Why the international community owes the Bahamian people
Within a week of Hurricane Dorian’s impact on The Bahamas, I listened to a young woman of foreign (non-Bahamian) origin talk loudly about what she identified as “the problem” on Great Abaco Island and in The Bahamas, specifically that Bahamians are racist and don’t like Haitians.
Miss Lady, who I’m certain believed her comments were well-placed to her audience three rows behind me, bad-mouthed my people from one topic to the next.
As an honest assessor of Bahamians, being one myself who feels no inhibitions about spade-calling, I won’t say that Miss Lady wasn’t correct about one thing she said: Bahamians often don’t want to do the jobs Haitians in The Bahamas are willing to do. That may be true at least some of the time. But, unfortunate as it is, that does not make Bahamians racist.
In The Bahamas, a certain set of circumstances have led to the tension to which Miss Lady referred. And I wish she had the presence of mind to realize and then accept that she, and others like her, the foreign expatriate investor or tourist turned sometimes resident, are partly responsible for this dichotomy in The Bahamas, which has been aided by the ignorant and easily corrupted Bahamian government officials, policymakers, as well as select citizens and residents, over the last four to five decades.
Let’s make one thing clear. For those who don’t know, never thought about it, or choose to ignore it, the fact of the matter is The Bahamas was not built for Bahamians. That is our sad reality. In spite of their emphatic declarations to the contrary, it is the reason our leaders have long catered to outsiders’ foreign interests and needs before those of the Bahamian people.
Because Miss Lady and others like her chose to make The Bahamas their playground, we Bahamians suffer an unfair disadvantage to almost anyone who is non-Bahamian seeking to do business or take up residence in our country. Our leaders ignorantly decided it made sense to entice foreign investment by land ownership of prime real property in The Bahamas, land (and natural resources) which should have been reserved for Bahamians, particularly on the tiny main island, and that which Bahamians, in spite of the artificially pegged value of their currency to the U.S. dollar, could already ill-afford.
So those of foreign origin, who prosper(ed) in their countries outside of The Bahamas, by policies and regulations that have made them owners, landowners and investors in and of their economies, have drastically raised the cost of real property (and living) in the economy of The Bahamas, with their Bahamian land purchases bloated beyond the price Bahamians could afford to pay in the first instance on their meager salaries, backed by low productivity, and an over-inflated gross domestic product (GDP).
Bahamians who were already starting out with little or nothing now have less in general, including less access to the real wealth of their own country because others who are not Bahamian can pay to play in and own what should be land owned by the Bahamian people. A nation for sale we have always been, in every way.
Decades of visionless leaders who convinced themselves they were doing something great for Bahamians have dug the deep holes out of which Bahamians now struggle to climb.
Were that not bad enough, the mere fact that the economy caters first and foremost to foreign interests and investment by way of tourism and financial services has created not just a material inequity, but also one where the intangible Bahamian mindset is bred to be subservient…to serve without question, to cater to without complaint, to accommodate others first, to be relegated to second-class citizen.
We are not trained to be our own primary concern, and only now are the effects of these decades of brainwashing being realized. Naturally and expectedly, so many years of mental dislocation have morphed into a disdain for what is foreign-owned in The Bahamas, ironically mixed with a need to have what is foreign-made…a direct result of the leadership’s lack of vision and impetus to diversify the country’s small economy over consecutive administrations.
The identity of The Bahamas has been compromised because of poorly chosen economic goals, so much so that it creates frustration and anger in everyday Bahamian life with citizens not being able to achieve in their own country what others who are not Bahamian can abruptly arrive and quickly achieve.
On the other end of this contempt for “foreign” is the lack of action by Bahamian leaders to properly and fully address the eternal problem of illegal migration to The Bahamas by a multiplicity of illegally present nationalities, the majority offenders being of Haitian origin.
So when Miss Lady decides Bahamians don’t like Haitians and they’re racist, nevermind the decades of tolerance, integration, acceptance and a 40,000 strong and increasing Haitian population, she should understand what the problem really is and what lies at the root of the problem. It is a cultural divide, a chasm, an abyss, if you will, enveloped in Bahamian distrust, a result of being grossly taken for granted, which Miss Lady, not being born and/ or raised in The Bahamas as a Bahamian, exposed to the widely-felt inequities present in daily Bahamian life, could ever understand.
