Those of us who were of age when we became Independent in 1981, may remember the months and years leading up to that wondrous day in November of that year. As early as 1975, the Premier of Antigua and Barbuda, the Honourable George Walter, the leader of the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM) was suggesting that the time had come for us to sever ties with Great Britain. In fact, one of his campaign themes for the election slated for the following year was that we should VOTE GEORGE WALTER FOR ANTIGUA’S FIRST PRIME MINISTER. Seems, the notion of independence from Britain was an idea whose time had come, and many Antiguans and Barbudans were excited at the thought.
Yours truly was a high school student, and I remember the giddy days in the schools, where debates abounded, and one of the great topics was, IS ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA READY FOR INDEPENDENCE? Another topic was, WILL ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA BE ABLE TO MANAGE ITS OWN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENSE WITHOUT THE PROTECTION OF THE MOTHER COUNTRY? Of course, the timid and the weak of heart, the self-doubters and the anglophiles, suggested that we needed to stay under the British umbrella of Statehood in Association. The nay-sayers proffered all sorts of reasons – that we can’t trust our own leaders, that we will not be taken seriously in foreign affairs matters, and other such self-doubting nonsense.
Interestingly, the nay-saying argument that really rubbed this writer the wrong way was the one put forward by a young Lester Bird. He went all around Antigua saying that, “We are not psychologically ready for Independence.” He insisted that Independence in 1980 was “Not the right psychological time.” Good grief! As if a people who have been in bondage and under colonial domination need some sort of mental adjustment, some recalibration of their psyche, in order to be free. Whatever happened to BORN FREE? It was a cynical argument designed to provoke trepidation and angst in the people.
This was the same ridiculous argument put forward by the plantation owners in the West Indies in the years leading up to Emancipation in 1834. They suggested that the enslaved Africans were a wild and uncivilised people and that they needed to go through an apprenticeship period of up to seven years so that they could become accustomed to “the ways of freedom.” Sigh! They argued that the slaves would run amok with cutlasses and pitch forks, exacting revenge on the white plantation owners for years of rape, enslavement, brutality, humiliation and outright murder. They claimed to fear that bloodbaths would ensue on the islands.
Of course, their arguments were a diabolical ploy to ensure their source of cheap labour. Never mind that they demanded and received the total sum of twenty million pounds as compensation for the loss of their erstwhile free labour. Can anything be more satanic than that? Look at the huge ransom that the newly-freed Haitian people had to pay to France after they fought and won their Independence from them. If you recall, in 1825, barely twenty years after beating the French army, Haiti was forced, under the threat of all-out war, to begin paying unconscionable reparations to the French slaveholders that they’d defeated. We submit that a huge part of the crisis facing Haiti today, has its roots in the blacklisting of Haiti by the World’s ‘big powers,’ and the reparations that the Haitians had to pay for their freedom. It took them one hundred and twenty-two years to finish repaying the loan from the French banks – the equivalent of between twenty and thirty billion dollars in today’s money.
But we digress. Notwithstanding the greed of the slaveholders in demanding compensation, they invented all sorts of spurious arguments to keep the enslaved people tethered to the plantations. Similarly, notwithstanding the fact that we were ready, willing and able to seize our destiny and completely manage our own affairs as a proud, free and independent people, as early as 1976/77, Lester Bird and his ‘doubting Thomases’ spread the nonsense that we needed more experience in self-governance. So, in much the same way that the West Indian planters said that slaves needed to adjust their thinking before becoming ‘full free’, Lester Bird took a leaf from their playbook and used it to great effect, one hundred and forty-seven years later. The people believed his drivel. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) won the 1976 general election. They continued the dilly-dallying for another five years, then proceeded to take us into Independence in 1981.
By the way, the crippling self-doubt and mistrust of our own, still permeates us, and that manifested itself in the defeat of the referendum to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in November 2018. For shame! Seems, we still have a ways to go with our Independence.
In this regard, at this forty-first anniversary, it was quite heartening to note the legislative victory earlier this week won by Antiguans and Barbudans for Constitutional Reform and Education (ABCRE), when MP Trevor Walker of Barbuda moved a ‘Private Member Bill,’ proposing that Section 1 (27) of the Constitution be amended so that officers who are required to swear an Oath of Allegiance, do so to the Constitution, the laws, the State, and the people of Antigua and Barbuda, rather than the English monarch. Hurrah! The Bill made it successfully through its first reading, with all parliamentarians enthusiastically supporting it. It is an impressive and important victory.
So too will be the victory when we make the move to Republicanism, replacing the King’s representative, our Governor General, as our Head of State. The Governor General will be replaced by a President – someone who looks like us, and who hails from amongst us. Imagine these magnificent psychological victories, and how they will imbue us with national pride and self-confidence. The inferiority complexes that were so deeply ingrained in us on account of centuries of slavery and colonialism, will eventually be footnotes from our dark and dreadful past.
And the sooner the better. It was Barbados’ first Prime Minister, the late Errol Barrow who declared at the time of Barbados’ Independence in 1966, that the Barbadian people ought not to linger on colonial property after Independence. Instead, they should sever all ties with the colonial power as quickly and as cleanly as possible. Hear, hear, hear! We have been lingering for the last forty-one years on colonial property. Too long.
According to Barbados’ current Prime Minister, Constance Mia Mottley, via the then-Governor General of Barbados, Sandra Mason, last year: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian Head of State. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic . . . .” Hmmmm! May we be guided accordingly.
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