Are we where we thought we would be?
In July 2023, the “independent” nation of The Bahamas will turn 50. As we approach this historic landmark there is a lot to consider about our future. Are we where we thought we would be? How will we survive? What will our country look like going forward? These are some of the pertinent questions we must ask ourselves before we celebrate.
Fifty years is a great accomplishment for us as a nation and we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be proud of but we also have a long way to go. We also have some things that we should not be proud of. So what do we look like as we approach 50.
Thankfully I was alive when the nation was born. I was young and it was a big deal at the time but being young and pretty much lost at the time I never made it to Clifford Park. I was supposed to be there but ended up in another place partying the night away. I heard about the exciting celebrations but just moved on to the next episode after that day was completed.
The Bahamas had emerged from a tumultuous election with the most election violence ever seen in the country. Even at a very young age I was in the middle of that violence, having gunshots fired at me on the wall near black village and Rupert Dean Lane and being in the building while the most notorious gangsters cleaned their guns.
Euphoria covered the nation after independence and Bahamian national pride grew. Words like Bahamianization came to the fore. Game changing programs like National Insurance, our first television station, global sports Champions like Elisha Obed and others emerged. There was the launch of the Bahamas Defence Force, new schools being built and Bahamians being recognized in the international community like Sir Sidney Poitier and others.
Majority rule was celebrated and extolled but as time went by the typical challenges of Independence and nationhood arose. There were questions of political corruption, nepotism, financial mismanagement, political splits and grievances, typical issues for any nation especially one emerging from slavery and servitude.
There were triumphs and challenges but the Bahamas continued to grow. The leadership of Lynden Pindling and AD Hanna was seen as a ground breaking duo, a combination of charisma and pragmatism. I went to school with Obi Pindling and AD Hanna was my first cousin so I had a personal connection to the leaders of the nation although it was never something I made known or talked about at the time as I lived in a different world.
Opportunities for Bahamians grew exponentially, black Bahamians in particular began to swarm US colleges and to a lesser extent colleges in the UK and Canada. Black Bahamian leadership began to change the faces of both political and corporate institutions. The Bahamas was growing as a nation and with it experienced growing pains.
Questions and strife began to swirl around the nation. Tourism grew and economic prosperity but at the same time drug use and social breakdowns began to occur, culminating with the cocaine epidemic that led to the infamous Commission of Inquiry that put our leaders under scrutiny and led to a loss of confidence in the founding fathers of the nation. There were political fractures and resignations but the nation grew in spite of its challenges. Forward upward, onward, together.
Tourism continued to be the focus of the nation with the slogan, “It’s Better in the Bahamas” gaining global prominence. The offshore banking center flourished allowing for Bahamians to earn enormous amounts of money and enjoy a lifestyle heretofore unseen. Illegal immigration became an issue and the fight for our borders and culture waged in the press. Loftus Roker became a household name due to his hardline stance on immigration with many feeling like his position was too hard while others felt it necessary if we were to survive as a nation with a Bahamian identity.
The electorate eventually tired of the leadership of Pindling and ushered in a new era with his former protege Hubert Ingram. Ingraham promised a new style of governance with more openness which led to the liberalization of the media and changes in some of the practices that became a staple of the original leaders.
The Bahamas further emerged on the global stage through its Professional and Olympic athletes like Mychal Thompson with the Los Angeles Lakers, Frank Rutherford, the Golden Girls, the Golden Knights, Rick Fox and many others. They helped to remind the world that it is Better in the Bahamas and not just in tourism. The emergence of Atlantis allowed the Bahamas to enter a new era in tourism.
As the nation continued to grow political mindsets shifted and party loyalty was replaced by calls for transparency and accountability which saw governments being voted in and out every five years and persons voting according to performance and accountability rather than party loyalty.
As we are at the doorstep of 50 we are faced with:
- Political instability and uncertainty. Will we see governments again with multiple terms or continue single term entrances and exits?
- Immigration issues that have reshaped the Bahamas. We are near or have approached the 40% mark of indigenous Bahamians vs immigrant Bahamians
- Economic challenges and uncertainty. Will tourism remain our bedrock? Will we ever tap into other aspects of our economy and natural resources?
- Will we recover from family and social breakdowns that have led to an escalation of crime and violence?
What lies ahead of our 50th birthday and beyond? Only God knows for sure but one I am reminded of the Biblical refrain and advise our leaders to be mindful of this, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin (and corruption) is a reproach to the people”. Hopefully we will choose the paths of righteousness and do as the national anthem states, “Til the road you trod lead unto your God, March on Bahamaland”.