It was ten years ago when this reporter interviewed former Deputy Prime Minister and Governor General Arthur D. Hanna who was at that time preparing to celebrate his 50th political anniversary.
Known as the architect of Bahamianization, Mr. Hanna was one of the original drafters of the Bahamas Constitution, which was the template for the country’s independence from Britain’s colonial rule. He described this undertaking as “the most important thing in Bahamian history”.
The Progressive Liberal Party campaigned on this premise in the 1972 General Election and won by a huge margin. It was a beautiful time in the nation’s history when politics was strangely pure - as both the governing party and the Opposition, the Free National Movement, worked together to determine how the Bahamas Constitution would be tailored. They were on a united platform for this one common, lofty goal.
After the election, the British had agreed and granted independence to The Bahamas; when the Britain’s Union Jack was lowered, and the flag of an independent Bahamas was raised for the first time on July 10th, 1973, this was the high point of Mr. Hanna’s political career, he said. He, along with the Bahamas’ first Prime Minister, the late Sir Lynden Pindling, the late Sir Kendal Isaacs and others, were instrumental in the fight for our sovereignty.
Forty years later, it’s a time for introspection.
Celebrating our sovereignty is so much more than showing patriotism by adorning ourselves with cute outfits in colours of the Bahamian flag, aquamarine and gold t-shirts, and miniature flags hooked onto car windows every time July comes around.
Each and every individual has to take stock of their lives and give an honest answer to the question: “What have I done to help make a positive impact in my country?”
Partying on Clifford Park every year to celebrate independence just won’t cut it anymore. We have to do more. We have to be more edifying, more productive. We have to restore our Bahamian spirit.
We are nearly 14 years into the new millennium and still too many of our people are in Her Majesty’s Prison or in the grave. That’s the reality of our story. We are too small a nation to be competing with the criminal record of our neighbours. Many of our children are succeeding academically, but many are failing too. Hence, we have an Educational system that has been striving to jump over an ignominious D-average hurdle for years.
In the document, “Education Reform in The Bahamas,” the late Dr. Keva Bethel said the challenges in this area were identified as early as 1931 by the then-board of Education because of unique positioning of the islands. She wrote, “The challenge of the future will be to achieve the sustained qualitative improvement of the system that will enable the people of The Bahamas to function competitively in a demanding global environment.”
Even though, Bahamians were constantly being asked to prepare for the global environment, have we aptly prepared ourselves to be Bahamian, first? The Preamble of the Constitution says “and Whereas the People of this Family of Islands recognizing that the preservation of their Freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law.”
Name one of these Constitutional stipulations that we as a nation can truly say we have perfected in the 40 years since this became law? We are all probably guilty of not practicing at least one. Our people also claim to be proud to be Bahamian but try to live like, dress like, act like and speak like everything we see on television. Have we truly embraced and celebrated who we are or are we just copy cats – lover of all things foreign?
When we decorate our homes, do we adorn them with Bahamian made crafts – supporting our local artisans? Do we support our local Bahamian clothing designers and dressmakers, food stores, businesses? How much do we support our Bahamian entertainers, singers, writers enough? Do we support our local farmers and encourage our children to pursue such careers? It is also a great idea for Bahamians to vacation on the Family Islands and enjoy the beauty that millions of people travel from all over the world to bask in. They love it here, and we should love ourselves too. The original vision for those pioneers, who traveled to Britain to establish our Bahamian heritage in 1972, was for us to gain an identity of our own.
I remember watching a documentary on Sir Lynden after he died in 2000. It was a project done after independence to show all of the things he wanted to accomplish in an independent Bahamas. He narrated it himself, and he spoke about the establishment of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the creation of the College of The Bahamas to educate our youth, the establishment of the Central Bank of the Bahamas; the creation of a National Insurance Scheme, the building of public schools among other things. This was just his dream. At the time of his death, everything that he said he wanted to accomplish in that documentary, he accomplished. I could look around and see it all there.
