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BARBADOS | Son Of The Soil: A Tribute To The Late Owen Arthur

  • Written by BGIS
  • Published in CARICOM
The Rt. Hon.  Owen Seymour Arthur - fifth prime minister of Barbados -Son of the Soil October 17, 1949 – July 27, 2020. (BGIS Library) The Rt. Hon. Owen Seymour Arthur - fifth prime minister of Barbados -Son of the Soil October 17, 1949 – July 27, 2020. (BGIS Library)
Owen Seymour Arthur was born on October 17, 1949, and was educated at All Saints Boys’ School, the Coleridge and Parry School and Harrison College. He graduated from the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics, and, after working for a short time in Jamaica, he returned to Barbados. He soon after became an invaluable member of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). 

He was appointed to the Senate in 1983, and one year later, won the seat for the constituency of St. Peter. This would be the start of a political career that catapulted him to become an outstanding leader of Barbados, and a force within the Caribbean and across the world. 

In 1994, Mr. Arthur led the BLP to victory following a no-confidence vote in the then Democratic Labour Party government. He became Barbados’ fifth prime minister.

For the next 14 years, he presided over a period in which Barbados enjoyed an unprecedented period of economic growth, which resulted in a reduction of the unemployment rate. 

He strengthened the island’s financial sector through the introduction of initiatives such as the Enterprise Growth Fund and Fund Access; the growth of the international business sector; and the bolstering of the island’s tourism product.

He introduced the National HIV/AIDS policy; reformed the island’s education system; and introduced institutions that were aimed at developing the urban and rural areas of Barbados. 

Soon after becoming Prime Minister in 1994, he was thrust into the international arena when he deployed members of the Barbados Defence Force to Haiti as a part of Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY.  That United States-led operation was critical to returning stability to our CARICOM sister state. 

Caricom Heads of Government
Prime Minister Owen Arthur (seated centre) and CARICOM leaders and representatives pose for an official photograph at Ilaro Court. (BGIS Library)

His commitment to regional integration was unquestionable as he led the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. He was a key figure in establishing other mechanisms to deepen regional integration, and was one of the CARICOM leaders who demanded a modification to the US-driven Ship Rider Agreement.

Mr. Arthur was also among the leaders who were adamant that the CARICOM nations could successfully host the world’s third largest sporting event, the Cricket World Cup, in 2007.

Mr. Arthur possessed a passion for the beautification of Barbados’ public spaces. He supported Dame Billie Miller’s vision for the enhancement of urban Barbados, witnessed by the beautification of Bridgetown, Speightstown, Oistins, St. Lawrence Gap and the development of the Board Walk at Hastings.

He was also passionate about the conservation of the island’s heritage assets, and oversaw the overhaul of Barbados’ heritage tourism landscape. 

He established the National Heroes concept and set April 28, the birthday of the Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley Adams, as Heroes Day. In this initiative, he appointed two living National Heroes at the time, the Rt. Excellent Sir Frank Walcott and the Rt. Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers. 

Under Mr. Arthur’s stewardship, Barbadian community life returned to prominence, with the creation of the Community Independence Celebrations Secretariat.

Mr. Arthur was a visionary leader who possessed innate belief in Barbados’ potential as a developing state, and often spoke of moving the island from developing to developed status. For him, Barbados could achieve anything, and he approached his leadership with resolve and confidence.

He led the Barbados Labour Party to victory in the General Elections of 1994, 1999 and 2003. It was the first time since Independence that a political party had been successful at the polls in three consecutive elections.

Prime Minister Owen Arthur and Sir Gary Sobers
Prime Minister Owen Arthur chatting with National Hero The Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers. (BGIS Library)

In 2008, after his party lost to the Democratic Labour Party, Mr. Arthur relinquished his post as Party Leader. He subsequently returned to lead the BLP in 2010.  After an unsuccessful outing at the polls in 2013, Mr. Arthur once again stepped down from the party leadership.

After resigning from the Barbados Labour Party in July 2014, Mr. Arthur sat as an Independent Member of the House of Assembly, where his contributions to national debates took the form of those of an elder statesman. Almost four years later, in March 2018, he departed Parliament and elective politics.

In November 2018, the former Prime Minister took up the role of Professor of Practice: Economics of Development, a title conferred on him by the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies.

His diverse responsibilities included delivering guest lectures in economics and related fields, assisting with research projects, interfacing with international agencies on behalf of the Department of Economics and the campus, and providing mentorship to students of economics.

In January 2020, Mr. Arthur assumed the chairmanship of regional airline LIAT, a position in which he served until his passing on Monday, July 27, 2020. In April 2020, it was announced that he was serving in a number of key areas, including on the Jobs and Investment Advisory Council.

The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur will always be remembered for his uncanny knack to defy the odds; his belief in the ability of this island nation; and his passion for the regional integration movement.

Barbados Government Information Service

  • Countries: Barbados