Prior to Antigua and Barbuda gaining its independence from England it was very clear that the people of Barbuda did not want to form a unitary state with Antigua. Among the concerns that the Barbudans expressed was the possibility that they would be exploited and poorly governed by Antigua. The Barbudans also expressed concern about their land being bought and exploited. This information is relevant given the current situation in Antigua and Barbuda in which the government is seeking to overturn the system of common land ownership in Barbuda.
Currently the Barbudan people are protesting against the attempts that are being made by the government to undermine the Barbuda Land Act of 2007. According to Prime Minister Gaston Browne the act is “unconstitutional.” He has also described Barbuda’s system of common land ownership as being a “glorified welfare system.” Much of Prime Minister Browne’s comments about Barbuda’s system of common land ownership has centered on Barbuda being too dependent Antigua. The prime minister even went so far as to describe Barbuda as a “giant welfare island”.
What is interesting about Prime Minister Browne’s statements about Barbuda’s reliance on Antigua is that he is not seeking to make Barbuda self-sufficient or self-reliant. Instead, he is seeking to turn Barbuda into a tourist attraction. Antigua’s economy is reliant on tourism, with tourism accounting for about 70 percent of the nation’s GDP. Antigua and Barbuda has been reliant on tourism for many decades now. Tim Hector, a prominent Antiguan journalist and political activist who died in 2002, once lamented: “The country is not really ours. It’s just here for the tourists.” If the issue is dependency then why not put forward policies to diversify the economy of Antigua and Barbuda so that the nation would be less dependent on foreign tourists? Granted, as I have written about in One Caribbean and Other Essays, breaking away from a dependency on tourism has not been an easy task for many Caribbean islands, but if Prime Minister Browne is seriously concerned with dependency then he should begin with that issue first.
The issue then really is not a matter of Barbuda’s dependency, even though Prime Minister Browne tries to frame it as such. The issue is doing what is in the best interest for the people of Barbuda. The prime minister has defended his position by claiming that he is seeking to empower the people of Barbuda, but I have yet to see anything on the part of the prime minister which suggests that he is willing to engage in a serious discussion over Barbuda’s recovery and development. As I explained in my open letter to the prime minister, he has expressed a very dismissive attitude towards the people of Barbuda. In fact, one of the objections that was raised by Trevor Walker, the leader of Barbuda People’s Movement, was that the government has not consulted with the Barbudans over this issue. At the moment Prime Minister Browne’s behavior is not only failing to empower the Barbudan people, but it is also confirming the initial concerns that the people of Barbuda had about forming a unitary state with the larger island of Antigua in the first place.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook.