Last year Trevor Walker of the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) defeated Arthur Nibbs of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP)in the general election. Last week the ABLP party suffered another electoral blow in Barbuda where the BPM candidates swept the ABLP in the Barbuda Council elections. The last two electoral defeats for the ABLP have been a clear indicator of the dissatisfaction that the people of Barbuda have with the with way that the ABLP is handling Barbuda’s recovery since the island was hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
As I mentioned in a previous article, Barbuda’s recovery has been moving very slowly. Moreover, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has expressed little regard for the concerns being expressed by the people of Barbuda. Despite the obstacles that the people of Barbuda have been confronted with, they are continuing to fight to protect not only their land, but their tradition of communal land ownership which is being threatened by Browne’s government.
The story behind Barbuda’s communal land ownership is very unique. Land in Barbuda has been communally owned since slavery was abolished in 1834. In contrast to Africans in other Caribbean islands, the Africans in Barbuda were able to retain the African tradition of communal land ownership. Citizens in Barbuda do not own the land, but can apply to the locally-elected council to use the land. The land may also be leased as well with the approval of the majority of Barbudans, but foreigners cannot own land. One report noted that effect of this practice of communal land ownership is “that each Barbudan has a right to a plot for a house, a plot to farm, and a plot for commercial enterprise.” The communal ownership if land was written into law in 2007. The Barbuda Land Act states that “all land in Barbuda shall be owned in common by the people of Barbuda” and that “no land in Barbuda shall be sold.”
Prime Minister Browne has expressed a very clear disregard for Barbuda’s long-held tradition of communal land ownership. Browne described Barbuda’s tradition of communal land ownership as a myth and described the 2007 act as being unconstitutional.
Despite suffering the impact of Irma and struggling against an indifferent government which seeks to dismantle Barbuda’s communal land ownership, the recent election results demonstrate that the people of Barbuda are resisting and continuing to fight for their rights. The resilience of the Barbudan people is perhaps best summed up in this editorial:
And so it went: an international airport being built in Barbuda for rich, powerful, foreign interests, while the poor people of Barbuda were left to scratch and scrunt to survive. What kind of government does that to its own people? Not to mention the frequent reference to our Barbudan brothers and sisters in the diminutive and the awful insults.
But this thing called ‘karma’ is a word that rhymes with ‘witch’ and it is a helluva thing! Apparently, Bahamas Hot Mix (some say Bahamas Hot Mess) has pulled up stakes and hightailed it out of Barbuda. Apparently, the geniuses who gave the green light to build the new airport failed to take into account the labyrinth of caves beneath the surface. A great deal of Barbuda is made mostly of limestone and ‘neath much of the surface lies scores of caves and vast water catchment. These have given rise to many wells which provided Barbudans with water for centuries. Of course, many old-timers in Codrington are wagging their heads and saying, “We could have told you so!”
Meanwhile much like the famed Phoenix, Barbuda is rising from the ashes. Again, despite this central government. True, there are still a number of persons living in tents and true many are still without electricity in some areas, but Barbuda is coming back. This is a testament to her sense of community and kinship and her resilience and fortitude. She took a direct hit from Mother Nature and a dastardly blow below the belt from the worst in Mankind, but she is still standing. We salute her!
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.