On November 30, 2016, Barbados will officially celebrate the 50th Anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. The year-long Golden Jubilee party began in earnest on January 6th and will continue to June 2017. Before a large crowd assembled on Independence Square, in the nation’s capital, Prime Minister, Fruendal Stuart urged Barbadians, at home and abroad ‘to recommit themselves to the development of the country’. No doubt, many Barbadians of the Diaspora will return to participation in the festivities, the parades, the family reunions, concerts, fetes, political speeches, ceremonies and parties to contribute to the economy to offset the expenses of this grand undertaking with the purchases of memorabilia, to boost the economy for a brief interval.
Since November 30, 1966, the country has enjoyed prosperity, economic stability, stable government and better living standards; but the foundation for these successes were the early men of vision, intellect, foresight, and ambition, who represented the interest of the citizens first and foremost.
The merchant class dominated politics in Barbados for over 200 years. The Black population could not vote until 1831 or hold office in the legislature until 1840. Trade unions were introduced in the 1930s by descendants of emancipated slaves who formed movements for political rights.
In 1938, Grantley Adam (1898-1987) a leader of one of the Trade Unions, founded the Progressive League (he was the lawyer who represented Clement Payne in his case against deportation to Trinidad), which later to became the Barbados Labor Party, specifically to rescue Barbadians from the strong grip of social injustice and economic ill-treatment. He achieved significant social and constitutional reforms including: the right of women to vote on the same terms as men; establishment of a Labor Department; amendments to the Education Act; the setting up of Erdiston Teachers College; improved working for shop assistants; and increased old age pensions. Adams later became the first Premier of Barbados in 1958.
Errol Walton Barrow (1920-1987) left the Barbados Labor Party in 1955 to start his own Democratic Labor Party, replaced Grantley Adams as the Premier of Barbados. Errol Barrow was an experienced pilot and flew bombing missions during WW II. Affectionately known as ‘the Skipper’, Barrow and the DLP made free education available at all levels, started the Social Security scheme, and improved the school meal service. He led the way to diversify the economy to place more emphasis on Barbados’ tourism development rather than sugar dependence. He also co-founded both the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) and Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Under his leadership, he led Barbados to full independence, and his DLP was the majority party from 1966 to 1976; which returned to power in 1986, until his death in 1987.
Charles Duncan O’Neal (1879-1936) used his social and professional status to change the consciousness of a nation. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University in Scotland, was a member of the elite class and held a high social position in the Barbadian community, chose to dedicate his life to social reforms, assisting the poor, and actively rejected the racism of the 1920s and 1930s. He established the Democratic League in 1924, and in 1932 he won a seat in the House of the Assembly.
The above-mentioned notables are just a few people who have given outstanding service to Barbados; contributed to the improvement of the economic and social conditions of Barbados, demonstrated visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of the of the highest excellence, so according to the Barbados’ Order of National Heroes Act who are honored every year on April 28th.
The political parties: Barbados Labor Party under Mia Mottley; the Democratic Labor Party under Fruendal Stuart and the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) under David Comissiong hardly distinguished themselves with any clear objectives how to handle the challenges of the economy, the growing debt burden or public service delivery. They seem more immersed in the style and rhetoric of the personality of the leaders rather than a commitment to solving the countries’ problems.
Barbados in its infancy depended on the leadership and vision of proponents of good governance and advocates for social justice and economic reforms. Barbados now needs innovators and reformers for the next 50 years, which currently seem lacking during these crises.