A time for national introspection
Guardian News Editor
Published: Jun 10, 2013
The countdown to the 40th anniversary of independence has started. It has met the nation still bitter and broken just over a year after a dog fight at the election polls.
Last month on my Facebook page, I opined, "The greatest hindrance to our national, social and economic development in these 40 years as an independent state has been blind, emotional allegiance to party politics.”
The response to the statement was significant.
It got me wondering how near we are to the vision shared by those great men and women in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s who dreamed of a Bahamas with great economic and educational advancements.
Our 40th anniversary comes at a time when many Bahamians are gripped by the fear of crime. We are a free people, yet we need more bars on our homes.
Many of us have adjusted our lifestyles in response to crime. We worry about a country that continues to go in the wrong direction.
Our political leaders appear bankrupt of ideas; our religious leaders cherry-pick their issues to the detriment of our society.
Our country, of course, is not a failed society, but it has gone off course.
“I am saddened by crime,” said former minister A. Loftus Roker when asked recently whether he is satisfied with the progress we have made since July 10, 1973.
“I am saddened by the fact that leaders are not leading, on all levels. Sir Lynden [Pindling] unfortunately will go down in history as the greatest leader this independent country has ever had.”
Asked why he considered this to be unfortunate, Roker told National Review, “The leaders who have come after him should have been better. In fact, he would expect us to be, but we are not.”
We have had several decades of stable, democratic government — among our most significant achievements — but we have yet to attain economic independence, a Bahamas where Bahamians in large numbers have ownership in their economy. Bahamians survive from tourism, yet we are not owners of our tourism product.
This and a failing education system ought to be viewed as the greatest disappointments for us as an independent state.
We are producing thousands of unskilled graduates who must find their way in a climate of low employment. Drive through some inner-city communities any day of the week and any day is a Saturday. Many young people are lacking in ambition, and options.
At last reports, unemployment among people 15 to 24 continued to be considerably higher than any other age group, standing at 30.7 percent.
If they are lucky, they would land a job on a road project or somewhere in the tourism sector where the jobs are in high demand. Our one and only hope for economic progress at this juncture is Baha Mar.
We are grateful for Baha Mar but we desperately need diversification. Our fiscal problems remain profound. We have today a national debt in the neighborhood of $5 billion.
Forty years in, the story of the struggle is lost on the average young Bahamian. Our culture is under threat from various influences and our leaders have not made it a priority that the story is told, repeatedly, on every level in our schools.
I recently asked Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes his thoughts on this.
“We have not been good at telling our story and acquainting young people, getting young people involved in their heritage and different aspects of their culture,” Sir Arthur said.
“For instance, if we have pride in our culture, if we understand who we are as a people and why we are who we are, our young people would not want to imitate the low end of other people’s culture”.
What we lack 40 years after independence are more Bahamians with pride. This is reflected on many levels. After most holidays, we at the newspaper are often sent photographs of dirty beaches, with mounds of trash. Embarrassingly, these photos are often sent by people who are only visiting The Bahamas, and are shocked by the actions of some native Bahamians.
Nassau still has its charm, but as a whole, New Providence is a dirty place. I am always amazed to see old television sets and appliances dumped indiscriminately on the side of the road, less then a mile from the City Dump where it costs but a few dollars to dump this garbage where it should be dumped.
We have a lot to work on.
Sadly, it is likely that politics will overtake these “celebrations”. We have seen partisanship at national events for a long time.
An email sent to the hierarchy of the Free National Movement last week by one senior member of the party and forwarded by a party member to the media revealed that the opposition had made a decision to boycott the flag raising ceremony last week that kicked off the celebrations.
The email came after the FNM decided it would not wear red on Labour Day as it had done on the annual parade for many years.
“I understand the FNM has taken a new approach to celebrating Labour Day by abandoning the organization and has encouraged our members to hide our party affiliation by putting down our red shirts and flags and to adorn the attire of participating workers' groups in the belief that such bi-partisanship will advance our ‘collective’ goal of building one nation,” wrote Aaron ‘Kiki’ Knowles.