Miss Lady and her kind on one side, and immigrants who abuse the functioning bits of the systems of immigration, education, and healthcare in The Bahamas on the other, sandwich the Bahamian people in between so they are practically locked betwixt two groups who, on either side, enjoy opportunities that can be had off-radar in the communities they create.
Miss Lady, there may be racist people in The Bahamas, as there are certain to be everywhere, but until you have a clue about the cultural, economic, political and social dynamics of a little country being controlled by foreign ownership and priorities and foreign populations, you will never understand it and have zero right to apply your foolish, sweeping, millennial go-to label of “racist” on every Bahamian where it almost certainly does not apply.
And here’s the larger thing Miss Lady, and all others who care to learn and reason, you and your kind come from countries that have well-organized governments, matured political and social systems, and proper protocols and penalties for legal and illegal immigration that operate with effectiveness.
It is grossly if not wholly unfair to compare your functional systems, where even the poorest and most immigrant can rise to great wealth without soul-selling, to a nation filled with corrupted and corruptible leaders who have allowed their people to be so disadvantaged in their own land, leaders so steeped in corrupt behavior that they don’t even identify it as corruption.
How dare you expect us to function for your benefit or to your satisfaction, or to the advantage of any fitting the description of illegal immigrants, when we have immature and ineffective leadership, and weak and low enforcement of law on even our best day?
For the benefit of the world at large, The Bahamas is not one island. It is a chain of islands. An archipelago. Look it up. The islands are scattered and not all are affected (or devastated) by a hurricane at one time. Not yet anyway.
Sadly, the main island, New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located (never mind the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website that foolishly and incorrectly refers to the city of Nassau as an island, same for the island of Grand Bahama as Freeport), holds most of the population: Bahamian citizens, legal expatriate residents, illegal expatriate residents, etc. Most of these people are on one island that spans just 21 miles by 7 miles, another result of visionless leadership in 50 years.
The country is almost as susceptible to hurricanes as it is to corruption, but the outer islands tend to receive the worst of storms and act as a barrier for the main island of New Providence…thus far.
The Bahamas is a country led by one inept administration after the next, and there’s a growing consensus by Bahamians that it is ripe for the picking.
The Bahamas government has little/no resources to solve the myriad problems it now faces, with cleanup and rebuilding after Dorian atop what existed, and things like healthcare and all levels of education that should be more advanced and well-funded for citizens in a country as small as The Bahamas are not — they are barely affordable and minimally available, which is why much of Bahamian citizens’ incomes are spent in America…on education, healthcare and “foreign” goods.
It doesn’t help at all, but neither is it a surprise, that the most educated and professionally qualified have little or no incentive to return to or remain in The Bahamas, given all of the above, and instead carry their expertise with them wherever they can improve upon their quality of life.
In the next 10 years, the Bahamian population of The Bahamas will likely have dwindled (assuming accelerated climate change has not consumed the islands sooner), given the priority placed on anyone foreign to the country. This will exacerbate the so-called “brain drain” of the country’s most educated citizens. And what will The Bahamas be thereafter?
The Bahamas is presently a place where money talks in any language and anything has a price.
It is a country soon to be unrecognizable as Bahamian. In a decade, gratuitously two, most educated and modern Bahamians will have left the country to pursue lives elsewhere in the world, in places where they can finally have some modicum of equity and opportunity as citizens, and as far as anthropologic climate change is concerned, safety and a future.
Unless removed along with the shorelines, those left standing in The Bahamas will be a very large and growing immigrant population, and a native Bahamian population living like immigrants often have to, who will fight with American, Chinese, and other landowners and foreign investors for ownership of The Bahamas.
The experiment of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a failed one. What occurs now is a new ad hoc experiment of country and citizenship. The results of same are pending, and possibly promising, so long as you are not Bahamian.
To Miss Lady: your post-Dorian efforts are not unappreciated, but, frankly speaking, housing and assisting Bahamian storm victims is the least you can do for The Bahamas, after helping to price Bahamians out of their own housing market where they can afford only the barest minimum in quantity and quality to withstand a hurricane, and contributing to the climate crisis via environmental degradation in your respective polluting countries, which has ushered in the era of superstorms like Dorian.
– Nicole Burrows