“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sail.” — John Maxwell
s The Bahamas continues to recover from the ravages that were left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, we have heard scores of stories about how lives were saved during and after Dorian’s onslaught.
As the weeks and months ahead unfold, we will undoubtedly hear more stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that will replace those that our parents and grandparents recounted from the Great Hurricane of 1929 that claimed the lives of several hundred Bahamian residents, which, at that time, was a phenomenally unprecedented body count.
Never in history has The Bahamas been so prominently profiled in the international press in such a sustained manner from even before Dorian made landfall on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama two weeks ago. Daily, we are witnessing an era where not only is the world closely observing us, world-class reporters and journalists are here, documenting everything.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — what kind of leadership should we be looking for in a time of national crisis?
Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed first-hand the level of destruction and devastation that has affected thousands of lives.
The United Nations has placed the number of people whose homes have been affected at 70,000.
Initial insurance estimates have placed the value of property destruction into the hundreds of millions, a figure that we expect is grossly understated.
While the official death count is mounting very slowly, a former prime minister has placed the death toll on Abaco in the hundreds, with the number of missing people at nearly 2,000. It is quite likely that the actual loss of life will take a very long time, if ever, to fully enumerate.
Not unexpectedly, we are beginning to witness a level of tribalism rear its unproductive, ugly, divisive head at a time we do not need it and at a time when the world is closely observing us.
In the chaos that frequently accompanies any natural disaster, where people are frustrated by the delays experienced in attending to their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, we hear complaints about how these basic necessities of human existence are not being urgently addressed and provided in a timely fashion.
It is essential for Bahamians to appreciate that we have never experienced a direct, prolonged hit from a Category 5 hurricane that has wreaked unimaginable carnage.
While some people’s patience is being severely tested as never before, we must maintain our composure and perseverance, appreciate the lives that have been spared from this horrific disaster and recognize that it takes time to respond to the tremendous needs and hardships of these times.
Bahamians are extremely grateful and enormously thankful for the tremendous amount of international support that we are receiving from the global community.
Substantial assistance has come from many sources, including private individuals, prominent personalities and companies, Bahamians who live abroad and various governments and international agencies, including the United Nations.
The outpouring of international support has also come from wealthy foreigners who either have second homes in The Bahamas or consider this country a second home. These are classic examples of all hands being mobilized to support the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
On the other hand, there are some who have been less enthusiastic about these efforts.
An example of this was recently featured in a Barbados newspaper, Saturday Sun, which, though generally supportive and sympathetic to our plight, also ran a piece in that newspaper that criticized Barbadians as hypocrites and The Bahamas for its stand regarding its full participation in the CARICOM.
Shortly after the hurricane hit The Bahamas, Barbadians held a telethon to raise relief funds for us. Their efforts resulted in pledges of $440,000. A few Barbadians characterized this as “hypocrisy to pledge so generously to the recovery effort in The Bahamas….but do little here [in Barbados] to help the poor and destitute”.
They argue that The Bahamas has “not traditionally been involved in any major initiatives within the Caribbean region and has a tight-fisted immigration policy for all other Caribbean nationals including visas for Jamaicans. At the same time, it welcomes Americans with open arms, is so heavily influenced by the United States that even its citizens speak with an American accent.”
A similar critical sentiment was expressed in the newspaper article which noted, “The Bahamas was not among the six countries that adopted the Protocol on Contingent Rights – which provides a framework for the free movement of skilled laborers and their families between member states….” at the Caribbean Heads of Government meeting in July last year in Jamaica.
After the aforementioned conference, Bahamas Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis stated that The Bahamas is not and will not be a part of CSME (CARICOM Single Market and Economy). The prime minister renewed the nation’s official position, which has been that of successive governments, on this matter, saying: “The Bahamas will not allow free movement of people within our boundaries as we are not a part of CSME.”
Despite those critical observations, the outpouring of support from many around the world, including our Caribbean brothers and sisters, has been positive.
The local and international media have justifiably focused on and highlighted the enormous loss of life and property and the physical injuries that Dorian caused. However, there are the unseen, invisible scars that will be with us for a very long time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is likely to become more evident in the weeks, months and years ahead. Long after the communities have been rebuilt and people return to their devastated homes, the emotional effects of Dorian will be with us all for many years to come.
We must be trained to identify the symptoms of this illness and to assist our brothers and sisters affected by this tragedy.
Leadership at this time
We live in the hurricane belt, which means that during the hurricane season that runs from June 1 to November 30, we must better prepare not only for these disasters but for their aftermath. There are many lessons that will be learned from Dorian. In the fullness of time, we will have ample time to assess those lessons.
One of the immediate proactive steps is to address the kind of leadership that is required by such a cataclysmic event.
Now is the time for effective, healing, strong leadership — and perhaps we need a definition of how leadership during this and other national crises is different from political leadership.
Leadership in times of crisis requires a more comprehensive approach to the event and all the problems that arise from its aftermath. Leadership in times such as those we are facing, as John Maxwell says, requires someone who knows just how to adjust the sails in the face of the shifting, strong winds of a hurricane so the ship of state can stay upright with all hands safe and secure.
We are a resilient people who have historically bounced back from setbacks. Willie Jolley wrote a book about setbacks, entitled: “A Setback Is a Setup for a Comeback”. The wisdom in these words can elevate us out of our lowest points in life and put us on the path to recovery.
We could emerge from this horrific catastrophe stronger and more united as a people. To achieve that, we must begin by reminding ourselves daily that now is the time for all hands to be on the stable and steady deck that good leadership establishes so our recovery and the restoration of our storm-ravaged islands will be accomplished in record time.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.