By Dwayne Wong (Omowale)
The people of Barbuda are concerned that the rebuilding process that is taking place on the island is being used as an opportunity to overturn the system of collective land ownership on the island. The government is working to push through a bill that will amend the 2007 Barbuda Land Act. Some Barbudans attempted to halt the discussions of the bill in parliament on the grounds that neither the Barbudan Council nor the people of Barbuda have been involved in the process, but the High Court refused to interveneon their behalf.
The people of Barbuda have been expressing frustration over being left out of the discussions concerning the future of their land. Moreover, there is also frustration that their concerns are being dismissed by Prime Minister Gaston Browne. Browne has described Barbuda’s communal land ownership as a “myth” and castigated people who were raising concerns about a land grab taking place in Barbuda as being “dunce elements”. Recently Senator Daryll Matthew similarly dismissed Barbuda’s communal land ownership as being “a farce and a fallacy.” Rather than engaging in the spirit of open and honest discussion, the prime minister and others in the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party have taken a very dismissive approach to the concerns being raised by the people of Barbuda.
Matthew continued on to explain: “Indigenous people are people defined in international and national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory and their cultural and historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant”. He argued that did not apply to the people of Barbuda because, as Matthew explained: “Our Barbudan brothers and sisters are just like we are here in Antigua. They are the descendants of the same slaves, from the same coast on Africa, came over on the same ship, who just happen to have been living in a different part of our nation”.
One could just as easily argue that Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians, Vincentians, and Haitians are also just like the people of Antigua and Barbuda in that they descend from the same slaves, come from the same coast on Africa, and just happen to live in different parts of the Caribbean, but that has nothing to do with the debate over Barbuda’s land. One has to understand that originally Barbuda did not want to form a unitary state with Antigua because the feared that what is happening right now would happen. They feared that they would be dominated by the larger island and that the government of Antigua would not reflect their interests. The concerns of the Barbudan people cannot simply be explained away by employing Black Stalin’s “one race from the same place” approach to Caribbean unity.
Keep in mind that as the debate over the future of Barbuda’s land is taking place, there are also still questions about the money that was collected for Barbuda’s relief and reconstruction. Barbudans are also demanding that the schools on the island be reopened. Fifty-three parents went so far as to write a letter to the director of education because they felt that restoring education services in the island is not being treated as a priority. Apart from the struggle that is being waged over the land issue, there are other battles that are being fought by the people of Barbuda as they work to rebuild their island.
Published on HuffPost on January 13, 2018