All Grown Up

Yes, I had threatened to write a critical end-of-year review, looking back at what has not changed or improved in our Bahamaland over the past twelve months, but the thought of being forced to recall a paternalistic election campaign, a bumbling new government and a paralysed opposition just seemed too depressing a way to spend the holidays. As today is New Year’s Eve, I am in too good a mood to do that to you (and me). Instead, I would like to force us to imagine the possibilities that 2013 may have in store for us.

A good chunk of 2012 saw many of us at the College of the Bahamas working feverishly to prepare a conference commemorating the Bahamas’ fortieth anniversary of independence next year. The call for papers went out in October, for the conference to be hosted by the College in June 2013: “The aim of the conference is to examine the context and construction of the Bahamian nation; investigate the challenges emerging in the post-independence period; discuss contemporary social, cultural, economic and political issues that have emerged since 1973; and explore future prospects for nation building and development.” The College also hopes to reach out to Bahamian students, in particular graduate students abroad, to get them involved in shaping a vision for the way forward.

In the past, exploring possible solutions to the problems plaguing our nation too often fell short, because at the onset of any discussion the argument that this is all due to us “being a young nation,” excused our shortcomings and suggested that time would fix everything. We just needed to sit back down and wait for the next Moses to come. To me, forty does not feel young. I hope the time has come that we retire the “young nation” excuse, and find a new way to tackle our problems. Recently, many research symposia at the College demonstrated that the our understanding of the root causes of many of our problems is growing. It is time that we incorporate this knowledge, local knowledge, into our attempts to find solutions.

Specifically Bahamian research findings allow us to kill two birds with one stone. We could change our national approach to problem solving away from fiddling with the symptoms to alleviating the causes, and we could begin to assert our sovereignty by emancipating ourselves from foreign consultants. I am confident that the upcoming conference will indeed be a national event, garnering – at least – national attention, and will highlight new avenues for progress.

One of the bodies the new government instituted is the Constitutional Review Committee, and one its members, Dr. Alfred Sears, has since shared some of his thoughts with the Bahamian public via a column in the Nassau Guardian. Much of what he writes has me optimistic that the committee’s recommendations will be nothing short of revolutionary in our post-colonial environment, but I also feel that the committee’s work needs broader public participation, and that its members should communicate with the citizenry not via old-fashioned one-way media such as newspapers.

Our neighbour to the northwest, the United States of America, has an official, government-sanctioned platform for online petitions, called “We The People.” Of course, this tool for more direct citizen involvement in the democratic process allows not only for constructive elements to share their ideas, but is easily abused by the fringes of political radicalism, as is illustrated by the petition to deport a foreign television personality for criticising the Second Amendment, or serves as a platform for pranksters who demand the construction of a Star Wars-like Death Star.

In 2012, the Bahamas has experienced a tremendous increase in online political discussions. New blogs popped up all over the place, and many were eagerly shared on Facebook, which already has a tremendous reach in the Bahamas, and Twitter, which has seen rapid growth here recently. I am confident that Bahamian netizens will find ways to force the political class to listen to them, even if the political class may currently still be blissfully unaware that democracy in the twenty-first century is no longer limited to giving us a piece of paper and a pencil every five years.

Even the traditional media is changing. Guardian Talk Radio is beginning to change the way current affairs are discussed in the public domain. The hosts on that station predominantly represent the younger, post-independence generation of Bahamians, and over the past year, we saw this generation make an effort to emancipate themselves from the traditional patterns that allowed deep-rooted, old interest groups to monopolise debates.

It is also worth noting that many of the protagonists of this transformation come out of Grand Bahama, and while much of Bahamian decision-making still focusses on New Providence, the second city is no longer willing to play second fiddle. Over the years, Freeport has raised some outstanding young Bahamians whose qualifications equip them with all the potential to not just bend, but break the perpetuated restraints of our (post-)colonial mindset.

I will start my new year with a trip to Freeport, for a day’s worth of meeting with new students majoring in the social sciences at the Northern Bahamas Campus of the College of the Bahamas. I had the pleasure of going up there in November, and I could not help but notice one major difference between Freeport and Nassau. In Nassau, we love our bureaucracy and are experts at finding every rule in the book to prevent things from happening; in Freeport, they love bureaucracy at least as much, and are experts at finding every rule in the book to make things happen.

This spirit of self-confidence should be recognised as a huge promise for a different future of our country. This year, the central government in an effort to improve Grand Bahama’s economy, created a new Ministry for Grand Bahama, but a new Nassau-centred bureaucracy should only be an interim quick-fix for the grave situation on that island. As a nation, we should explore options to allow islands who have the necessary infrastructure and resources to cut the umbilical cord and set up genuine local government. Unlike what we currently call local government, however, this should not be appointees at Nassau’s mercy, but locally elected, separately funded entities. Imagine a small-scale version of states or provinces in other, more federally structured countries.

So, will 2013 bring us all these things? No, but I am confident that we see some of these issues being discussed not in private conversations amongst academicians, but in a more public arena. For now, I shall begin my preparations for this evening and then maybe catch a nap before junkanoo tonight. By the way, I sincerely hope that, as we are headed into this fortieth anniversary of independence year, junkanoo themes will also become deferent to our former masters, and that last Boxing Day was the last time our winners sport a theme as colonial as the Valley Boys did.

Valley Boys, 2012 Boxing Day Parade

Happy New Year!