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This Day for Africa – Barbados became independent from the United Kingdom

The first President of Barbados takes office on 30 November, 55 years after the country became independent from the United Kingdom and completing its transition to a republic.

The Caribbean island of Barbados was first settled in the 1620s, making it one of the earliest English (and subsequently British) colonies.

After forming part of the short-lived West Indies Federation in 1958, Barbados decided to become independent in 1966. The UK Parliament recognised this by passing the Barbados Independence Act 1966.

Section 5 of that act allowed the Queen, by Order in Council, to “provide a constitution for Barbados”. This took the form of the Barbados Independence Order 1966, which was laid before the Barbados Parliament on 22 November 1966 and came into force on 30 November. The Constitution of Barbados formed a schedule to that order. This was drafted by a Constitutional Conference comprising political parties in Barbados and the then UK Secretary of State for the Colonies.

At that point, Barbados chose to become a member of the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of independent countries. It also chose to remain a Commonwealth Realm, which meant the Queen became its head of state as “Queen of Barbados”. For the past 55 years, the Queen has been represented in Barbados by a Governor-General.

A movement for Barbados to become a republic began more than two decades ago. In 1996 a Constitution Review Commission was mandated to explore the appropriateness of maintaining Barbados’ link with the Crown. In 1998 it recommended that Barbados become a parliamentary republic.

In 2005, the country replaced the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final court of appeal with the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago. A referendum on becoming a republic was planned in 2008 but never took place. Finally, on 15 September 2020, the Government of Barbados announced its intention to cease being a constitutional monarchy, therefore removing the Queen as its head of state.

In a Throne Speech (the Barbados equivalent of the Queen’s Speech), the current Governor-General, Dame Sandra Mason, said the time had come for Barbados “to fully leave our colonial past behind”. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state,” Dame Sandra added. “This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.”

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