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Ever since Barbados transitioned from a parliamentary constitutional monarchy,  declared itself a Republic, and swore in Dame Sandra Mason as President in 2021, there have been more and more calls for Jamaica to do the same. For some, this call is not new. For years since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, some activists have been calling for a more complete and comprehensive independence.

Self Determination.  A worthy aim for any nation, especially considering that at present the soon-to-be coronated King Charles III is technically still Jamaica’s Head of State. Though largely a ceremonial role, he does have a Governor General in place as is the case in other former British colonies. Furthermore, The Privy Council ( the Caribbean Court of Justice notwithstanding), established in England in 1833,  is still Jamaica’s highest court of appeal, effectively our Supreme Court.

But an independent republic is more than just a nominal change. It could mean wonders if we understood why it is important.

First, I am writing this article in part because of a headline I saw in the Jamaican Observer a few weeks ago.  “Defend Meghan Markle” it said in bold letters. Others later claimed that her supposed mistreatment was one reason that Jamaica should finally go ahead and embrace being a republic.

I want to say that there are a million reasons for being a republic but the alleged mistreatment of an American actress and her British Prince is not one of them.  Whatever this couple actually endured is not for me to say …only that if our focus is on them and not on US and our history, then we have missed the mark.  Whatever happens to them, (and I do wish for them and their children all good things), I think they will be fine. Prince Harry’s trust fund from his mother alone is over  US$10 million.  Their deals with Spotify, Netflix and Penguin books reportedly run into hundreds of millions of dollars.  These deals, as far as I can tell, are for the purpose of telling their story from their point of view. Others say it is to dish dirt on the Royal family because the likelihood is, no one is buying these books or watching these programs to learn about Harry’s service in the army.  Members of the public want to look behind the Royal curtain and see what there is to see- if only from one perspective.

So forgive me if I don’t think that their experience is a reason for Republicanism.

As I said, I can think of a million reasons, but for brevity’s sake, let me give three good reasons, and may these three help to convince the powers that be AND the people of Jamaica that self-determination is our destiny.

  • To strengthen the Call for Reparations

The British, pushed by Black and white abolitionists as well as freedom fighters like Sam Sharpe, abolished slavery through the Slavery Abolition Act of  1833—but with a caveat. First, slaveowners in the British colonies would be allowed to keep the enslaved in a curious arrangement called “apprenticeship.”  This apprenticeship was virtually the same as slavery, but it allowed slaveowners to regroup and figure out their next steps in this brave new world. At the same time, more importantly, they were given 20 million pounds in COMPENSATION for each enslaved person they “set free.”

Yes, I said 20 million pounds for the slaveowner and zero for the enslaved.  Noted Trinidadian leader and author Eric Williams in his seminal book, Capitalism and Slavery, was one of the first to reveal this fact to the wider public.

In other words, Reparations for slaveowners but nothing for those who had been enslaved for hundreds of years.

So why a Republic? As a republic, Jamaica could continue to make the call for Reparations as it is doing through the CARICOM Reparations Commission and the Centre for Reparations Research led by Sir Hilary Beckles and Professor Verene Shepherd.  Jamaica’s role in these efforts would be amplified and strengthened as it would be making the case as a fully independent nation that understands that the travesty that took place back then has to be made right.  None of us can change what took place in the past but we can make amends in the present.  Furthermore, there would be even more opportunities to form alliances with other groups like the National Black Evangelical Association in the United States which is also seeking reparations for people of African descent.

  • To Advocate for favored nation trade status

Prior to 1998, Jamaica and other former British colonies enjoyed favored nation trading status with Britain based on our previous ties. But as Stephanie  Black’s brilliant film, Life and Debt, points out, this all changed when the World Trade Organization and the EU (led by UK Agriculture Minister) ruled against this arrangement.  Jamaica then had to fend for itself on the open market.

