As featured in Edition 39, available here.
BY LILY MECKEL (2nd year - Politics and International Studies - Frankfurt, Germany)
Who is She?
Dame Sandra Mason is the first-ever president of the island nation of Barbados, the world’s newest republic after having removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. This is a step towards cutting ties with the nation’s colonial past and transitioning from a constitutional monarchy to an independent republic. She previously served as Governor-General, a role appointed by the Queen, from 2018 until 2021 before being nominated as presidential candidate by the government of Prime Minister Mia Mottley and securing parliament’s vote in October of 2021. She officially took office on November 30th, 2021, making her the first president of Barbados on the date of the island’s 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.
Early Life and Career
Ms Sandra Mason was born in St. Philip, Barbados, in 1949. She studied at the University of the West Indies and subsequently obtained her law degree from Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago, being the first female Barbadian attorney to do so from this school. She also became the first woman admitted to the bar in Barbados before venturing into multiple career paths, working as a teacher, at a bank, as a magistrate, and as an ambassador to several South American countries, including Colombia and Venezuela. She also worked at the Supreme Court and became the first female judge to serve on the Court of Appeals before being appointed Governor-General in 2017, and elected president in 2021.
Whilst the position of president is largely ceremonial, having a Barbadian as the head of state is a statement of independence and self-governance after centuries of foreign influence from the UK. Barbados was a British colony for almost 400 years, from 1627 to 1966, and faced exploitation and oppression, with enslaved Africans brought to the island to work on sugar plantations. The island gained a reputation as a centre of the transatlantic slave trade under British rule. After Barbados declared independence, the Queen remained the head of state, retaining the role of making political appointments, such as ambassadors or the governor-general, which shows that despite the ceremonial role, Britain continued to exert influence even after 1966.
Significance of Current Position
The continued role of the British Crown beyond independence shows the removal of the Queen as head of state to not just be symbolic, but essential for self-governance. Barbados’ step towards becoming a republic has been a long time coming and follows the course of many other former British colonies in the Caribbean, including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica, and may see more to follow in the near future. In her swearing-in ceremony, Dame Sandra Mason reiterated Barbados’ first prime minister’s statement that Barbados should no longer “be found loitering on colonial premises”, and that the country needs to redefine itself on its own. Thus, her position as president is a step in reclaiming and redefining Barbados on its own terms, distancing itself from its colonial past and the monarchy.
Replacing the Queen with a president as head of state is a major step towards becoming a republic. Under Prime Minister Mottley’s plan, the creation of a new constitution at the start of 2022 is up next. As for now, Dame Sandra Mason’s appointment as president comes at a time of economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with tourism, one of the main industries, and other sources of revenue disrupted. Effects of the climate crisis and labour shortages are among other issues the country is grappling with. What is now certain is that Barbados will be led into a new era, by both a female Barbadian prime minister and president, as an independent republic.
Image: Flickr (Prachatai)