One of the attributes of a middle income country is a rising middle class seeking the comforts of life, while the poor mass up at the fringes picking up crumbs from the table of the well to do. Barbados today is a place that can boast of a high cost of living, expensive restaurants, expensive private schools, failing public schools – and unrelenting political bigotry that is leading to its demise.
It is not uncommon to hear Barbadians say proudly that Barbados has a growing middle class and by extent I call it a “middle income country” (MIC). I believe that as a middle income country we are expected to live by certain standards. However, I quickly remind myself that this title of “middle class” was imposed by some foreigners sitting comfortably in their leather-bound chairs at the World Bank headquarters in Washington.
A middle income country must have certain attributes. I believe that such a country must have a “well behaved” middle class. For countries in both the lower and upper middle income categories, the main issues may be “related to providing citizens with services such as water and electricity, curbing corruption, and improving governance”. On this basis, I am not sure if Barbados should even be considered a MIC. Curbing corruption and improving governance ideals are as real as the magnificent Pegasus of Greek mythology.
I think of Barbados as an “IMF baby”. Its political system is disguised as a multi-party democracy, except that in reality it is a two-party system underpinned by a lot of smaller parties whose existence raises more questions than answers. As such we are ever in a state of dependency. Marcus Garvey said, “ any leadership that makes you depend on another, is a leadership that will enslave you.”
The Barbadian middle class, or call them the political elite, thinks it is growing, but I argue that it is ‘stunted’. In the case of Kenya, Dr Willy Mutunga, former Chief Justice, described the middle class as “stunted, self-absorbed and unable to build a just, equitable, peaceful and prosperous society that guarantees material resources to all its citizens.” Dr. Willy must have been speaking about Barbados as well.
The Barbadian middle class – which is located in the civil society, the legal fraternity, the state and civil bureaucracy, media, intelligentsia and the Diaspora – is doing all it can to maintain its place in society where affluence and wealth compete in equal measure with inequality and deprivation. As Mutunga said to the Kenyan elite, and I say of our own political elite, “ grow up and cease your superficial dramas and look past your noses to see that your theatrics have far-wider reaching consequences that affect millions of lives.”
Talk to any ordinary Barbadian, and what you hear are regretful moans about the poverty, elite corruption, white supremacy, abject classism, educational classism, political vigilantism and the rise of youth gangs (violence). These are toxic for any country, and the elite who create and at the same time are also beneficiaries of this conundrum should be worried.
Policemen and women, politicians, traders, doctors, and indeed all citizens have their images trashed by people whose understanding and solution creating ability, relating to issues such as the above mentioned are at best vague. However they have been licensed by their parties to behave as if there are no laws and no one else to consider but themselves.
Recently in Barbados, gang and youth violence have been on the rise. When asked by the public what can be done to curb this, politicians often spew the promise, “we will find you jobs”. Where are the jobs? Plus, is this the response to criminal behaviour? State institutions have lost respect, and institutions such as schools are now accomplices to this problem rather than the solutions.
The media is no better. Political interests have found expression in the contributions of media institutions. It would seems that the media in Barbados is used to dumb down the masses with a lack of pertinent information being published, no investigative journalism and poor reporting. Aiding to this, radio stations continually numb the brains of the youth with violent and lewd music 24 hrs. a day.
It is my personal opinion that the elite have created a toxic atmosphere in which it is difficult to know who or what controls the country.
Everything points to one fact. That the Barbadian elite is refusing to learn the lessons of history. They have learned nothing to forget nothing.
This calls for the Barbadian elite, who now live in a “Middle Income Country”, to live by the rules of humanity and ensure that Barbados does not implode. It is also the time for the elite to grow up and behave like responsible citizens. Responsible citizens, good people who are their brothers and sisters keepers.
If we continue along this path, no one can predict the future. Lessons in our own history have a lot to teach us. History teaches that citizens tend to rebel when they are fed up with being taken for a ride. History also teaches that a caring and responsible middle class can make a difference.
Writing about the Kenyan cases, Mutunga had this to say: “Competition for political power has become an industry for the elite. Within the national strategic plans and visions lurk personal plans and visions of the elite on how profits will be made, resources raided, wasted, pillaged, and grabbed, so billions are generated so they can buy the next election”.
The one million dollar question is, will the Barbados elite ever learn from the lessons that history offers us with the existing status quo?