MUCH of the Bahamas is stuck in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. During their three terms in office, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and the FNM did much to reform and modernize a backward-leaning and mostly paralyzed state creaking with crumbling infrastructure and dying ideology.
We’re on the run again. A key reason for this is a deficit of vision among the country’s elites, including the political directorates of both major parties, who have little guiding philosophy or compelling agenda for a 21st century Bahamas.
Dysfunction and entropy are like a marauding army of rust and mold that quickly and easily conquer due to lack of maintenance or renovation.
After lamenting to a friend that yet another utility had gone out, he playfully and mischievously replied, “You can’t expect to have all your supplies on in the Bahamas at the same time.” As of last week, a friend’s landline has been turned off five times this year and counting.
We are not alone in this state of decay. Yet a number of other small developing countries in the Pacific and Caribbean are pressing ahead with development and modernization agendas, while here at home we seem confused and uninspired about how to tackle our national councils and falling standards.
Economic growth has been a major challenge for successive governments. A recent report by Standard and Poor’s (S&P) advised: “Despite good growth over the next two to three years, our assessment of the sovereign’s creditworthiness reflects its below-average, long-term growth performance compared to others at a similar level of development.”
Last September, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley was the opening speaker for the Kofi Annan Lecture Series. Mottley is in her second term as head of government, having initially become prime minister of her country, which was beset with serious economic, infrastructural and social problems.
She also serves as “Minister of Finance and Economy, with responsibility also for culture, security, public service, CARICOM and the development commissions”.
That she was chosen as the first speaker in the lecture series is testament to her gravitas on the world stage and recognition by others of what she has to offer the international dialogue on some of the most vexing and complex global challenges.
The event was co-hosted by the eponymous foundation named after the late former Secretary-General of the United Nations, the International Peace Institute, the Open Society Foundations and the International Crisis Group.
While Mottley clearly enjoys the limelight and global recognition, she is a work horse, not a show horse, known for her discipline and work ethic at home and abroad.
An avid reader and intellectual, she revels in political details and ideas. She likes good public relations, but she knows the difference between PR and substance.
Mottley was introduced at the lecture as an insurgent, an apt description of a leader running a domestic rebellion against some stagnation and low economic growth in Barbados.
She is also the leader of a global rebellion or “active rebellion” against the status quo, which includes an international financial infrastructure for the benefit of the world powers while unfairly hindering progress and economic justice in developing states.
During his lecture, Mottley spoke frankly and convincingly about the post-World War II imperialist order that still hampers the development of countries like Barbados.
She spoke diplomatically, historically and powerfully about how the rules of the world economic order, including blacklisting by the EU and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, are manipulated to maintain the self-interests of former colonizers.
Her deft style and charisma encompass aplomb and wit, deployed to great effect, including this teasing but pointed bon mot at the lecture: “Where have they found the money from the Russian oligarchs? It hasn’t been on the sunny shores of the Caribbean!”
Ms Mottley is confident and comfortable on the world stage, able to speak with the leaders of the G-7, with other small state leaders, academics, the heads of international organizations and various political experts. And at home, she easily returns to lecterns when talking to other Bajans.
As with any masterful rebel, Ms. Mottley understands the international terrain and has tremendous foreign policy chops. She has researched the challenges, which she explained in her lecture.
“Today, the world faces an unprecedented trifecta of interconnected crises: a cost-of-living crisis stemming in part from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic; a post-pandemic debt crisis in the developing world and climate-related disasters; and the climate crisis of melting glaciers and storms and droughts intensify.
“The situation is exacerbated by a tightening of monetary policy in developed countries and a strengthening of the US dollar. One in five countries is experiencing fiscal and financial stress.
“Unaddressed, there will be deeper difficulties, debt defaults, growing inequality, political upheaval and a delayed transition to low carbon.”
Prime Minister Mottley understands the effects of colonization on economic development and a national psyche. She understands that climate justice, greater economic justice in the global financial system, and movement toward republican status are inextricably linked.
While our political elites remain confused, reluctant or opposed to The Bahamas becoming a republic, Ms. Mottley understands the cultural and psychological power of republican status in the pursuit of more self-governance, independence and ongoing democratic reforms.
Writing in The Atlantic under the headline “The World’s Newest Republic,” Hannah Giorgis explains: “Technically, Barbados regained full sovereignty almost a year ago. But in reality, true independence is a process in the making.”
In our current process of democratic becoming, reform and progress, the Bahamas remains stuck, paralyzed and deeply lethargic! And we continue to fail to advance gender equality and marital rape legislation.
Prime Minister Mottley understands intellectually, philosophically and pragmatically the challenges facing Barbados and other Caribbean states like ours.
But as Forbes magazine explains, “However, what makes it so refreshing to listen to leaders like Mottley is that, in addition to highlighting significant challenges, she also advocates for practical measures.”
As a rebel, Mottley not only dissects the problems. She has concrete ideas for reforms, several of which will be in a subsequent column. She is currently working with French President Emmanuel Macron on ideas to reform the global financial infrastructure.
Ms Mottley is co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals Advocates Group. She was presented this year by the United Nations Foundation with the 2022 Champion for Global Change Award “in recognition of her exemplary leadership in the fight for a fair, just and sustainable world”.
She was described as having received the award for “promoting a bold economic and financial agenda that would not only help her country, but arguably all communities around the world that are vulnerable to climate change”.
Ms. Mottley is the leading regional leader and a global leader in climate justice. The public interest website ProPublica recently reported: “Barbados, the Caribbean nation whose prime minister, Mia Mottley, has championed the argument that small and developing countries desperately need debt relief and financing if they are to survive climate change, has struck a deal with The International Monetary Fund, which will make it among the first recipients of money from a new $45 billion resilience fund.
“Under the program, Barbados is set to receive $183 million in climate-focused spending. That’s money that Avinash Persaud, Mottley’s top economic adviser, tells ProPublica will be used to replace parts of the island’s drinking water system and to bolster its supply of fresh water in the face of climate-driven drought.
“Barbados’ current water infrastructure was built by the British more than a century ago and loses about half of the water it transports.”
In her vision for a small island developing nation in the 21st century, Mia Mottley thinks globally and acts locally to promote democratic reform, sustainable development, equality and social justice.