New republic Barbados cuts ties to monarchy but remembers history

Barbados in the Caribbean Sea is the youngest republic entering 2022 after declaring independence from British rule last year, with promise to become Caribbean’s beacon.
Barbados hopes that addressing the colonial past will lead to economic development creating jobs for Barbadians in cultural tourism among other sectors.
Photo: Tom Jur/Unsplash

Copenhagen, Denmark (TP)

After nearly four centuries of British rule, Barbados has now officially cut its ties to the monarchy. On Tuesday, November 30th 2021, Barbados announced their republic status with a ceremony that swore in the country’s first President, Dame Sandra Mason replacing Queen Elizabeth II as de facto head of state.

‘Vessel Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage. May she weather all storms and land our country and citizens safe on the horizons and shores which are ahead of us,’ President Mason told the audience after being sworn in.

Barbados has been an independent kingdom for 55 years but by transforming into a republic, the island nation is leaving its colonial past behind. It was one of England’s first slave colonies as English settlers occupied the island in 1627, becoming a sugar plantation economy under British rule. The island nations slavery ‘forever stains our history’ Prince Charles said in his speech at the ceremony.

Remembering the British legacy

Despite leaving the monarchy, Barbados will remain within the Commonwealth. And this is not the only legacy from British rule that will remain in contemporary Barbados, which has been titled “Little England”. With the great atrocities that were committed under British rule, keeping memories alive from these times will be a significant priority for Barbados.

Less than a week after the ceremony the new republic announced its initiative to build a transatlantic slavery museum, the Independent reported last month.

Barbados has the second largest collection of slave records after the UK, which will come into the display at the new museum. The facility will also include a research institute that will focus on telling the story of slavery and what global impact the practice had.

The museum will engage in anticipated research partnerships between the Caribbean’s University of the West Indies and US academic institutions Harvard University and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

The Prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, announced the plans and said: ‘The most important gift we can give of our people and our children at this time is that sense of confidence and understanding of who we are.’

The Barbados Archives department hold slavery records dating back to 1635.

‘As we engage with these records and unearth the many stories in the current format and future state, it is believed that on the heels of republicanism a new national consciousness will emerge among our people which can only be done to the benefit of all,’ chief archivist at the Barbados Archives Department Ingrid Thompson told the Independent.

It is hoped that addressing the colonial past will lead to economic development creating jobs for the Barbadians in the cultural tourism sector. Tapping into the heritage economy also create opportunities for technological innovations, as museums around the world are already finding new ways to display history, giving Barbados a potential for knowledge export.

Marching the frontline

Heritage economy isn’t the only prospect of how Barbados potentially can become a heavy lifter globally. There’s a solid democratic foundation supporting the young republic, which could make them a beacon among the island nations of the Caribbean Sea.

With low levels of corruption, Barbados ranks well on Transparency International’s corruption index, currently placing 29th out of 179 countries – a score better than the likes of Spain, Portugal and South Korea. Barbados score is the best in the Caribbean, although closely followed by the Bahamas.

In an opinion piece published at the Guardian, senior adviser at Intelligent Sanctuary Kenneth Mohammed states that ‘Barbados can learn a lot from the mistakes of Trinidad and Tobago,’ which has experienced several corruption allegations surrounding the presidential role since turning into a republic in 1976.

‘Barbados can be a beacon in making the president’s role more meaningful and relevant, ensuring strong institutions, and overseeing the fight against corruption. With presidential oversight, an independent, forthright, anti-corruption agency, supported by effective legislation, and a diligent and expert financial intelligence unit, can remove incentives for bribery and kickbacks within public services, police, parliamentarians and the office of the prime minister,’ he writes.

Surely, less corruption means efficient spending of public funds.

And with harsher conditions followed by climate change, Barbados will need to secure coastal zones for the sake of its people. Integrating political reforms prioritising structures that can counter, or provide shorter recovery times after extreme weather events will undoubtedly benefit the nation’s economic growth.

That is if Barbados’s government can follow through with prime minister Mottley’s words and prioritise climate change on the political agenda.

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The Postcolonial | Copenhagen | CVR: 41032421

Lasse Sørensen (Founding Editor-In-Chief)

Suvi Loponen (Deputy Editor)