time with family, satisfaction and peace of mind in old age as well as autonomy over ourselves.

            In order to save ourselves from this damnation let us recognized that today’s humanity is in a confluence age where change is indeed possible as well as the furtherance of this seemingly perpetual melancholy of exploitation. Exploited is our dignity and labour with nothing in return for it. Surely, better days lie ahead but only for those who gather the air in their lungs, stamina in their feet and swing their arms. The occupied mind need not be a mind consumed with trivial matters that only serve the interests of the exploiter. By now you must see that the occupied mind may be consumed by whatever you want so simply want better for yourself than the life of a tool.

         In short, I urge you to occupy yourself with justice; not only for yourself but for all. If you do not know what justice is just think about what it surely is not then look within yourself for what you believe should be in place in your life and the lives of those around you. Somewhere in there you will find justice and hopefully and better yet; fairness. Let not your days to come be filled with regret because of inaction. Move forward to your own salvation and occupy yourself.

An Introduction to The Barbadian Ideal

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The length of this article will constrain, to some extent, the efficacy with which my points are carried to your mind but I am sure you will be able to pick the sense and construct your own opinion in reply. For the sake of ourselves, in the memory of our ancestors and for the promise of tomorrow let us do a short but very needed preliminary inquiry into the nature of the Barbadian psyche. 

I love my people but I detest some of their ways at times; especially that knack for holding the tongue in periods when it should be unleashed. It is this  seemingly minor peeve that brings me to more widely question the extent to which we, though seemingly free in body, are, in reality, free in mind. I think, if only but for clarity in understanding what makes the Barbadian tick, we must ask questions like these.

We must ask. We must prod. We must debate. We must analyze and evaluate. It is only when we do these things that we can create for ourselves the lives that we truly want to live. I believe we have failed, if only because of time and circumstance, to undertake proper scrutiny of our lives. Consequently, the Barbadian in particular like many Caribbeans in general is wandering in a quandary mixed with sediments of self-denial, inferiority and superiority complexes, schizophrenia as well as economic, social, political, cultural and ultimately spiritual instability.

Firstly, we must distinguish the Barbadian from other Caribbeans; not for reasons of superiority or inferiority but simply because we, at this juncture, want to focus on the particular traits that make Barbadians, at an essential level, who they are. Unlike other Caribbeans who also have their own unique, inspiring and notable histories Barbadian history is universally one of development through consensus. There is a reason why, besides the Battle of Jamestown, few slave rebellions and the 1930s Riots, Barbados has been a sanctuary of peace throughout the centuries. This consensual state brings great admiration from regional and international leaders who laud The Idea of Barbados and challenge their people to create an idea of their own but is the Barbadian Ideal made in the Barbadian image? 

It is at this point that I want to challenge the extent to which Barbadians are aware of the Barbadian Ideal. It seems to me that this ideal is more of an external construct by those who see Barbados as a bastion of hope but for the Barbadian this ideal is but a series of painful compromises made over time to appease those who would wilfully destroy any chances of a happy life for our people. The Barbadian way of life at this point, instead of being characterized as a people charting a path of their own choosing, may be better described as a people given limited liberty by past masters to choose their own path within already prescribed parameters.

I cement this claim by noting that I believe (yes a belief and not a ‘fact’) most Barbadians dead and present, regardless of political and ideological affiliation, if they have or have not, are fundamentally unhappy with the way Barbados since gaining Independence from Britain has developed. The people may be appeased by the garnishes such as the standard of living and strength of the dollar but at a personal level they must feel as though their truest potential is untapped, restraint, retarded and eroding.The Barbadian wants more but knows that in order for more to be had a great fight may have to be made with short-term and even long-term consequences reminiscent of previous projects of outright self-determination even if more subtly created in this new age of global diplomacy. It is with this in mind that I charge that the unhappy Barbadians, unable to truly act in their own right, appease the spiritual, universally felt but hardly ever spoken disquiet with the platitudes given them by the very people who constrict their souls.

Barbados is truly a model for the Caribbean because this country’s history shows others how to navigate waters that they do not own but this ideal must end; for though it created a good way of life where the people may enjoy the modern things it also created a people fettered to the whims of others. I caution those, however, who will take my argument to mean that Barbadians are outright slaves and should be shunned. Barbados’ history shows the resilience of those who were enslaved and their ability, knowing their positions and dispositions of power,  to negotiate the harsh realities of life while creating their own space of living.

In short, I am grateful for the compromises which afford me this opportunity to want more but now I argue that the time for compromise is over because The More calls the soul to unchain itself from appeasement. My challenge to the Barbadian is to use the foundations laid by the sacrifices of personhood made in the past to construct a true Barbadiana.Though stagnant for so long, inherent in the Barbadian Ideal is a sense of action which must be re-kindled.What this means is that our tongues which were held in order to survive must be unleashed in order to prosper.  Let the feet walk, the arms swing, the lungs fill with air and the voices bellow.