July 12, 2015
The 42nd anniversary of Bahamian independence met a nation in a bit of a funk. Nationally, it has been hard to find things to create a spirit of celebration and cheer. There is a malaise in the country right now.
Prime Minister Perry Christie’s declaration last Wednesday that “things are going to be dead good in the country very soon” has failed to resonate. Many Bahamians have long grown weary of such declarations. Many no longer find them believable.
As Baha Mar was going under over the course of months, Christie peddled false hopes — going as far as declaring in May that the developer was not out of money and financing was not an issue. The public later learned that this in fact was not the case. There is a great deal of uncertainty over the future of the Baha Mar project at Cable Beach. For the last decade, it has been touted as an important source of economic rejuvenation.
It is the largest single-phase touristic development in this region. It was supposed to employ up to 5,000 Bahamians and boost economic growth to over two percent annually during the first two years. But it is in trouble. More than 2,000 Bahamians directly employed by Baha Mar, and hundreds of others employed by contractors and other people doing business with Baha Mar are in a state of anxiety. They do not know what will happen next.
Many are home with nothing to do. And while the government has committed to paying them for July, the rug has been pulled from under them. Their job security has been lost. The uncertainty and distress over Baha Mar are being felt by many other Bahamians not directly connected to the property. Given the grave implications of a prolonged delay in getting the project completed, this is understandable.
The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) warned recently that a delay could weaken the image of The Bahamas’ tourism brand and lead to lower economic growth. S&P also warned that it could lower its ratings on The Bahamas. In addition to the damper the Baha Mar quagmire is placing on the national mood and the adverse impact it is having on the national psyche, we are also distressed over the continued level of violence in our communities.
The accompanying fear and concern for our safety have plagued us for a long while. The promises by the government that it could solve the problem have not yet materialized. Last week, Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage announced that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved a $20 million loan to the Bahamian government to help fund the fight against crime.
Together with the IDB, the government came up with a number of crime-fighting strategies that include targeting at-risk youth, strengthening the justice system and improving reintegration programs for convicts, according to the minister. But he reminded — as politicians do when they take office — that crime cannot be addressed overnight.
The murder of yet another Bahamian man in Nassau Village on independence day was a poignant reminder that some areas of New Providence have become a war zone with chilling effects felt across the country. Within minutes of the murder, a video circulated on social media, purportedly showing the victim taking his last breath as residents encircled him. One woman declared these are the end times.
Sadly, that has become a familiar scene in many communities. The dreams of our forefathers have been hijacked by a spirit of hate and anger and a callous disregard for human life.
After 1:30 a.m. yesterday as most people in the country were probably fast asleep, police alerted the media that they were on the scene of another murder; this one was at a bar off Claridge Road.
As this piece was being written, police advised yesterday that they were on the scene of yet another murder on East Street South. Reporters who arrived at the scene reported that the body of a man shot to death was on the side of the street next to a beauty supplies store. Again, not long after, a video purportedly of that latest murder victim circulated. Those killings pushed the murder count for 2015 to 80 — a grim statistic that speaks to all that we did not dream to be at 42.
When he accepted his Icon Award at Melia on Saturday night, psychiatrist Dr. David Allen, who was honored in the humanitarian category, dedicated it to all the families who are suffering as a result of all the murders. He appealed once again for more love and an end to the hate. The pain he often encounters through his work with the families of victims was reflected in his facial expression and in his words. For Allen, it was not a moment of celebration, but an opportunity to remind the nation that we must get a grip before it is too late.
With so many critical problems dragging our national will, it was difficult for many Bahamians to feel good about the state and direction of their country. But there were some moments that reminded us this weekend that we can still find hope to build a better Bahamas, and we have the people to do it. At home, many of them are already making a difference.
Among them is Nikita Shiel-Rolle, a conservation biologist, who has combined her passion for the ocean, exploration and education with her love of The Bahamas to empower young people and encourage them to share her love of the sea and become involved in science. Shiel-Rolle accepted the Icon Award for youth empowerment with grace and humility, pledging that it will inspire her to continue her work with greater determination.
Abroad, our national flag is being carried with pride by young Bahamians like Shaunae Miller, the elite Bahamian athlete who ran a personal best in the 400m at the Golden League event in Lausanne, Switzerland on Thursday, beating American Sanya Richards-Ross and Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills.
We also recognize Steven Gardiner, the 19-year-old Moore’s Island native, who took down one of the more noted names in the world in his signature event last week. Gardiner glided past two-time world champion and former Olympic Champion LaShawn Merritt, of the United States, winning comfortably in the men’s 400m in Budapest, Hungary.
There are many young Bahamians who continue to show signs that The Bahamas will be in good hands. The talent of the nation’s youth on display at Clifford Park on Thursday night provided an air of relief amid the gloom.
We, like many other Bahamians, were impressed by little Kaitlyn Archer, a student of St. Anne’s School who spoke with eloquence and confidence during the independence celebrations. She lit up social media. One Facebook user noted, “She has it all — brains, beauty and a determination to be the best at whatever she does.”
At the Icon Awards on Saturday night, young Charles Hamilton Jr., the 2015 Spelling Bee champion, wowed the crowd with his wit and brilliance. This young man will go far, we have no doubt.
The awards provided an opportunity for us to celebrate our own. More importantly, they reminded us that despite our troubles — and we have many — we are also blessed with talented, committed Bahamians who in their daily lives are doing big things to benefit their country.
We were heartened by Baha Men’s win in the music category for its single “Night and Day”. The win came several weeks after the Grammy Award-winning group got poor reviews for its performance at carnival. The young and talented Dyson Knight, who accepted the award on behalf of the group, thanked Bahamians who still believe in Baha Men. We certainly do.
We also forgot about our national problems for a brief time when music legend Ronnie Butler was wheeled on stage to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award.
Butler said his dying wish would be that rake ‘n scrape or Bahamian bush music lives on long after his death.
In a clear signal that it will, several young entertainers — Angelique Sabrina, Osano Neely, Wendy Lewis and Knight — performed a special Ronnie Butler tribute, which ended with Butler himself bringing down the house, while joking that the excitement of it all could trigger another heart attack.
For that moment, we were filled with all the goodness of being Bahamian. But there were many other moments on Saturday night that reminded us that we are small enough to meet our challenges.
As Icon Awards Founder Addis Huyler put it in his speech at the end of the show: “Our success or failure as a nation must not be determined by any other variable outside of the seeking, nurturing and fulfilling of the absolute best in ourselves and in those around us.”
So while at 42 we are far off the mark, we are not without hope.
What is uncertain though is whether we have the collective will needed to rise above partisan leanings, find the best in all of us, formulate solutions and take the critical action needed to save our beloved nation and ourselves.
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