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The Bahamas: Life Begins at 40?

Earlier this week, the Bahamas marked its 40th anniversary of independence from Great Britain. A few bloggers shared their thoughts about the milestone…

Weblog Bahamas gave some context to the event:

In 1973, we embarked on a journey that should have taken our small island state ‘forward, upward, onward, together’. The overriding question we now face, is after 40 years of relatively exemplary democracy, relative political stability, steady economic growth for most of those years and with all of the challenges and implications that attend being a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), have we moved forward, upward, onward and done so, together? Two main arguments support a decidedly negative response to this question.

The post referred to challenges such as crime, education and economic dependence, which it called “evils against our society”, concluding:

Whilst we have come a long way since gaining Independence from Great Britain, it is not far enough, and although we have made it to our 40th anniversary, we have not leveraged our strengths nor made the most of the opportunities…

We easily practice corruption at all levels of society: state, organisation and family… [it] has destroyed our moral compass. At this point, we must yield to reflection and ‘hold a mirror’ up to ourselves because our wonderful country is in the state it is in, because of us!

Political Bahamas Blog, meanwhile, wondered “what would three giants who were intimately involved in the Bahamian march to freedom say about this day”:

Imagine these three giants, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Sir Lynden O. Pindling and Sir Milo B. Butler, looking down from where their spirits are resting and marveling at the progress of these past 40 years.” Some highlights of this imaginary conversation included:

Cecil: And then our prayers were answered by the people on January 10, 1967 when majority rule was finally realized. And what a glorious day that was! We all celebrated with the people.

Lynden: True, but that was the beginning of so many other challenges. Cecil, it wasn’t long before we started to fight among ourselves. You and the other seven left us and formed the Free PLP and then the FNM. The biggest battle that we fought though was based on our decision to seek political independence.

Milo: And what a battle that was! It nearly destroyed our march to a common loftier goal.

Cecil: That is true. I also said that independence should not be sought then, nor any time before the next two general elections. We believed that independence should be a unifying force among Bahamians, not a dividing force among our people.

The invented conversation went on to remind people that key sectors of society were at the time opposed to the notion of independence, most notably the media and the church. The dialogue continued, ending on an optimistic note:

Cecil: The constitution has served us well these past 40 years. Despite our intense disagreements and bitter political battles, we have done well as an independent country.

Milo: Look at what has been accomplished in the last 40 years. We established a national insurance program, a College (soon to be University) of The Bahamas, a Central Bank and a defence force and so many other institutions that serve our people. And look at the vast number of Bahamians we educated in so many professional and skilled occupations. Can’t wait to see what will happen in the next 10 years as we approach the 50th anniversary of independence.

Lynden: I agree. You know, when you look at it, we really did build a firm foundation that, year after year, ensures that the nation we left behind will undoubtedly continue pressing onward, and marching together, to a common loftier goal.

But Blogworld greeted the day with “profoundly mixed feelings”:

On the one hand, of course, I am proud of this day, proud that at forty we have not suffered any of the calamities that pundits have predicted, proud that we have indeed made a nation out of these ‘barren’ rocks and cays…I am proud, too, of the contribution that Bahamians have made to history here and around the world, that we have been making for over a century. And I’m proud that on the surface, we Bahamians created a society that stood for equality for all races without bloodshed.

At the same time, though, I am profoundly uneasy about this moment. There will be much talk today, all over the airwaves and in cyberspace, about the self-same things I have mentioned above. Elders will call up names from their memories, as I have done, and talk about why they are proud, and they (we) will expect their pride to communicate itself, somehow by osmosis, to the majority of the Bahamian people, the average age of whom is 29. And yet still, still, we have not invested anything substantial or lasting to ensure that these reasons to be proud make it into the bloodstream of the Bahamian nation.

Nicolette Bethel soon got into the specifics of her unease:

At forty, here is what this nation (of which I am proud) does not have:
- a national library whose job it is to collect the publications and other documents and keep them in a safe place that is open to all members of the public where even the poorest among us can go to find out the things that elders will shout about today;
- a national broadcasting station whose job it is to produce programming that…provides Bahamians with reasons to be proud of themselves;
- a national curriculum that determines which things young Bahamians should know by the time they become adults, and sets about teaching them;
- a national centre that celebrates, encourages and nurtures the innate creativity that we have;
- a national philosophy that provides for Bahamian citizens some ideal or goal to which to aspire, something that we can stand for wherever we go, and which does not change when the political party in power changes.

And all this occurs in a climate where less than 1% of the national budget is invested in tertiary level education—in creating the kinds of institutions where research can be ongoing and more to be proud of uncovered, written about, and shared.

She concluded by challenging young Bahamians to put their money where their mouth is:

We’re forty, and the world is not standing still. I challenge the generation coming after mine to rectify the mistakes we have made, and to do more than believe in Bahamians: invest in us too.

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