November 27, 2021

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Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados is a force to be reckoned with

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Here is the video of Mottley’s potent address:

Here are some key highlights from her remarks posted to the Barbados government website

How many more variants of COVID-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide action plan for vaccinations will be implemented?  How many more deaths must it take before excess vaccines in the possession of the advanced countries of the world will be shared with those who have simply no access to the vaccine?

And I ask, how much more fake news will we be allowed to be spread without states defending the public digital space? We have come together with alacrity to defend the right of states to tax across the digital space, but we are not prepared to come together with the same alacrity to defend the rights of our citizens to be duped by fake news in the same digital space.

How many more surges must there be before the world takes action?  None are safe until all are safe.  How many more times, will we hear that?  And how much more must we do, Madam Vice President, before we get the global moral strategic leadership that our world needs? How much more global temperature rise must there be before we end the burning of fossil fuels? And how much more must sea levels climb, imperiling small islands [and] developing states like mine, before those who profited from the emission of greenhouse gases contribute to the loss and damage that they occasioned, rather than asking us to crowd out the fiscal space that we have for development to cure the damage caused by the greed of others?

How many more hurricanes must destroy, locust[s] devour and islands be submerged before we recognized that 100 billion dollars in climate finance are simply not enough? The answer, Madam Vice President, is that we are waiting for urgent global moral strategic leadership.  How many more crises must hit before we see an international system that stops dividing us and starts to lift us up? How many more times must we come to this podium and speak about the plight of the people of Cuba and Haiti and see very little being done to lift the floor of social development to give them the right to pursue their legitimate aspirations?  How many more, how many more crises and natural disasters before we see that assistance does not reach those who need it most and those who are most vulnerable?

How much wealthier must tech firms get? The top 5 tech firms have a market capitalization of 9.3 trillion dollars. I did not say “billion”, I said “trillion”. How much wealthier must they get before we worry about the fact that so few of us have access to data and knowledge and that our children are being deprived of the tools that they need to participate in online education?

You can also download the full transcript.

Mottley got far more coverage than most speeches made at the U.N. from smaller countries because she referenced the words of a hero of popular global culture: Bob Marley. 

Reuters’ headline was “Get up, stand up: Barbados leader invokes Marley to goad U.N.”; the Associated Press used less antagonistic framing but notably cut off her statement after the Marley lyric.

Mottley proceeded to rattle off a list of rhetorical questions, challenging the audience on a variety of topics from vaccine inequity to climate change to digital regulations for preventing fake news. She invoked Bob Marley at one point, asking: “In the words of Robert Nesta Marley, who will get up and stand up?”

There was, of course, a lot of reportage from Caribbean papers like The Jamaica Gleaner, however cultural publications like DancehallMag, who reach a much younger audience, also applauded her (and included the full Marley quote).

In her address to the United Nations on Friday, the straight-shooting Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley drew for the lyrics of Get Up, Stand Up, a song co-written by Reggae legends Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, as she rebuked the 76-year-old organization for being in a constant state of inertia.

Mottley’s address, propelled by the Marley/Tosh quote, has captured news headlines across the world.  It took place at the annual gathering of world leaders in New York, and was done in a bid to “spur meaningful action from the 193-member United Nations General Assembly on crises from climate and COVID-19 vaccines to poverty and education”.

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“In the words of Robert Nesta Marley. Who will get up and stand up for the rights of our people?”

Moving past the Bob Marley quote, how did Mottley rise to become Barbados’ first female prime minister? Her biography, posted at the Caribbean Elections database, offers some insight into her journey.

Mia Amor Mottley has lived a public life of firsts – first female leader of the Barbados Labour Party and the Opposition; first female Attorney General, a post she held for five years; and youngest ever Queen’s Counsel in Barbados. On 25 May 2018, Mottley become the eight Prime Minister of Barbados and the first woman to hold the post.

Mia Amor Mottley was born on 1 October 1965 in Barbados. Educated at Merrivale Private School (Barbados), the United Nations International School (New York), and Queen’s College (Barbados), Mottley subsequently obtained a law degree from the London School of Economics.

By 1986, Mottley was finalizing her training as attorney and received a law degree from the London School of Economics (Houghton Street, London, England). She is a lawyer by profession having been called to the Bar of England and Wales and in Barbados. She was admitted to practice in Barbados in 1987. Mottley is also admitted to practice in St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.

Caribbean Elections also notes that Mottley comes from a political family: Her grandfather, Ernest Deighton Mottley, was the first mayor of Barbados’ capital city, Bridgetown; her father, Elliott Deighton Mottley, was a consul-general, and her uncle, Ernest Deighton Mottley, was a leader of the Christian Social Democratic party (CSD).

Mottley is commanding in person and handles being on the global political stage with panache; as this clip from a recent August BBC interview illustrates, she doesn’t miss a beat.

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Here’s the full program.

As YouTube channel IgnoredVoices notes in the video’s caption:

Mia Mottley deals with an array of questions from Barbadian Nationals and a BBC interview alike with wit, sagacity, and even humour.As the nation’s economy is hobbled by the devasting loss of international tourism, one thing is for sure the first female Prime Minister in Barbados has a plan to get her island through.

At a time when the British royal family has been in the news quite a bit—from sexual assault charges against Prince Andrew to virulent racism from elements of the British press against Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex—what has been vitally important, from a Caribbean perspective, is that Barbados is scheduled to give the Queen the boot and become a parliamentary republic on Nov. 30, 2021.

The removal of Elizabeth II as head of state on the nation’s 55th anniversary of independence was announced in September 2020.

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The date for the transition was announced by Mottley in July, along with plans to replace Queen Elizabeth with a non-executive president.

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In August, the island nation’s first president was announced: Dame Sandra Mason.

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Francis Akhalbey, writing for Face2Face Africa, reports on Mason’s epic resume.

The 72-year-old holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree which she obtained from the University of the West Indies (Cave Hill Campus, Barbados) in 1973. She also obtained a Certificate of Legal Education from the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad, making her the first female Barbadian lawyer to graduate from the university.

Dame Sandra previously served as an ambassador to Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Brazil

Dame Sandra was the first woman to be called to the Barbados bar, Loop Barbados reported. She was also the first magistrate to hold an ambassadorial position and also the first woman to be appointed to the Barbados Court of Appeals. Dame Sandra was also the first Barbadian to be appointed to the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal.

Kudos to our Bajan sisters and brothers for having two Black women as leaders to face the challenges ahead! Join me in the comments for more on the island’s history and culture and suggestions for further reading.

Read the first installment of Caribbean Matters here.



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