What difference did this status make? It meant that bananas from Jamaica would automatically have a market in Britain. As Black shows in the film, that is one reason why, at one time, small farmers and banana growers could pay school fees for their children, buy vehicles, build homes etc.  Once they no longer had exclusive access to the British market, they now had to compete with larger North American and South American companies (which by definition had the ability to subsidize parts of their operations in ways that the humble banana farmer of Jamaica could not.) This had a drastic effect on our economy and the income levels of our farmers.

And so today, we don’t have automatic markets for our farmers—not with Britain or with anyone else..in spite of previous and current ties. As a  republic, one of our first actions could be to advocate for a return to this favored nation status.

  •  To Address and rectify the status of victims of the Windrush scandal

I have written about this elsewhere as have writers Emma Lewis and Dr. Hilary Robertson HicklingAmelia Gentleman of U.K.’s  The Guardian newspaper broke the original story which roughly goes like this:  After World War 2 when Britain had to focus on rebuilding the nation, it welcomed thousands of Caribbean migrants – mostly from their colonies—because they were still colonies then, to come to Britain to work as bus drivers, nurses and the like.  They came on ships like the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948 and made a valuable contribution to rebuilding post-war Britain. After the countries they came from became independent, such as Jamaica in 1962, some got their citizenship papers but others were unable to in part because their original immigration landing cards were reportedly destroyed.  They worked hard,  paid their taxes, and raised their children to contribute to society, but they had outdated papers from a previous era.  This did not seem to be a problem until 2012 when a new policy literally called the “hostile environment policy” was launched by the UK’s Home Office.  This policy took aim at these former colonial residents/citizens and DEPORTED many to their former countries- places where many of them had not been in decades.  In some cases, they knew no one there yet they had to leave their families behind in Britain. Some died waiting for this travesty to be reversed.  Eventually, (and here the Meghan Markle story does perhaps come in) around the time she was marrying Prince Harry, this scandal was exposed and the British government changed course and expressed regret and said they would rectify the situation. They announced that they would bring back these victims of the “hostile environment policy” and even pay reparations.

Sadly,  in spite of the advocacy of many brave Windrush campaigners in the UK, Jamaica, and elsewhere, that promise has not been fully kept. Many of those affected are still waiting.  They are still waiting to receive their British passport and passage BACK to  Britain should they choose to return. A great film that captures the pathos of this tragedy is called Sitting in Limbo.

Again,  as this situation shows so clearly, we have no favored status with Britain.  The ordinary Jamaican still has to make an application to the British embassy to request a visa which is in no way guaranteed, regardless of our previous or current relationship.  So once again, what do we have to lose in striking out on our own?

But there is another question that brings to mind the words of the iconic Caribbean group, Third world. They asked in their most famous song, “Now that we have found love what are we going to do with it?”

I ask: when we claim our Republican status, what are we going to do with it?

3 humble suggestions:

  • Let’s learn our history, ALL of it, including the history of slavery. Ironically, even King Charles has recently suggested the same.
  • Let’s create a national service program as I have advocated for previously and emphasize the core values of integrity, honesty, and patriotism.
  • Let’s love one another and treat each other well. Let’s not defraud each other as was recently done to Usain Bolt and others because no Republican status can make us love one other. That is a choice WE have to make.

Finally, self-determination does not have to mean an abandonment of the relationship with Britain. There are indeed many good aspects to that relationship.  It could, however, usher in a more equitable arrangement where we sit as equals at the table.  But one thing is for sure, it is not clear, other than nostalgia, based on these three reasons alone that Jamaica is fully benefitting from our current relationship with Britain as our Head of state.

So thanks, but no thanks, Harry and Meghan.  I wish you well, but we don’t need a fairy tale gone wrong story to give us a reason to claim Republic status.

We have many longstanding past and present reasons of our own.

File:Usain Bolt Olympics Celebration.jpg
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Anne C. Bailey

Professor of History, State University of New York

Author, The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History

Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity, Director

Governor of NY’s 400 Year Black History Commissioner

Green Team International NGO, Director


Image #1 courtesy of: User:SKopp, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bolt image by RIchard Giles; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0



Find Anne C. Bailey's non-fiction book : The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History on Amazon.

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