The current election season is characterised, once again, by a kind of rhetoric that has irked me for many years, for it disempowers people, and it glorifies individuals in elected positions. In a democracy, the demos – the body politic, the citizens, the electorate – should be sovereign. The rhetoric that we hear, however, does not subscribe to this ideal; instead, it ignores it, hoping that we will allow it to be forgotten. Both the FNM and the PLP have steered the discourse in a different direction, and made leadership their new ideal.
Prime Minister Ingraham campaigns as “Papa.” The FNM’s campaign posters have, in their first phase, reduced the election issues to a single slogan – “proven leadership.” The planned climax of this attempt to turn the Bahamian electorate into a group of children following this father figure of a leader was a television ad in which Pindling called Ingraham “the most illustrious protégé of mine thus far.” (I think I heard a hint of sarcasm in his voice, but I digress.) We, the Bahamian electorate, are therefore expected to hand the government to Ingraham again, preferably by acclamation, for Ingraham is presented to us as Pindling’s rightful heir, as the anointed leader.
The PLP’s response to this, however, does not seriously make an attempt to broach this issue of Ingraham’s paternalistic and patriarchal abuse of the democratic process. It may try to ridicule the nickname (“Papa Clown,” “Papa Doc,” still waiting for “Papa Smurf”), but in the end, the PLP adopts the same attitude, presenting instead Christie as Pindling’s rightful heir, as the anointed leader.
What both fail to understand is that in a democracy, the sovereign, and that is the people, choose the successor, not the predecessor. Heirs are chosen in dictatorships. Anointed leaders in theocracies. I do not wish to live in either. The two main parties in the country have opted to forgo discussing policies in this campaign, to the point of not just declining but ignoring an invitation they received by the School of Social Sciences at The College of The Bahamas to participate in a pre-election debate. Instead, they are steering us down the path of tribal rivalry. Failing to explain what makes one party “free” and “national” or the other “progressive” and “liberal,” we are presented with the choice between “red” and “gold.” The most benevolent comparison that comes to mind is that of a sporting event.
Joey Gaskins, part-time lecturer in Sociology at The College of The Bahamas, offers this: “I think the mythology that was constructed around Sir Lynden Pindling post-independence is dangerous. Yes, Pindling was an integral part of the movement toward independence, but it did not start with him, and the project is obviously not completed. The fight for the liberation of black Bahamians started long before the establishment of the PLP … What kind of democracy do we have when we squabble over who is the ‘rightful heir’ to Pindling’s legacy or the ‘anointed leader’ to continue ‘his work’? This is OUR work, and our politicians will do well to remember that THEY work for us. As far as I’m concerned, it is time for Pindlings’s so-called ‘protégés’ to take a seat. The kind of messianic politics they subscribe to may have been useful to lead Bahamians ‘out of colonialism’ but it is ultimately problematic.”
For a long time now, I have been worried by the kind of blind adulation of Pindling in our society. We have lifted him onto a pedestal and we stare in awe. We are sitting on our asses, waiting for the next Moses to come and continue “his work,” when instead we ought to be rolling up our sleeves and work on building our nation together, a nation that to this day remains unfinished.
However, the personality cult in today’s Bahamas obscures this fact. Regardless of the outright biblical reference that equates Pindling to Moses, even his other nickname, “Father of the Nation,” contributes to this. It distorts reality, as the observation by Felix Bethel, Associate Professor of Political Science at The College of The Bahamas, demonstrates, who argues that, when the colonial rulers left in 1973, we had a system of government, but we still do not have a nation to this day. If we have no nation, then this non-existent nation can hardly have a father.
