Unfinished business

OWEN ARTHUR, the former Barbados Prime Minister who has died at 70, left at least two dreams outstanding.

The first related to his native land. His proposal for a referendum on the removal of the British monarch as head of state never occurred. Six decades after independence, a governor-general still deputises for the Crown.

The second related to Guyana. He did not live to see the general-election impasse – which he closely observed this year in his capacity as representative of the Commonwealth – resolved.

Both tell us something about Mr Arthur’s place within the pantheon of Caribbean leaders.

His was an unusual career, in that Mr Arthur understood power, yet was unafraid to serve in opposition. He also set an example for the region in terms of the rational grounding of his governance policies.

Those policies bore fruit at the height of his power in the early 90s and may well turn out to be his most enduring legacy.

Owen Seymour Arthur was born in Barbados on October 17, 1949. He was raised in the parish of St Peter, to the north of the island, surrounded by white sand beaches and gentle terraces covered with sugar cane.

Though some might see this backdrop as idyllic, Mr Arthur’s pursuit of a first degree in economics and history hints at the ideological matrix that would inform the rest of his career. That career was one that came in the context of a nation – indeed a region, a world – still coming to terms with a colonial past.

Mr Arthur’s first two jobs in Jamaica, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus at Mona, then that country’s National Planning Agency, cemented his regional orientation.

His work on return to Barbados at the Ministry of Finance and Planning and then the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the UWI Cave Hill campus set the tone for his inter-disciplinary politics.

After some time in opposition, it was an approach that arguably allowed him to dominate the political landscape for several terms from 1994 onwards.

Unfettered by race dynamics, as is the case in neighbouring islands, Mr Arthur could steer the economy towards higher levels of agriculture and tourism, thereby slashing unemployment from 20 per cent to nine per cent by 2000.

Yet he was not infallible. The mood in Barbados changed in 2008 and Mr Arthur appeared out of step. His party was voted out. After a second spring in 2010, he twice stepped down as party leader owing to disappointing results.

But right up to the end, standing up to the administration of David Granger in Guyana, he proved his mettle as a true Caribbean leader.


"Unfinished business"

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