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COLUMN-There’s yet more out there

Building-BridgesAs I marvelled at the history of this beautiful city of Istanbul in Turkey where I have been for the past week, and hopefully will write on in my coming columns, my thoughts go to home in Barbados where we will celebrate our 48th anniversary of Independence on Sunday, November 30.

Barbados also has a long rich history, and one in which there is a mixture of pride and regret. Pride for what we as a small nation with very limited resources have achieved over the years. Regret for times in our history when human bondage and discrimination were the norm.

What really is Independence and what does being Independent truly mean? The definition of independence is given as “the fact or state of being independent”, while independent means being free of external control, not subject to another’s authority, self-governing. Barbados by the given definitions is an Independent state which we proudly celebrate at this time. But as a small island are we truly Independent?

Politically, maybe; but economically, socially, culturally, we are part and parcel of a wider global spectrum that makes us vulnerable in many ways. That vulnerability can also impact
on our Independent positions at times as a nation in a family of nations; and so, politically, we are subject to prevailing global trends and sometimes have to operate at the behest of stronger powers that be in the world.

Barbados’ Father Of Independence National Hero The Right Excellent Errol Barrow said: “[Barbados] will be friends of all, satellites of none”.

An excellent position to have; but have we lived up to that lofty ideal?

Barbados as a very tiny, developing island state cannot really exist on its own. And while we are known to “punch above our weight” (Kofi Anan), we must have alliances with and some reliance on bigger, economically stronger countries.

It is good to observe that in recent years, under successive administrations, there has been an attempt at the level of our foreign policy to expand beyond our traditional partners in North America and Europe, and seek out and forge new partnerships of mutual benefit to our country. There are emerging countries from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa that impact significantly on the world stage, and Barbados cannot afford to be left behind by not reaching out to them and having agreements put in place.

Some of our traditional partners in Europe, on the other hand, are struggling, their economies in trouble and their influence in the world’s arena diminishing. Do we hang on to a sinking ship, or do we seek out stronger vessels?

I am sure there is much to be gained and less to lose when we adopt a policy of relations with all states recognized by the family of nations in the world. In this rapidly changing world, there are several new and successful ways and methods of doing business and trade that we can’t ignore any more while clinging on to outmoded and “past the shelf life” methodologies.

Barbados as an Independent nation, close to 50, has to be prepared and ready to embrace change. Don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying we dump our traditions and way of life to embrace a new one; I am suggesting that we open our minds and hearts to seeing there is more out there than we are accustomed to.

Tourism, our mainstay economically, must open to more diverse markets, as more countries in the world become affluent. Istanbul welcomes one million tourists monthly to its city. These tourists come from diverse parts of the world. And while Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country, these tourists are of all religious backgrounds, finding equal reception and warm welcome as I personally witnessed at several of the country’s historic attractions.

Barbados can also welcome all types of tourists to its shores and make them feel at home, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or faith. As a Barbadian and a Muslim,
I have been playing my part in encouraging such tourism among people of my faith whom I meet globally.

Welcoming such tourists to Barbados doesn’t require much effort or changes to existing structures. A little tweaking may be necessary, with which I am prepared to help any tourism-related service in Barbados, to enhance its offerings.

In declining economies like ours new niches must be found for our tourism product. We have to think outside the box.

Recently, Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick made the news over his discussions with persons from the United Arab Emirates regarding alternative forms of financing for our struggling economy. This represented a significant move from our traditional ways, and one, as expected, that would face tremendous resistance.

One social media comment on Dr Estwick’s move alluded to going back to “Islamic slavery” if Barbados went this route. Ironically, several of our Caribbean neighbours have
for the past few years entered into successful relations with Arab states and benefited significantly through developmental projects.

In Qatar, last year, I saw a news item where several countries were establishing diplomatic relations with the government there, among them being Guyana and Jamaica, with regional resident ambassadors.

Our Independence must allow us to do more. We must live up to our National Hero’s words of being friends of all. We cannot survive on our own, nor can we survive doing business in the worn out traditional way.

As a nation we must draw upon the diversity that exists in our country, in our region and in the world today to make our nation even stronger.

Happy Independence, Barbados, and may God continue to bless and guide our nation.

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email

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