Even BadGalRiRi endorsed Mia for PM. On the IG. With a Yes that had 9 Es and 15 Ss.
I couldn’t find a Bajan this week who was voting to put back the DLP. Or willing to admit to it. One colleague I never talked politics with volunteered weeks ago, without any prompting, that no travel assignment would keep her away from the polls, whenever the election date was finally called. For Barbadian friends who share any of my values, putting Freundel Stuart – and the Democratic Labour Party he had led since death made him Prime Minister in 2010 – out of office was without question.
The past five years had been an even rougher ride for Barbados’s citizens and economy than have the past two-and-a-half for Keith Rowley and us here. On Thursday voters removed the Government. From Parliament. From every seat.
To even the casual distant observer, the party’s campaign smelled slimier than any in the region I recall. Stuart dragged the announcement of the date out to the bitter end. Sewage lapped at the sands of Barbados’s beaches, as his drainage minister mounted the hustings to rage on about his long obsession with what happens between Mia Mottley’s legs. Denis Lowe had campaigned against his own party’s gender-neutral domestic violence bill, vowing it would pass over his dead body. He taunted a young lesbian activist who criticised him.
Perhaps inspiration for Tobago Secretary Carrington, he and a fellow MP called from the Parliament floor for Mottley and women on her bench to account for their fitness for office, because of their childlessness – a tactic questioned publicly by others in their own party. By election eve Lowe was calling Mottley a wicker. The last Speaker was asking her to declare her sexual orientation.
There was even public debate on whether Barbados was “ready” for a woman as prime minister.
Rihanna’s Instagram post came in this context. But there’s never been any real question about Mia Mottley’s merit or her considerable qualifications at politics and leadership.
What’s historic about her election as the only woman currently serving as a Caribbean prime minister is the kind of incisiveness, passion, thickskinnedness and engagement her election returns to Caribbean politics – along with big, grounded ideas about development that disappeared with our politicians’ imaginations not long after the Grenada Revolution.
These are qualities that rarely escape anyone who encounters her. In contrast to Keith Rowley’s irascible weariness, the leadership of which Mia is capable is something the whole region needs badly.
She’s not perfect. Indeed, the fact that her sexuality has been such a persistent focus of innuendo, instead of straightforwardness, has allowed rumours about sexual violence that have dogged her to remain mere matters of scandal and not accountability, in ways they might not with a male politician.
I met Mottley in Port of Spain just seven years ago, not long after her male parliamentary colleagues’ vote of no confidence in her as Opposition Leader had returned Owen Arthur to lead the party to another election defeat. Those two years had freed her up to travel and engage in more regional work.
“Leadership is more than being a head of government” and “sometimes that means being ahead of your population.”
She had just concluded, in her countertenor voice, the casual, unscripted delivery of a poignant, detailed speech she is well-known for at home. Her remarks, nominally about ending HIV, repeatedly challenged us to account for ourselves as Caribbean people, who have always “punched above our weight":
“What kind of society do we want to build? What kind of children do we want to raise? And what do we have to show for having had control of our nations for two generations since Independence?” she asked, reminding us of unique lessons “this small basin” has to teach the world about “building tolerant societies;” urging us to follow our decades-long struggles, first against slavery, then for independence, with a third, for universal human rights in the region – to protect our own.
I called the remarks one of the most cogent things to happen at the series of regional gatherings that have become well-known as a key way we spend HIV money in the Caribbean. A radio station here broadcast the entire speech the next day.
As the first politician I heard deploy the phrase for the region’s chronic “implementation deficit disorder,” challenges ahead for Prime Minister Mottley are enormous. Barbados faces a return to the IMF, and her party has made significant campain promises, including reinstituting free tuition at UWI. But few could bring the talent she does to the job.
And as Sat Maharaj fights to bar hijabbed teachers from Hindu schools, and evangelical Christians parade Port of Spain clamouring for their faith’s values to be made law, that Caribbean voters put to rout a party that put sexuality over governance gives me hope.