Barbados removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a republic on 30th November 2021. Dame Sandra Mason, governor-general since 2018 was named by the parliament as president elect of the new republic. General elections are constitutionally due in 2023, but can be called as early as next year.
A well-placed public sector official in Barbados commented, “To fully transition, the process will take over a year – including reviewing the Constitution, looking at our legislation and how we can really develop an inclusive Barbados that can serve the needs and benefit all.”
Republicanism in Barbados has been a recurrent subject since the country’s independence in 1966. Although the population was never significantly interested in the matter, the decision announced by the government in October 2020 received widespread approval. Notably, the announcement was made on the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, when the government removed the statue of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson, in an attempt to leave the island’s past behind.
Several other countries in the region have transitioned already such as Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, while others such as Jamaica and St. Lucia have indicated that they may well follow suit.
But what does all this mean for Barbados? Relations with the UK are not expected to change and the country intends to remain part of the Commonwealth, so what was the point?
The public official replied, “Many young people in Barbados have the same question, but for most people it is about removing Barbados from this slave mentality and giving people a feeling of hope and strength. Others complain that the country doesn’t benefit from its affiliation with the UK, during the pandemic we did not receive any medical aid or vaccines or any kind of tangible support. I don’t see any negative impact for business or the economy and the UK has made it clear that they are supportive, so nothing will change.”
“For most people it is about removing Barbados from this slave mentality and giving people a feeling of hope and strength.”
Public official, Barbados
“We’ve been kicking this can down the road for 55 years,” explained an executive at a large tourism company in Barbados, “it was the next logical step following our independence fifty years ago. The Queen only had a ceremonial role anyway and this is about the aspirations of the younger generations, who now see a Barbadian as President. Otherwise, I can’t really see what political or economic benefits will result from becoming a republic. There might be some people who will switch political allegiances, but that’s it.”
“We’ve been kicking this can down the road for 55 years, it was the next logical step following our independence fifty years ago.”
Executive, tourism company, Barbados
Ultimately, this is a show of strength, leadership and vision by Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her Barbados Labour Party who, with weak opposition, enjoy widespread support in the country. “Usually a party stays in power for two terms on average and then it changes,” explained the public official, “this government could potentially break records in that respect.”