The original Progressive Liberal Party government, which had a 25-year run, had a real challenge after Majority Rule was attained in 1967. That was the catalyst for everything. They immediately tackled education in the country. They removed the tuition fees for admission to the historic Government High School – the only government operated secondary education facility at that time. Then the government vigorously began building schools throughout the country in an effort to make education available to the masses. The PLP government also provided millions of dollars in scholarships to qualified Bahamian students to pursue tertiary education studies at colleges and universities all over the world.
After this, a very rigid Bahamianization policy evolved because the fruits of this investment in education yielded a large cadre of young Bahamians who returned home to replace the large number of expatriate workers who held various jobs at the start of the PLP regime.
In 1992, after the PLP lost the General Election to the Free National Movement in a stunning defeat – the message was clear. The people were educated but they had no economic empowerment. They were tired. In an eerily familiar scene to that of the present day, an economic recession in the United States inculcated a recession then too, as well as high unemployment in the nation. This combined with allegations of corruption with the PLP is said to have contributed to them losing the ’92 election.
The Hubert Ingraham era was sturdy, concise, and pragmatic as he had a strong social conscience. He immediately and deliberately reduced the size of government and promoted fresh private investment, both domestic and international. The revitalization of the Bahamian economy at that time has been attributed to the leadership of Mr. Ingraham and his government – in particular, the tourism sector which enjoyed massive capital infusions during his first tenure. The financial services sector was also revitalized and confidence was restored in The Bahamas as a clean, financial jurisdiction. This allowed for an increase in international banking and trust businesses in the country at that time.
During the Ingraham era also came the evolution of private broadcasting. It was his view, even when he was a PLP Cabinet Minister in the 1980’s that Bahamian people were not being exposed to different views and were thus were not being properly informed and educated. Before the FNM’s historic win in 1992, he vowed to bring change to broadcasting in The Bahamas to deepen democracy and expand chain of communications in the country.
True to his promise, once in power, his government voided the exclusive dominance that ZNS had over the airwaves and two national radio licenses were granted to 100 Jamz and More FM following the amendment to the Broadcasting Act. In 1993, 100 JAMZ went on the air for the first time. A new era in broadcasting was born as more Bahamians sent in applications for private radio broadcasting from all across the country.
Race relations and discrimination against women have also improved in the Bahamas over the past forty years. They are not perfect but they have improved. It was in 1962 that women in the Bahamas voted for the first time in a General Election and after Independence, women have entrenched themselves in front line politics holding key positions in the country.
Dr. Cynthia “Mother” Pratt, former PLP member of Parliament for St. Cecelia was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in 2002. Janet Bostwick, was the first female Member of Parliament in The Bahamas (1977-2002). From 1995 to 2001 she served as the first female Attorney General of The Bahamas. In 1998 she was the first woman to act as Prime Minister during the absence from the country of both the prime minister and his deputy. Other women who have made their mark in politics include Dame Ivy Dumont who was the first woman to hold the position of Governor General in the Bahamas, Italia Johnson, the first female Speaker of the House of Assembly; Dr. Doris Johnson, the first female president of the Senate, with Sharon Wilson as the second; Ruby Ann Cooper-Darling, first woman to register to vote, Sylvia Scriven, Loretta Butler- Turner, Glenys Hanna-Martin, Allyson Maynard Gibson, Melanie Griffith, Anne Percentie, Pleasant Bridgewater and Verna Grant.
In fact during the 2012 General Election campaign, it was reported that women would decide the winner of the election as female outnumbered male registered voters by 20,000.
As we prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of independence, it seems as if the fight for true Bahamianization of the workforce has gotten tougher. The new Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell has unapologetically pushed to decrease the number of expatriate workers in the country – hence opening job vacancies for Bahamians. Unemployment numbers in the country are in the double digits and it is Mitchell’s view that qualified Bahamians should be given the first opportunity for gainful employment before employers seek out work permits for immigrant workers. Further, he said, this policy should be an incentive for those who are not qualified to catch up. However, Mitchell seemed to ruffle a few feathers with the business community by asking them to search for young employable Bahamians.