“This decision is both hilarious and duplicitous. This false posture of bipartisanship flies in the face of the party’s most recent decision to boycott the flag raising ceremony held last evening in Rawson Square. The FNM, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, was absent, by choice. So much for bi-partisanship.”
If this indeed was the posture taken by the Official Opposition then the expectation of national unity for our 40th anniversary of independence is diminished.
Up to this point, the committee established to plan the celebrations has done little to create excitement in the lead-up to July 10.
While the decision to feel pride in country is ultimately a personal choice, the government may be challenged to promote a national spirit of oneness at this time. Too many people are hurting. Too many will never see past partisanship and too many are disillusioned by high crime, and gripped by a sense of hopelessness that accompanies high unemployment.
But let me note here that despite the challenges and the looming threats, our achievements are noteworthy and numerous.
While we do need to expand and diversify our economy, our GDP has recorded healthy growth over the decades, and our tourism product and our per capita income remain the envy of many in the region and indeed the world.
Our primary industry has kept us going throughout the decades. Islands across the archipelago have been electrified and most of them benefit from the latest in modern technologies.
There have been massive infrastructural upgrades in the islands, though the government remains challenged in making much needed capital improvements in some areas.
Though a tiny nation, The Bahamas has become a powerhouse for sports on the international stage.
Our institutions established since independence — The Central Bank, the National Insurance Board, The College of The Bahamas and the Defence Force — have been important to the backbone of an independent nation.
The college will soon have a vacancy for the presidency, and we hope it will be filled by a Bahamian. It is time for Bahamian leadership once again at our primary tertiary institution.
I asked a colleague yesterday whether he thinks The Bahamas is a better place today than in 1973. He responded, “It depends on who you are.”
In his farewell address to Parliament last year (which he never actually delivered but which remains an important reference on the FNM’s accomplishments in office), Hubert Ingraham remarked that, “The Bahamas is a different and a better place than it was when I first entered those chambers” in 1977.
Ingraham said that during his 35 years in the House he was “in a hurry to modernize and transform our Bahamas”.
The multiple struggles we face and the scars of embarrassing episodes in our past must not be allowed to completely overshadow the accomplishments of which we should be proud.
We must find something to celebrate. But we must use this as a time to look deep within our national soul, and find healing.
“We have made tremendous strides, and I like to say that the height you reach is not determined by how high on the ladder you have gotten, but by the depths from which you have come,” opined George Smith, who in December 1972 was among the group of Bahamian men who signed our constitutional agreement with the British.
“We haven’t made the strides, we haven’t built as well on what we did from ‘67 to ‘73 to ‘93. We haven’t built from ‘93 to now, as well as we ought to have. It’s almost as if we got kind of sidetracked...But there isn’t any problem in The Bahamas that can not be corrected and made better.”
With all our strides, we continue to be haunted by a very dark and painful moment in our history as a people.
In his book ‘Pindling: The life and times of the first prime minister of The Bahamas’, biographer Michael Craton noted that the years 1983 to 1985 were the “most difficult and disappointing” of Sir Lynden’s career because the drug trade was allowed to flow unabated for so long.
“At the very least, the government and its leader were slow to pick up the seriousness and ramifications of the problem,” Craton wrote.
“To the Opposition, of course, they were held guilty of complicity.”
Some observers believe that we are today still suffering the negative effects of that period.
I believe that if we do not begin to move in the right direction with the right kind of national leadership and national commitment from the citizenry, our achievements will continue to be eroded and taken over by the darkness of regression.
We must never lose hope though in the kind of nation we could have, but it cannot be achieved with ongoing blind, emotional allegiance to party politics.
Bahamians have always demonstrated remarkable resilience through the years, noted Sir Arthur.
“We have great challenges today with our young men, for instance, leaving school, but we’ve had challenges in the past and our ancestors had higher mountains to climb and wider rivers to cross than confront us today,” he said.
“So I have no doubt that all of these challenges we will meet and that we will continue to be one of the best little countries, if not the best little country in the world.”
|Last Updated on Monday, 10 June 2013 16:32|