I’m proud to be a Bahamian, God gave this land to me …– Phil Stubbs, singer/song writer
The celebration of Independence Day has come to represent the essence of what it means to be Bahamian, with expressions of culture, patriotism and reflections on our national history permeating the atmosphere whilst also serving as an occasion for reconnecting with families and friends. That said, although our nation has progressed by leaps and bounds, we still have quite a ways to go.
As a 29-year-old, I am a part of that generation that was “born free”, that generation of Bahamians who were told so many of the great stories of the struggle for majority rule, equality and the pursuit of independence. However, I do not feel that we have yet emancipated our minds from political, economic and mental slavery.
Forty-one years later, I believe there are many aspects of our nationhood where we should have been much further ahead. We can hardly claim to be the deciders of our own destiny (particularly economically). Yes, 1973 was our watershed moment as a nation; however, even as we hoist the flag at various government offices, on our front lawns and car windows, we are still fighting to understand our culture, our identity and our heritage as a people.
Frankly, one would posit that whilst we celebrate our 41st Independence anniversary, that in and of itself should serve as a reminder that we have to fight and struggle to achieve real nationhood: that is, a nation where every man or child can achieve their full potential. As we celebrate Independence Day, whilst savouring the moment we must also see this as a serious time of reflection and a time of re-commitment towards making this a better country.
Indeed, on this auspicious day, we must pay homage to our forebears who no doubt sacrificed greatly in the march towards self-governance, Majority Rule and the birth of an independent Bahamas. As I have said in the past, I bask in the shadows of our foregone national heroes and all those unrecognised persons who contributed so much to our development as a country and, by extension, my development as a person.
Over the last 41 years, there has been vast infrastructural development and improvement throughout the Family Islands; the broadening of the educational system with the construction of schools; growth in the financial, legal and medical arenas; expansion of our social safety net programmes and, overall, a much more modernised society with a predominantly literate population.
However, it’s alarming to note that today more and more Bahamians are falling below the poverty line; after 41 years of self-rule, the naked truth is that we have yet to become self-sufficient, that we must learn to produce what we need as we illogically import 90 per cent of what we eat; we have developed and continue to rely on a two-pronged economy that has been in existence – undiversified – since the 1950s; much of the majority remains economically deprived and intellectually stymied; and corruption appears to be rampant at all levels of government.
In all these years, we are still plagued by the worst kinds of political tribalism; we elect governments who, time and time again, demonstrate a misunderstanding of the natural resources available at our finger tips, selling or leasing such resources or entire mining sites for a mere pittance.
When we talk about our achievements since independence, why have we limited ourselves to the point that we cannot cite our advancements and developments in science and technology, in manufacturing and producing many technical and industrial goods, in agriculture and marine resources, etc? Thus far, we have had four changes of government since 1973 and all went smoothly, without bloodshed! Yes, we have managed it very well, smoothly transitioning from one administration to another … however, we have only taken baby steps when, in the minds of many, we should have been much further ahead. We remain extremely vulnerable to varied external shocks and economic downturns.
Why does political tribalism continue to prevail to the point that if one is a PLP or an FNM, they simply cannot be hired or is automatically deemed unworthy of a contract once the party opposite is elected? Why are our political leaders – in this independent Bahamas – still creating atmospheres where patronage is only reserved for the few and others are cast by the wayside?
I have heard sad accounts of persons having contracts snatched from them, contracts that may have been their sole means of feeding their families … simply because they are not PLP or aren’t FNM. Bahamians of our political stripes could contribute to our development as a nation and whilst I know that each government would want its own key officials in place that does not give any government carte blanche to victimise.
We all have something to contribute to this country’s advancement and perhaps it is that greed and that willingness to cut down anyone who is perceived as not supporting a particular party that hindered this country’s forward movement. No particular party has all the answers and the brains trust of this country are both FNMs and PLPs and so therefore we must broaden our horizons and adopt an Obama-esque approach to political appointments and the disbursement of contracts to qualified companies/persons.
A friend, who I spoke to for this piece, told me that he felt that the country’s growth has been stagnated because “we’re now seeing the marginalisation of young people more than ever before and that is crippling this nation.”
Having been an educator, I had a first-hand view of the deterioration of the family structure, with children having children and us seeming to have lost much of the civility, kindness and manners that made our country a paradise. In Long Island, whenever my grandparents went to collect my report cards, they always dressed in their best Sunday garb and carried themselves in a respectable manner that was exemplary for us all.
That does not appear to be the case today as, for example, I’ve previously witnessed parents (that is, those who show up) coming to collect their child’s report cards in pum-pum shorts, with their pants below their hip, high or smelling of weed and/or alcohol, with their breasts and other private parts hanging out, and so forth.
These are the incidents that are indicative of the lack of respect being shown nowadays and the environments that so many of our country’s children are coming out of. Indeed, we must rediscover traditional Bahamian manners, respect and gentility and, of course, our civility. People do not only come here for sun, sand and sea, but also for our civility.
I spoke to attorney Craig Butler yesterday and whilst he said that our celebration of Independence Day should be representative of “our celebration of Bahamian emancipation”, he noted that “in 40 years, great strides have been made but over the course of the next 40 years we must do far greater.” I could not agree with him more.
Reflecting a similar take on this year’s Independence celebrations, noted heart surgeon Dr Duane Sands said: “In general, we have made a reasonable effort as a sovereign nation. However, the anniversary should make us take pause to thank God for how far we’ve come and to reassess ourselves. We must strive to move forward, upward, onward, together … and though that sounds good and is a noble ideal, we haven’t embraced that as a country.”
So, yes I am going to wear my independence t-shirt, watch/attend the celebratory events and even salute. Indeed, I love the pomp and pageantry and that feeling of oneness. But, I pray that we aspire to not merely promulgate that spirit of oneness in words and talk, but to make that an ever present reality.
I love the Bahamas and I am proud to be a Bahamian. Happy Independence Bahamas!
Adrian Gibson writes “A Young Man’s View” column in the Big T every Saturday