Elections in Antigua and Barbuda are being held on March 21 and Prime Minister Gaston Browne is already promising a landslide victory like the one won by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell in Grenada. Unlike Prime Minister Mitchell, however, Gaston Browne’s government is embroiled in a controversy that has been gaining international attention. This controversy is the ongoing fight for Barbuda’s land. After Hurricane Irma devastated the island and forced a complete evacuation, Prime Minister Browne has been working to dismantle the 2007 Barbuda Land Act, which enshrined into law the communal ownership of land in Barbuda. This is a practice that dates back to the end of slavery on the island.
Prime Minister Browne is expressing confidence that his party will be victorious, but others are seeing his decision to hold elections a year early as a sign of desperation. Recovery in Barbuda is moving very slowly and the people of Barbuda are rightfully upset that the government would wait until a natural disaster strikes the island to focus its energy on overturning the land act, rather than focusing all of its energy on recovery. Perhaps the worst part of this all is how dismissive Gaston Browne has been towards those who have raised concerns about what they see as a land grab taking place in Barbuda. Prime Minister Browne referred to such people as “imbeciles” and “dunce elements”. The people of Barbuda have essentially been shut out of the debate concerning the future of their own island.
Aside from the issue with land in Barbuda, there have been other issues with Prime Minister Browne’s government. In 2016 the prime minister suggested that government ministers, himself included, should get a salary increase. Keep in mind that Antigua is an island where many citizens have been feeling the pressure an increasing cost of living. The political opposition in Antigua and Barbuda has certainly not been shy about condemning the various scandals and controversies that the government has been caught up in. The opposition has also been predicting victory in the upcoming elections. Whatever the outcome is, these elections will have a significant impact on the future of communal land ownership in Barbuda.
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.