Dame Sandra Mason becomes first president of world’s newest republic – Barbados; Rihanna declared as National Hero

The world’s newest republic, Barbados, will end the long-standing British rule this week and the nation has almost unanimously elected Dame Sandra Mason to become the island’s first-ever president.

The nation was ruled by the British crown for almost 400 years before gaining independence in 1966, but Queen Elizabeth II remained head of state until today, when, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, Dame Sandra sworn in as the president, officially removing the Queen as the head of the state.

The overnight ceremony held in the capital Bridgetown took place on the 55th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain and marked the day the island officially became a republic.

Dame Sandra was the governor-general of Barbados, a position she was appointed to in 2017 and has served for almost three years.

Immediately after being sworn in, Dame Sandra reminded Barbadians of what made them strong as a people that brought the country through 55 years of Independence, and suggested what would be needed in its new capacity.

“I greet and join you this day in celebration of our nation, our people, and the future we now chart,” she said as she sat at the dais for a special celebration.

She noted that when Barbados became independent on November 30, 1966, the island was still seeking to find its national identity to stamp its place in the world.

“Today, we set our compass to a new direction, girded by the successes of the last 55 years, buoyed by the confidence garnered from our triumphs accomplishments, committed to country and each other, and motivated to press confidently and boldly forward for the sake of our nation, and for present and future generations.”

She said that as a republic, Barbados would stand on, and claim its traditions, heritage and patrimony, earned by the sweat of Bajan brows, and inherited from our forefathers.

“As we celebrate all that is good in us as a people and travel onward, we must avoid the trap of merely reliving, retelling and relying on our past achievements as a nation. Instead, we must seek to redefine our definition of self, of state, and the Barbados brand, in a more complex, fractured, and turbulent world,” she advised Barbadians.

Dame Sandra joins Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley in becoming one of two Black women to hold positions in the highest office in the country.

“Our president-elect who will be sworn in on Monday night, who was born in the parish of St Philip, is the person who will bring immense pride to every Barbadian boy and girl,” Mia Mottley declared ahead of the inauguration.

Few things to know about the new president:

  • In 1958, she left St. Catherine’s Primary School and attended Queen’s College, where she successfully obtained seven GCE O Level qualifications and A Level qualifications in French and English.
  • In 1968, she started teaching at the Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. In 1969, she worked for Barclays Bank as a clerk.
  • In 1973, she earned her law degree from the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, making her one of the university’s first graduates. In 1975, she became the first Barbadian female attorney-at-law to have graduated from the Hugh Wooding Law School, Trinidad where she earned her certificate of legal education.
  • On November 10, 1975, she became the first female member of the Barbados Bar Association. From 1975 to 1976, she worked for Barclay’s Bank DCO in Barbados as a trust administrator.
  • In 1978, she started working as the Magistrate of the Juvenile and Family Court while tutoring in family law at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill.
  • In 1988, she completed a judicial administration course from the Royal Institute of Public Administration (RIPA) in London, England, United Kingdom.
  • From 1991 to 1999, she served on the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child. She was the vice chair from 1993 to 1995 and chair from 1997 to 1999. In 1992, she left the family court and became the first female magistrate from Barbados to serve as an ambassador to Venezuela. From 1993 to 1994, she served as Barbados’s ambassador to Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. She was appointed as chief magistrate for Barbados in 1994 and became the registrar of the supreme Court in 1997.
  • In 2000, she completed studies on alternative dispute resolution at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. In 2001, she completed a fellowship with the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and an advanced dispute resolution at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill.
  • In 2005, she was appointed as Queen’s counsel to the Inner Bar of Barbados. In 2008, she was sworn in as an appeals judge, making her becoming the first woman to serve on the Barbados Court of Appeals.
  • In 2012, she became the acting governor-general of Barbados for three days. On January 1, 2014, she first Barbadian to be appointed to membership in the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal, which operates among members of the Commonwealth of Nations to resolve issues concerning contract disputes. In 2017, she became the tribunal’s first female president and she was appointed a Dame Grand Cross in the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George and as the eighth governor-general of Barbados.
  • Her term as Barbados’s eighth governor-general started on January 8, 2018.
  • In September 2020, she announced government policy in the throne speech written by the government of Barbados’s eighth prime minister Mia Mottley, which stated that Barbados would become a republic, removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
  • On October 12, 2021, Mottley and Barbados’s opposition leader jointly nominated her as a candidate to become the first president of Barbados. On October 20, 2021, she was elected as the first president of Barbados. She was 72 years old when her term started on November 30, 2021.

Rihanna named National Hero

Barbadian singer, actress, fashion designer, and businesswoman Rihanna who was previously named ambassador to Barbados in 2018, received “the order of national hero.” 

“On behalf of a grateful nation, but an even prouder people, we therefore present to you, the designee, for national hero of Barbados, ambassador Robyn Rihanna Fenty may you continue to shine like a diamond and continue to bring honor to your nation by your words, by your actions, and to do credit wherever you shall go,” Mia Mottley said while conferring the honor to Rihanna.

[Image: nme.com | Getty Images]