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Despite challenges, there is much to celebrate

After a decade lost to the drug war, The Bahamas is seeking to recapture its traditional social values.

Three months after independence, the fledgling new Bahamas had to confront the economic challenge of the oil embargo imposed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). And then, the first Gulf War, the resulting U.S. recession of 1991, the 9/11 terrorists attacks in the United States in 2001, the increase in the number of powerful hurricanes impacting our country beginning with Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the blacklisting of The Bahamas’ financial services sector in 2000 and the great global recession of 2008 all created special challenges for the new country.

The resilience of our democracy was demonstrated by the historic change in government in 1992, after 26 years of government led by a single political party. This had been preceded in 1991 by the passing of Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, the founding father of the Free National Movement (FNM) and followed in 2000 with the passing of the father of the nation, Sir Lynden Pindling.

The economic boom of the 1990s transformed the economic prospects for thousands of ordinary Bahamians. Many international banks, trust companies and business entities constructed new headquarters and office complexes in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

Revitalized interest in the tourism sector facilitated the government’s divestment of its private sector hotel ownership. And, Atlantis on Paradise Island, Albany in southwestern New Providence and Baha Mar in Cable Beach, as well as Our Lucaya in Grand Bahama, Sandals in Exuma and Bimini Bay in Bimini have solidified our tourism sector.

Several of our Family Islands mirrored New Providence’s success in growing its tourism sector and second home ownership notably in Abaco, Harbour Island, San Salvador and in the Exumas.

In New Providence, new upscale residential and mixed use developments were created or expanded at Sandyport, Caves Village, Ocean Club Estates, Albany and in Port New Providence.

Middle and low income housing subdivisions sprung up around New Providence and also in the Family Islands.

In Grand Bahama, foreign direct investment (FDI) in the middle of the 1990s caused the realization of the long-deferred dream of a transshipment port and of large-scale yacht and ship repair and care facilities.

Today, all inhabited communities in The Bahamas are electrified, nearly all have access to potable water, we have an extensive network of community health clinics and the country enjoys access to cellular communication and cable television that rivals developed societies. Our capital island has an extensive first rate network of roads, a modern international airport, a successful cargo port and a still evolving cruise ship port which promises to become a destination of its own. And, the turnover of government between the two major political parties has become routine.

Our athletes excel on regional and world stages and our students are admitted to some of the most prestigious universities around the world.

Today, The Bahamas is home to a large multi-racial middle class. Its economy remains girded by a tourism sector able to reinvent itself to meet changing expectations from its international clientele, and a financial services sector which though reduced, continues to meet challenges in an increasingly regulated, even hostile international financial services environment of ever-moving goal posts since 2000.

Forty-six years on from independence, much remains to be done. A national museum remains in boxes, as is the plan for a national library and hopes for the creation of a national theater remain a dream deferred.

Unreliable electricity service, high crime levels, stubborn unemployment, less-than-satisfactory education outcomes and inadequately-trained manpower to meet the needs of our economy are among challenges still to be overcome.

We will return to the subject of nation building and service in a subsequent editorial.

We have traveled far. Notwithstanding remaining challenges, there is much for us to celebrate on this the 46th anniversary of our independence.

Happy birthday Bahamas.

A tale of two confli
Focus | Brent Symone