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47th independence anniversary: the first two decades

This Friday we celebrate the 47th anniversary of our independence amid a global pandemic that has infected more than 11 million people globally, claimed the lives of more than half a million victims, including 11 Bahamians, and shut our borders to incoming passengers.

Now that our borders are reopened, some amongst us are fearing the worst — a significant rise in infections brought in by new arrivals, especially from the United States and particularly from the state of Florida from where so many of our tourists come.

Many more are hoping for the best, a needed economic boost from resumed business and insignificant growth in COVID-19 infections.

Forty-seven years ago when Bahamians gathered at Fort Charlotte to raise our new national flag and to sing our national anthem for the first time, few could have imagined the trials that would test the small new nation with a population of 181,000, notwithstanding our proud boast to lift our heads sunward and move steadily onward “…though the weather hide the wide and treacherous shoal…”

The colony of the Bahama Islands had survived “boom and bust” economies over its history, including piracy, ship wrecking, sponging and bootlegging.

Our determination to move steady forward served our country well in facing tremendous challenges and overcoming many that were to come.

Independence was not welcomed by all residents of our country in 1973.

Many feared that the former colony, governed for most of its existence by British overlords and then by a minority white government, could not succeed as a country.

Out of fear some left: belongers, work permit holders and born Bahamians too.

The departures created challenges and opened opportunities for those who remained.

Growing numbers of the population gained increased access to higher education and training and to improved employment prospects in both the public and private sectors.

Neighborhoods that had been the preserves of the wealthy elite were opened to wider cross sections of the population and the country’s economic prospects grew.

The Bahamas joined the international community, becoming a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of American States and an observer in the organs of the Caribbean Community. And, the institutions of an independent nation were established: the Central Bank of The Bahamas, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the College of The Bahamas and the National Insurance Board.

Notwithstanding the challenges to our economy from the oil crisis that loomed over the world in the mid-1970s and disruptions from conflicts in the Middle and Far East, some of the economic upheaval that accompanied our move to independence gave way to economic growth particularly in the tourism and financial services sectors.

Then, tested by fish poachers, the first marines of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force gave their lives in defense of our country in 1980.

By then, another “treacherous shoal” was ripping into our social fabric, much as a reef might shred the keel and hull of boats.

Before celebrating 10 years of independence, The Bahamas was ravaged by an unrelenting illicit drug transit traffic that ensnared and compromised some in government leadership, others in the public service – markedly in the uniformed branches, and also in the wider community. Ill-gotten gains enriched some while hard work and dedication lost its sheen.

The dirty laundry of the country was laid bear in a commission of inquiry more devastating than had been the revelations of corruption in the minority government’s dealings during the 1960s, including associations with shady gambling interests.

The government’s reputation was sorely battered and damaged.

Distracted by allegations of benefitting from the drug trade, too many issues critical to the advancement of the country were neglected by the government.

In August 1992, 19 years after independence, the government that led the country to independence was tossed from office.

To be continued.

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