As the clock struck four this morning, Barbados became a republic.
Prince Charles rather awkwardly looked on as people paraded through the streets of Bridgetown towards the celebrations in National Heroes Square (formerly Trafalgar).
For the last 55 years since independence, the Queen has been the head of state of Barbados and was represented on the island by a governor-general. But in September last year the Barbadian government announced its plans to end the constitutional monarchy but retain its place in the commonwealth.
(Now president) Dame Sandra Mason said it was time to “fully leave our colonial past behind”, as “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state”. Others voiced pride that the time has come to shake off the “Little England” label.
Although discontent with a detached monarchy has been building for two decades, commentators have been questioning just how powerful other factors were in the decision and whether the island’s affinities are drifting from west to east.
China has been accused of orchestrating a concerted campaign to extend its reach and roots in the wider Caribbean. There are any number of motivations but the New York Times highlights the region’s strategic importance as a hub for logistics, banking and commerce, and of course, its proximity to the US.
Outlining how Beijing has been “buying up Barbados”, The Times detailed extensive investments in (or donations of) hotels, universities, stadiums, sewage systems, vaccines, patrol vessels, road rebuilding and homes for those displaced by hurricane Elsa.
China has also made major infrastructure offerings to other countries in the region including Jamaica. But we’ve seen instances elsewhere the kindness turns calculated, which may be a warning to heed. In 2018 Sri Lanka found itself unable repay Chinese loans and ended up surrendering a port.
Questions were put to prime minister Mia Mottley, who stunned global audiences with her impassioned speech at COP26, about whether Barbados was in essence “swapping one superpower for another”. Mottley refuted the suggestions, noting long standing relationship with China and arguing the island could be a “friend of all and satellite of none”.
More broadly, however, Barbados has decided that this archaic model doesn’t suit them anymore and the move should raise some interesting questions over here about how attractive ‘Global Britain’ really is.
One can’t help thinking future king Charles III is likely to see more flags fall on British sovereignty and with 14 overseas territories remaining, the foreign office is undoubtedly feeling jittery.
But Britain’s rhetoric on the end of empire looks hollow while it continues to refuse to decolonise Africa in direct opposition to international rulings. This is not a past but a very present problem.