July 13, 2013
In an address at a Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) convention in 1970, the late Sir Lynden Pindling said that he was for independence because it was a good means to an end and because Bahamians cannot grow and develop to their maximum potential without it.
In 1971, Pindling visited London where he held discussions with Governor Lord Francis Hovell-Thurlow-Cumming-Bruce concerning the issue of independence. I gather from these talks that Pindling made up his mind once and for all to set a definite time frame to severe colonial ties from Great Britain.
It was announced during the speech from the throne on June 14, 1971 at the opening of Parliament that Bahamian independence would follow a PLP general election victory, and come into effect no later than 1973, according to noted historian Michael Craton. And so with an economy that was sputtering in 1971 and with many black and white Bahamians still living in squalor, despite achieving majority rule some three years prior, the PLP decided to make the issue of Bahamian independence a major plank in its 1972 election campaign.
Not surprisingly, the issue of independence was a polarizing one. The Free PLP, the Free National Movement (FNM), the United Bahamian Party, the Greater Abaco Council (GAC) and the two major newspapers were all opposed to The Bahamas gaining independence at that particular time. FNM Founder Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield was of the view that independence should not be sought before the next two general elections that were to be held in the decade of the 1970s. It would appear, then, that the late FNM founder preferred the move for independence in the early 1980s or thereabouts. Sir Roland Symonette said that independence was not in the best interests of the Bahamian people. Symonette served as the first Bahamian premier and was leader of the governing UBP when that party flirted with the idea of gaining independence in the mid-1960s.
For what it's worth, it would appear, then, that members of the old oligarchy and the so-called separatist Abaconians were not totally convinced that the country could go it alone without the aid and supervision of mother country. Many of the members of the UBP and the GAC were white and obviously held deep-seated mistrust of Pindling and the predominately black PLP. I must admit, though, that The Bahamas has advanced economically, educationally and technologically since July 10, 1973. Hindsight being 20/20, the fears of the aforementioned independence naysayers were uncalled for.
All the same, one cannot help but wonder if Pindling and the other founding fathers would have pursued independence had they been given a glimpse back then of The Bahamas in the year 2013. With the recent release of the shocking shantytown report, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has obviously widened. This is more acute in the Over-the-Hill communities of Nassau where residents live in ramshackled houses without indoor plumbing; while middle-class and wealthy Bahamians live in gated and upscale communities.
The unemployment issue has reached crisis proportions and is worse than the unemployment issue of the early 1970s when Pindling was given serious thought to independence. At times, one is tempted to believe that we have traded in a wealthy white oligarchy for a black one. Former UBP Errington Watkins famously said in the early 1970s that while it is true that the UBP grew fat, the country grew fat also; members of the PLP government are growing fat and the Bahamian people are growing thin.
Granted, The Bahamas of 2013 has more Bahamian millionaires than The Bahamas of 1973 and before. But we also have more Bahamians in 2013 living in squalor than there were in 1973. Our crime situation today leaves much to be desired. While Bahamians in a pre-independent Bahamas were known to keep their doors unlocked during the night time, this country in the last several years has had an average of 100 murders per year. Fox Hill prison is overcrowded and in a deplorable state. In a pre-independent Bahamas, most Bahamian youths feared police, who were mostly armed with a simple cane. Today, gun-toting police officers are being fired at by young ruthless criminals with high powered rifles. Despite the millions that have been pumped into the police force, crime continues to erode the quality of life in this country. The inner-city communities of Nassau are inundated with gangs who are engaged in an endless turf war. This was simply not the case in 1973.
Our defence force personnel continue to struggle in policing our waters and illegal immigrants continue to inundate our country, thereby placing further strain on our already limited resources. Our public healthcare system is in shambles and is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the Bahamian people. Further, the lifespans of many Bahamians are being cut short due to many non-communicable diseases, which were mostly nonexistent in 1973. We are not as healthy as our forebears. Many of them ate off the land and lived to see ripe ages.
Bahamians are way more educated than their forebears in 1973 and we have more doctors, lawyers, engineers, trained teachers and college educated professionals and highly paid corporate executives, but the education system continues to churn out graduates who can barely read, write, comprehend and figure. While the government in 1973 did not have access to the kind of capital that today's governments have, at least it did not have a $5 billion debt and run deficits to the tune of half of a billion dollars. And at least it did not have a civil service of 25,000 which consumes at least 60 percent of the government's annual revenues. Further, at the least the government in 1973 was not as overburdened with financially worthless corporations such as the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, the Water and Sewage Corporation, Bahamasair and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. The Family Islands of 2013 are worse off today than they were in a pre-independent Bahamas. Most of the Family Islands have experienced a mass exodus of financial refugees who have flocked to New Providence in search of economic opportunities.
With all the problems The Bahamas is currently facing, I sometimes wonder if this country would have been better off remaining with Great Britain, as the Cayman Islands and The Turk and Caicos Islands have done. Both of these British colonies are among the countries with the lowest crime rates in the world. Moreover, the economy in the Cayman Islands is the envy of the region. For example, its GDP per capita for 2010 was a staggering $47,000.
I am somewhat ambivalent towards this country's 40th independence anniversary. As I study history and see where this country was 40 years ago, I become embarrassed at where we are today. At the rate we are presently on, I cannot even begin to imagine if this country will be in existence 40 years from now.
I believe The Bahamas is a failed state.
- Kevin Evans
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