The Department of Statistics revealed that there are 1,925 in the number of employed persons in its Labour Force and Household Income Survey, and a decrease of 1,175 in those unemployed – dropping 70 basis points over a six-month period to hit 14 per cent in November 2012.
New Providence’s unemployment rate fell from 14 per cent in May 2012 to 13.1 per cent in November, but Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate rose from 17.3 per cent to 18 per cent over the same period. Three of the nine industrial sectors experienced a decline in employment, with the greatest experienced in the construction sector ( 20 percent. The Survey found there was minimum growth in the labour force (less than 1 per cent) since the last survey conducted in May of 2012. The labour force now totals 192,205 persons.
Over the past forty years, Bahamians have also made an indelible imprint on the world stage in the arts and in sports.
In 1992, Frank Rutherford’s historic bronze medal performance in the Barcelona Olympics marked the first time a Bahamian had won an individual medal in track and field. Four years later, in 1996, Savatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup, Debbie Ferguson-Mckenzie, Pauline Davis-Thompson and Eldece Clarke-Lewis earned the silver medal in the 400 meter relay at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
Dubbed the Silver Goddesses at that time, they was later crowned the Golden Girls after capturing the gold medal at the World Outdoor Championships in Seville, Spain and later it was gold again at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney Australia. This milestone marked the first track and field gold medal for the Bahamas, and the first by women. Also at the 2000 Olympics, Davis-Thompson became the first Bahamian female to win an individual Olympic medal having captured the silver in the 200 meters.
In more recent times a new generation has emerged to dominate the area of track and field. Avard Moncur won silver and bronze medal at the 2008 and 2000 Olympics, respectively. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the Men's 4 × 400 meters relay competition was won by the Bahamian team of Chris Brown, Demetrius Pinder (Grand Bahama), Michael Mathieu and Ramon Miller. This marked the first Olympic men's gold medal in any sport for the Bahamas and the first American loss in that race at the Olympics since 1972.
At the 2008 Olympics, Matthieu ( Grand Bahama native), Brown, Miller and Moncur, along with Andrae Williams and Andrettie Bain, also took home the silver medal in that race. But later, they were given the gold medal because the USA team, which originally finished first, was disqualified in 2008 due to Antonio Pettigrew’s confession of using human growth hormone and EPO between 1997 and 2003.
Many Bahamians have done well in sports over the years in areas such as track and field, swimming, tennis and even bodybuilding. Bahamian tennis icon, Mark Knowles is a five-time Olympian and on July 5, 2006, Knowles participated in one of the longest matches in Wimbledon history, lasting 6 hours and 9 minutes.
In the area of swimming, athletes like Allan Murray, Chris Murray, Jeremy Knowles, Christopher Vythoulkas performed impressively internationally; and in 2012 at the London Olympics, history was made again the sport of swimming when she became the first woman to reach the finals in Olympic swimming in her home country of the Bahamas.
Bahamians have not only done well in sports over the past 40 years but also in music and the arts as well.
Baha Men really put Bahamian artists on the map with their award-winning – hit song, “Who Let the Dogs Out”. They earned the first every Grammy Award by a Bahamian group in 2000 for Best Dance Recording, the Billboard Music Awards for World Music Artist of the Year and World Music Album of the Year, and a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award for Favorite Song. In 2002, they won another Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Band.
Stefan “The Scientist” Moss became the first Bahamian to win the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award at the 2005 ceremony for Hittin’ Curves, a collaboration with hip hop duo Grits in the Rap/Hip Hop recorded song of the year category. Psalmist Nadene Moss was also nominated for a Dove Award in 2010.
As we celebrate our 40th anniversary of Independence, we should take time to celebrate the accomplishments our brothers and sisters have made. And although many of our citizenry may never get to present their gifts to the world, they can make a difference in each other’s lives by being arduous and diligent in our undertakings, and simply showing each other respect, being kind, considerate and cordial. It’s these small things that can make a huge difference in the country moving forward. There were days when Bahamians had the reputation of being peace-loving, hospitable and kind and some folks have fallen short of such honor. Yet, maybe it’s time to fight to regain that birthright once more.
Happy Independence Bahamas!!