Towards a politics of maturity
“When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 (CEV)
These words, attributed to the Apostle Paul in a letter written to first century Christians in the riotous port city of Corinth, readily came to mind last weekend as I reflected on the general state of Barbados at 50, and sought to determine what more can I contribute, as a true patriot, to making our beloved country better.
As we prepare to observe the 50th anniversary of Independence next Wednesday, we admittedly have a lot to be thankful for. Barbados has done remarkably well since gaining Independence from Great Britain on November 30, 1966. The story of our island’s subsequent social and economic transformation is well documented. However, there are some aspects of our success story which clearly are in jeopardy today.
As a child of the 1960s, I have fully lived the Independence experience. The upward social mobility afforded to my generation, the first to reap the real benefits of Independence, stands as a powerful testimony of the success of the Barbados project. However, it would be remiss of me, as a serious commentator, not to draw attention to the fact that we also have quite a bit to be concerned about at this critical juncture.
Barbados is falling behind in our quest for continued development and a better life. Government indecisiveness, especially in these last few years, has contributed in no small measure to this state of affairs and the future, under the uninspiring leadership of Freundel Stuart, is arguably at significant risk. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the Democratic Labour Party’s emphasis on fun and frolic over the next few days.
While Independence proved to be an effective solution to problems that confronted us in the past, our primary focus now must be on coming up with equally effective solutions to contemporary problems to safeguard the gains of Independence in order to build, with confidence, the future to which we collectively aspire. That is why I contended last week that a Government-convened national strategic visioning exercise involving Barbadians from all walks of life, should have been a major Golden Jubilee activity. Where there is no vision, the people perish.
The beleaguered regime’s focus on celebration speaks to a myopic view of Independence as a historic one-off event when Independence is really a continuously evolving process. Our challenge, as a nation today, is to redefine the meaning of Independence to make it more relevant to the present. When Barbados ended its three centuries-old colonial relationship with Great Britain, Independence had a specific meaning. It meant assuming full control over the administration of our national affairs within the context of sovereignty and nationhood.
Such was possible at the time because the dominant model of development was essentially inward-looking. However, globalization from the late 1980s onwards, directly challenges the basis of fundamental assumptions of Independence. In the highly interconnected and interdependent world in which we live today, sovereignty and nationhood no longer carry the same weight as back in 1966.
Hence, the need for Barbados to revisit the meaning of Independence in the current global environment where small states like ours are particularly vulnerable. Such would have been a major benefit of a national strategic visioning exercise. I am not surprised that the need for such an activity was not recognized. The present DLP, based on an analysis of the political narrative of its leadership, seems to be happy living in a glorious past.
The narrative speaks primarily of events and solutions which occurred, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, as if they are the answers to today’s problems. While history offers invaluable lessons for understanding the present through the lens of the past, the present is a different matter altogether and requires a different response. What we particularly need in this country, at this time, is a more mature approach to the practice of politics, especially at the level of government. Politics is still the source of solutions to national problems.
The general immaturity of our politics is an issue of greatest concern to me at this critical juncture in our history. It is hindering Barbados from realizing its full potential and, as such, represents a major stumbling block to our development. Our economy and society have undergone significant transformation over the last 50 years but our practice of politics has sadly lagged behind.
Hence, the relevance of the Pauline exhortation cited at the top of this article. In modernizing our politics, we need to cast aside the petty displays of childishness and adopt a more mature and civil approach which befits Barbados’ age as a 50 year old grown-up. The viciousness of our politics, especially at the party level where the root of the problem really lies, is geared more towards promoting division and exclusion when unity and inclusion are really what Barbados needs.
There are many outstanding citizens with skills and talents who would love to make a tangible contribution to national development. However, they shy away because they do not wish to be contaminated by the political toxicity. As a result, Barbados often has to settle for second or third best, because the people with more effective problem-solving skills to advance this country’s development, decide political involvement is not worth the sacrifice.
Barbados is officially a democracy. This political concept is based on a natural competition of ideas, intensely and openly debated. Inevitably, a person’s ideas will face criticism at some point. The fact that I may criticize your idea or approach, does not mean I am your enemy or that I dislike you as a person. Criticism is not only negative; it often contains a positive dimension.
Some of our politicians are just too thin-skinned and take every piece of criticism, even when it is well-meaning, as a personal attack. This country is too small to be divided through such pettiness. Despite our differences, we are all working towards the same goal of a better Barbados; it just happens some are on a different road leading to the same destination. I really wish some of our politicians would come to appreciate this and see the positive side of criticism instead of trying to be vindictive in some cases, especially if they have governmental power. Learning to agree to disagree, with great respect for each other, would go a long way towards bringing about political maturity.
As a government, the DLP has often practised a politics of puerility. Persons who express alternative viewpoints are denounced as ‘unpatriotic’, ‘purveyors of doom and gloom’, ‘deserving of pity’, among other unsavoury ‘accolades’. We saw this kind of vitriol unleashed against persons who took a different view on how the 50th anniversary of Independence should be observed.
The modernization of our politics, beginning with governance reform to make our democracy more meaningful to the average Barbadian, must urgently become a national priority. Political maturity is key to promoting economic prosperity. To fix the economics, we also have to fix the politics.
“When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.” At 50 years old, it is time for Barbados to demonstrate true political maturity by cleaning up its politics and casting aside the outrageously childish aspects in the national interest.
A happy Independence to all!
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)