In this segment, we will explore the topic of The Bahamas becoming a republican government and moving away from a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The discussion around this move comes on the heels of Barbados departing from being an independent dominion, in which the queen of Britain acted as head of state as represented by a governor general. But the discussion is a complex one, offering split views on whether The Bahamas and other countries in the Commonwealth realm (Canada, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Belize, Solomon Islands, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda and Tuvalu) would truly benefit from this move.
The rule of the British Empire is one that has played a significant role in shaping laws, customs, beliefs and knowledge for many island states like The Bahamas. British colonization in The Bahamas dates to as early as the 18th century. But in 1973, The Bahamas became an independent nation, allowing for economic and social independence. Despite still recognizing the British monarchy as head of state, it has no real power within Bahamian borders. While the matter at hand seems to be as simple as cutting the umbilical cord, it is far from that. There are several aspects to consider on how this move would impact the structure of the government, democratic values, philosophical issues and foreign relations.
What do you think?
Many persons who wish to remove the queen as head of state often question if the role is practical and if it socially and economically benefits Bahamians. There is also the belief that without the queen, The Bahamas would be in economic ruins and the country would be at a total loss due to some extreme form of dependency for financial, military and humanitarian aid. As an easy let down for those who believe this, it is safe to say that The Bahamas had and still has its fair share of economic and social woes, regardless of if the queen exists as head of state.
There has also been the discussion of what colonization has done for Bahamian society in terms of improving education standards, infrastructure systems and providing stability in the form of security for investors to live and work. But as more Bahamians become educated and wealthier, social constructs as a result of colonization are being challenged. For instance, removing indigenous roots and reforming it into a version that fits a particular society does not seem to be appealing to everyone. On the other hand, colonization has served a purpose in allowing some Bahamians more opportunities to access land, education, money and power.
But even in the present day, most Bahamians still do not have access or means to create generational wealth and therefore the question still stands, is leaving behind colonial history a matter of practicality or is it sentimental?
Leaving colonial history behind
There is no doubt that colonization had its benefits in terms of economic prosperity and shaping the very present-day revenue engines we know: tourism and financial services. But with prosperity, came an unequal divide of wealth and growth for Bahamians and residents. It became evident to political trailblazers like Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling that Bahamians of African descent were the least to benefit from economic prosperity in The Bahamas. In 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was formed and the party advocated for “stricter government control of the economy, increasing Bahamian ownership of business enterprises and the replacement of foreign workers by Bahamians”. Like many governments seeking independence, it is pinned to the realities of colonial legacies.
A good example of this was the rule of former Zimbabwe president, the late Robert Mugabe, who was once a celebrated hero to many Zimbabweans as he led the country into independence from an era of colonization that had an indisputable reputation of racism and discrimination. The country, once known as Southern Rhodesia, became the Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980. But despite its victory of independence, Zimbabwe’s fate as a prosperous country became bleak under the leadership of Mugabe’s political reign as years went by. Some may argue that Zimbabwe would have been better under the rulership of the British, but history tells another version.
Chigudu (2021), a professor who grew up in Zimbabwe, wrote about his knowledge and experience on the state of colonialism. He wrote, “Racial segregation in Rhodesia, where 250,000 white people, barely three percent of the population, had usurped more than half of the country’s agricultural land and owned almost all its commerce and industry. Black people were denied the franchise, their movements were controlled by a punitive internal passport system and they died at heinous rates from chronic malnutrition, high infant mortality and limited access to basic health services.”
While Mugabe accomplished a great milestone for his country, his legacy became tarnished by alleged corruption and power grabs. Mugabe generally blamed Zimbabwe’s problem on the history of colonialism. However, his legacy boils down to how he treated the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans demanded a judicial system that was truly independent and held all politicians accountable, but Mugabe’s party Zanu PF continues to rule since 1980 and has never been voted out since then. With consistent and transparent leadership, this economy had an opportunity to flourish outside of colonialism, but carrying out the vision of a truly independent nation is more difficult when put in action.
The constitution of The Bahamas is based on the Westminster model: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the executive branch, the legislative branch and judicial branch. As a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, The Bahamas recognizes Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. The governor general is Her Majesty’s representative in The Bahamas and constitutes a symbol of the nation’s unity. This leaves the question, “What happens to the judicial system if we were to become a republic?” One option is to shift from the parliamentary system to a semi-presidential system, allowing for shared powers between the president (head of state) and the prime minister (head of government). Another option is to adopt a fully republican government in which the president serves as the head of government and state. Either option must ensure that progress and stability is maintained.
Another thought relates to what will become of the Privy Council. The Judicial Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council is the highest court for The Bahamas. It sits in England to hear appeals from the Court of Appeal.
In 2005, Barbados dropped the London-based Privy Council and chose the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal. The Bahamas may also choose to do this step toward distancing itself from the monarchy. However, removing this layer of advisory from the legal system calls for more transparency and accountability locally.
One of the questions that remains a priority in this matter is that if we remove the queen, does this damage diplomatic stability for The Bahamas? Essentially, some believe that dropping the queen may be bad for business. But there is no need to place doubt on what our country can achieve without the presence of a monarchy. Amid our fair share of economic woes, the nation has also made several milestones in the space of crypto technologies, digital currencies, telecommunication and information and communication technologies (ICTs) and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
For a small island developing state, The Bahamas also holds diplomatic relationships with several major nations and continues to attract small to large scale investors. How many investors in those fields chose to do business with us because the queen is head of state? I am not sure. But what is certain is that investors and visitors will come to our shores based on our ability to offer competitive consumables, wages, labor skills and other factors that feed into a value for money equation.
In closing, it is my opinion that the queen should be removed as the ceremonial head of state and, therefore, the government laws and institutions would not rely upon her to exist. In theory, the law is protected and headed by the head of state. Therefore, removing the queen from this position speaks to growth toward a modern democracy and allows the opportunity for a native to take on the position as head of state.
For those that argue to keep the queen from a sentimental point of view, it is important to remember that the cultural significance of the monarchy does not simply go away after a 325-year relationship of British rule. But it is time to create an identity for The Bahamas that is outside of an era that no longer holds significance or responsibility to our growth as a nation.
• Roderick A. Simms II is a BCCEC director and Family Island Division chairperson. Email: RASII@ME.com.