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Governance in Caribbean SIDS: The Impact of Colonial History and the Legacy of Slavery

Governance in Caribbean SIDS: The Impact of Colonial History and the Legacy of Slavery


July 9, 2024


Governance in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) faces unique and profound challenges, not only due to their size and isolation but also because of their complex colonial histories and the enduring legacy of slavery. These historical factors have indelibly shaped their societies, creating a governance landscape that is distinctly different from that of larger or more recently developed nations.

The colonial history and the legacy of slavery in the Caribbean have left deep scars that continue to affect governance today. These past injustices have shaped a society where social cohesion is low and distrust runs high. The common interest is often ill-defined, and past inequalities have been woven into the very fabric of social structures and cultural norms.

One of the most significant impacts of colonial history and slavery is the low level of social cohesion in Caribbean SIDS. The forced migration and enslavement of Africans created a deeply fragmented society. Different ethnic and social groups were pitted against each other, fostering an environment of mistrust and division that persists today.

This lack of social cohesion complicates governance because collective action and mutual trust are essential for effective policy implementation and community engagement. When people distrust their leaders and each other, it becomes exceedingly difficult to build consensus or mobilize communities around common goals.

Historical fragmentation also means that there is often no clear, unified vision of the common interest. Different groups within society may have divergent priorities and aspirations, making it challenging to formulate and execute policies that are seen as beneficial for the whole population.

In many cases, the legacy of colonial rule has left behind institutions and power structures that favor certain groups over others, perpetuating inequality and making it hard to define and pursue a genuinely inclusive common interest.

The inequalities established during the colonial period have become deeply embedded in the social and economic structures of Caribbean SIDS. These structural inequalities are not just economic but also social and cultural, influencing everything from education and employment opportunities to social status and political power.

These entrenched inequalities pose a significant challenge for governance. Efforts to promote equitable development and social justice must contend with these deep-rooted disparities, which can be resistant to change and may provoke resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

The primary challenge for governance in Caribbean SIDS is to elevate these societies above their historical legacies. This means addressing the low social cohesion, building trust, defining and pursuing the common interest, and dismantling structural and cultural inequalities.

Strategies for Improvement

  1. Building Social Cohesion and Trust: Initiatives that foster dialogue and understanding among different social groups can help build social cohesion. Community-building activities, inclusive policy-making processes, and transparent governance can gradually build trust.

  2. Defining the Common Interest: Engaging all sectors of society in a participatory process to define the common interest can help create a shared vision for the future. This requires inclusive platforms where diverse voices can be heard and contribute to policy formulation.

  3. Addressing Structural Inequalities: Policies aimed at reducing economic and social disparities are crucial. This could include reforms in education, healthcare, and employment practices to ensure equal opportunities for all. Promoting social justice and equity can help dismantle the lingering effects of colonialism and slavery.

  4. Cultural Change: Promoting cultural awareness and reconciliation can help address the deep-seated biases and prejudices that perpetuate inequality. Education and public awareness campaigns can play a significant role in this regard.


Governance in Caribbean SIDS must contend with the complex legacies of colonialism and slavery, which have left a lasting impact on social cohesion, trust, and equality. By acknowledging these historical factors and actively working to address them, these nations can develop more inclusive and effective governance structures.

Those interested in exploring these issues further and contributing to developing governance solutions should join our masterclasses and discussions. Register at

MIguel Goede

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