The 'right' voice
It is good to be home in Barbados, especially at a time when the country is approaching its 46th year of Independence from its former colonial master. I am an unapologetic member of the BLP but I remain foremost a proud Barbadian wanting the best for my country and its peoples.
I say that to stress that there is a disturbing atmosphere which appears to be prevailing over Barbados in which there is an inadequacy of critical voices being entertained as rightful advocates for change and progress. This current mood is indicative of political connivance and apprehension, coupled with the grave inevitability regarding several socio-economic realities confronting Barbadians.
There are negative and debilitating forces, many of which are being socially constructed by too few elements within the society. The utterances from the few are compounding the problems that the ordinary Barbadian must deal with as they get on with their daily lives. The politics of the day and the shenanigans of many leading political operatives are stifling avenues for pursuing alternatives.
For example, when people are told that being critical of government would amount to being treated with robust political censure. Yet, as has been observed elsewhere in the world (since Barbados is often discussed in terms of what happens in the global arenas) the opening up of the issues to public debate and criticisms are more likely to be favourable to Barbados’ overall national development.
There is an inherent style of adversarial approaches to Barbados’ problems that are becoming increasingly divisive within the local population. This is to the degree that Barbadians appear preoccupied with containing their frustrations about the state of political and economic affairs gripping the country at this time, but ironically, the call-in programmes are sheeted with complaints and ideas moving swiftly from one thing to another.
Although there are some critical voices that are being heard, there is a crashing silence across the society when it comes to being forthright about finding available or creating solutions to the issues.
Barbadians are no longer being encouraged to think through the problematic dynamics that are forcing change on the country and bringing these things into the formal practices of governance. The affected housewives and unemployed persons will ultimately pay for the damage being done by the self-promoting rhetoric offered by the political classes. The cautionary tones and acts of vindictiveness are occasioned mostly by the political directorate, several of whom do not believe that citizens ought to challenge the status quo.
There is little doubt, that to be critical of the Government or Opposition political parties, and to decry the ways they conduct their business and the affairs of the country will draw venom. To a large degree, Barbados has inherited and still cherishes an authoritarian way of dealing with its masses; it was and continues to be a part of the divide and rule structure. In contemporary Barbados, it is essential that public policies be discussed in public and that communication should not be discouraged but thoroughly encouraged even if the criticisms seem to abandon practicality.
It is true that the Leader of the Opposition, Owen Arthur, has recently called for the type of public discourse that encourages “consensus”, but this call may well be thwarted by another appeal by one of the leading spokespersons for the DLP, Donville Inniss. Inniss, while accepting that the DLP has “been too silent in this country [Barbados] for too long,” presents as his prognosis that DLP supporters should “call the call-in programmes when the days come and run the Bees off of it”. It is precisely this constant divisive discourse coming from high-profile political operatives that is stifling popular discourse and critical voices in Barbados.
That there is but one Barbados is sufficient to send a clear message that despite wanting to follow the partisan battles that will take place as the country draws closer to a general election, Barbadians of every persuasion and of all classes need to be able to express themselves and outline their frustrations, anxieties, and expectations without being shepherded into silence.
It becomes obvious that those persons not clamouring to the sides of any particular political party are becoming weary and are fast gravitating to a sense of inevitability blustered with political apathy. In effect, this stance of becoming apolitical does nothing to alleviate the burdensome nature of many of the real issues affecting Barbadians.
Obscuring the social realities or threatening those who oppose will not lift the levels of debate, promote democracy, or stimulate attitudes and minds in a manner than can be said to be critical or creative for the betterment of Barbados.
Barbadians’ torment is characterised through a widespread sense that there is nothing that the political class, business elites, academics, or the polity itself could do to ward off the negatives that are often being proclaimed (but inaccurately so by the current administration) that there is forlorn because of an international recession impacting on the country.
It is hardly sufficient or progressive that this or any administration that is emblazoned with the seat of responsible and representative governance should procrastinate, or worse, plead that there is nothing the Government could do to lessen the blows for which the people have been experiencing since the pivotal year of 2008.
Making matters shoddier is the apparent hopelessness that has seemingly gripped Barbadians. Indeed, Barbadians are seemingly numbed by their strong attachments to partisan positions, and this has fact has managed to reduce the levels of informed discussion, and the readiness to resolve issues from the position of national unity.
Perhaps, the more neutral if not always objective observers have been quick to point out the failings by each political party (the BLP and DLP), but this has been done at their expense since the cost of having to fade away into the background becomes regularly desirable according to those who govern, and sometimes appealing from those who oppose.
The political parties, and to some extent their supporters, have rendered those in the proverbial middle-of-the-road to be pretentious, self-serving, and lack a spirit of Bajan patriotism. The result is that there are significant ratios of Barbadians remaining undecided about the way forward. Many chokingly prefer to accept that one or another party will make no difference regarding the things needed to reverse Barbados’ socio-economic decline.
Many persons, academics included, are becoming vacuous with regards to articulating new possibilities for repositioning Barbados; for them, and with the heavy political biases being at the forefront of discourse, they do not expect that Barbados can better cope with and emerge from the current tough and difficult economic times. Less persons seem to be advancing solutions to the existing and impending socio-economic problems facing the Barbados economy and society.
The main claim herein is that there is a subtle silencing of voices mainly protracted by the DLP Administration, and sometimes conveniently echoed by the Opposition BLP. The evidence is no more seen in the “hushing-up” already alluded to earlier in this article and that appears equally as evident in the orchestrated attacks on CADRES, the Nation newspaper, Barbados Today, and commentary associated with the University of the West Indies.
It is already an absurdity that the Barbados Advocate clearly demonstrates a one-sided reflection on what is occurring in Barbados. Most damaging is the evidence from CBC-TV and, to a lesser extent, the spurious interactions from one or more of its radio stations with the show of blatant and outright prejudices intended for the BLP and its supporters.
These actions are contemptuous and reap the unethical marginalisation of one or more groupings within the Barbadian society; CBC’s actions by diminishing the BLP from public visibility, is violating the very foundations of that entity being constituted out of the necessity for public broadcast and the dissemination of information to all Barbados.
So that, coupled with the silencing of the lambs and the sometimes staining of the intellectual giants, there is the attempt to eradicate from the minds of Barbadians the actuality of living in a democracy that is simultaneously well-described as a two-party state. In addition there are concentrated ad hominem attacks upon all advocates for good governance. These entrenched media and political party forays are depicted with the vocal beating and character-pummelling of the messengers (e.g. listen to CBC and a rather paltry female moderator). These mischievous happenings are grossly un-liberal as they are un-democratic.
The attacks on those who dare to step outside the constraints of their polarised support base of the political parties become open to a contempt shuddered by further accusations and scolding. In effect, it is the political loud that is essentially silencing the “undecided” and “won’t say” that live among us. There are too few filtered voices that are being encouraged into national debates; rather, many more persons and groups are being pushed from the forefront and out of national debates.
This practice of putting a lid on the public sphere is severely jaundiced. The DLP and BLP strategically will present their biases; but too often they are becoming guilty of masquerading as the “right” voice that is absolute on expressing and directing Barbados’ national interests. Barbadians must speak out and reverse the silencing that will surely cascade into a political dictatorship.