The commonly accepted version of Bahamian historiography credits Pindling and the PLP with ending the “agro-commercial oligarchy” (Michael Craton & Gail Saunders) of the UBP, giving us “majority rule” instead. However, I would argue that, since the 1960s, the oligarchy has merely been modified, not ended. Ever since, our politicians have subscribed to a “kind of messianic politics” (Joey Gaskins) that they learned from one man: Pindling. Whether Ingraham or Christie is irrelevant, as both of them admit, proudly, that they were his protégés. The Bahamas never saw the development of a broad politically participating class. Consequently, the political realm remained under the yoke of a very limited elite clique, which is one reason why we are now confronted with terminology such as “heirs” and “anointed leaders.” The exercise in which candidates for the general elections have to declare their assets speaks to this: on average, candidates of both the FNM and the PLP declared a net worth of $1.9 million; the assumed underdogs of the DNA still declared an average net worth of $1.2 million.
Show Me The Money
The 21st-century Bahamas remains a paternalistic society, because we believed that emancipation was an event rather than an ongoing, never-ending process, and because we have allowed a single generation of Bahamians to monopolise our memory. Our currency is a good example of this. Our banknotes portray almost exclusively male politicians who peaked in the decade that saw us move first towards internal self-government and then to independence. Almost exclusively? Yes, a foreign woman is on three of them: Queen Elizabeth II, whose portrait is on the $100 bill, as well as (I believe, I do not recall the last time I saw them), the $3 and $1/2 bills.
- $1 – Sir Lynden Pindling
- $5 – Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield
- $10 – Sir Stafford Sands
- $20 – Sir Milo Butler
- $50 – Sir Roland Symonette
This list represent only men, only politicians, and only representatives from one generation of Bahamians. Where did we get our inspiration from, if we can call it that? Our next door neighbour, the United States of America? Well, they only have male politicians on their money, but at least they have different generations represented; the same is essentially true for Canada. However, many other countries have ended their paying homage to male politicians, and now honour a wider cross-section of citizens.
The current series of the the British pound features Elizabeth Fry (social reformer, 1780-1845), Charles Darwin (naturalist, 1809-1882), Adam Smith (economist, 1723-1790), John Houblon (banker, 1632-1712), and Matthew Boulton (manufacturer, 1728-1809). Australia offers us, besides the Queen, John Macarthur (politician, 1767-1834), Joseph Banks (botanist, 1734-1820), Francis Greenway (architect, 1777-1837), Charles Kingsford Smith (aviator, 1897-1935), Howard Florey (pathologist, 1898-1968), and Douglas Mawson (geologist, 1882-1958). While Australian banknotes are still male dominated, I decided to include them in this list, because incidentally, Charles Kingsford Smith also has the country’s largest airport, Sydney International, named after him. Several years ago, when Bahamian politicians (aka Pindling’s protégés) decided to name Nassau International Airport after Pindling, I had already argued against the perpetuated personality cult, suggesting to name Nassau’s airport after one of our Bahamian aviation pioneers, such as Albert E. Forsythe or Patrice Clarke-Washington, instead.
With precedent duly established, I ask why all my money looks the same? Why do we not celebrate the multitude of Bahamians who have contributed to this country in so many different ways? Why can I not pay with a Joseph Spence, a Keva Bethel, or a Pompey?
This personality cult impairs our judgement and prevents us from making informed decisions. Our parties make no effort to truly empower Bahamians, for their structures are utterly undemocratic, too. Crowds at PLP rallies cheer when they are told that their former “leader” had to “twist a lot of arms at the PLP Convention” to get his chosen one elected. Why should anyone be allowed to twist arms in a democracy? As Ian Strachan, Associate Professor of English at The College of The Bahamas, recently pointed out, it is the leader-centred structures of our parties that perpetuate the undemocratic climate in our society.
In nine days time, we are asked to choose between two protégés and the protégé of a protégé, who has also already demonstrated that his understanding of democracy is similarly limited, when he proudly declared that as party leader it was his, and only his, decision to choose in which constituency he may want to run. We are asked to choose between three men, who call themselves leaders, who deny that the other two are leaders, who expect us to follow. What they forget is the same lesson their teacher apparently forgot, though he used to preach it himself. On Black Tuesday, 27th April, 1965, Pindling said,” Authority in this island belongs to the people… Yes, the people are outside, and the mace belongs outside, too!”
I make for a poor follower, so please do not come knocking on my door campaigning on “leadership.”