Prime Minister Arthur (third from right),Lord Mayor of Hull, Trevor Larsen,(second from right) and the Barbados delgation.
For the past 13 years, the Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur has been Minister of Finance and Prime Minister of Barbados. In the latter position, he has virtually held court here for most of that period. Indeed, to many of his close friends, staunchest admirers and die-hard supporters locally, he is the indisputable ‘Kingpin’ who bestrides the Barbados political landscape like the legendary Greek King Peleus.
But, over the last weekend, he assumed a new role, if only a temporary one, elsewhere. He was ‘King Arthur’ the centre of attention in the City of Hull, England, where he was not only holding court, but was holding forth at times too, and literally holding his own as he is apt to do. He held the spotlight and boldly refrained from holding his tongue whenever he was called upon to speak about his ‘beloved kingdom and loyal subjects’.
For those two days, no one could hold a candle to him, not even Britain’s affable and admired Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, or the gregarious and garrulous Lord Mayor of Hull, Trevor Larsen, who seldom holds his horses.
From wooing business executives and potential visitors to Barbados at a luncheon held in his honour by the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce and the British-Caribbean Chamber of Commerce, to a first-hand look at a modern community health care facility, and visits to environmental, tourism and cultural projects, Mr. Arthur held centre stage. By Sunday afternoon, mere hours after officially re-opening the prestigious and impressive Wilberforce House Museum, he was in church; this time to present the 2007 Wilberforce Lecture in the City of Hull. To all and sundry, he was holding sway in Hull, albeit transiently.
PM Arthur, the centre of attention at the Hull-Humber Chamber of Commerce Luncheon.
The high point of Mr. Arthur’s visit to Britain, however, was his presentation of this year’s lecture to commemorate the bicentennial of the passage of legislation in the English Parliament that abolished the British slave trade. During his hour-long address that held the attention of a packed Holy Trinity Church, he called on those who were at the heart of that ghastly crime against humanity (Britain) to go beyond that landmark piece of legislation in 1807 and address the issue of reparation to the descendants of former slaves.
He reminded his audience that “when slavery was abolished in 1833, over 20 million pounds was paid by the British Government of the time to the Caribbean slave-holders as reparations for the loss of their property.” Conversely, he stressed, “not a penny was paid to the former slaves.”
Mr. Arthur pointed out that he was aware that the issue of reparation, at least for the victims of the transatlantic slave trade and their descendants, had been a controversial one, and he suggested it need not be so.
He opined that it was not a matter of retribution, but one of morality, and stressed that “we need to bring equity to the emancipation process and closure to the criminal activity that was racial chattel slavery.
The cause being fought for reparation is not a mission of mendicancy. And, it is not unknown as a practice over time,” he noted.
In calling for the start of some kind of understanding and dialogue to take place, the Barbadian Prime Minister offered up some suggestions to deal with the problem and “build a partnership between the Caribbean and the United Kingdom in the same spirit of reconciliation, healing and social justice, with which we commemorate both the life of William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade.”
He went on and called for the setting up of a Fund, the William Wilberforce Educational Fund, to achieve a number of objectives that would benefit both sides. The proposed Fund, he recommended, “would become the centrepiece of a new programme for British/Caribbean cooperation that would go beyond economic and financial issues, that goes beyond security issues, that speaks to a social development that places a supreme value on cultural diversity and harmonious relations between people of different ethnic origins.”
Mr. Arthur, who is the first Caribbean Prime Minister to deliver the annual Wilberforce Lecture, received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his hour-long address and was presented with a Medal of Honour on behalf of the people of the Caribbean for their fight for freedom. It was presented by Claire Short M. P., herself a former Wilberforce Lecture presenter and medal winner.
As he crisscrossed Hull, attending to events and functions that would redound to Barbados’ benefit, he was never far away from his wife Julie and daughter Leah who accompanied him on the short trip to Britain.
Also in the visiting party were this country’s two top diplomats in the UK, High Commissioner Edwin Pollard, and his Deputy, Herbie Yearwood; Director of the Barbados Museum, Allisandra Cummins; Director of the Pan African Commission, Ikael Tafari; and the British High Commissioner to Barbados, Duncan Taylor.