Taxes, spokespeople, politicians & the press

The Nassau Guardian, continuing its expose on the value-added tax coordinator, reports on the latest statement made by the Leader of the Opposition about the Prime Minister.

I don't really see why.

For me the story does not lie in the statement of the Leader of the Opposition, or in the Prime Minister's response. Both men are transient; but the issues are permanent, and will affect us all for quite a while. For me the story lies in the absurdity of the defence of a person who clearly is not managing his own finances as the main spokesperson for financial reform. Forget what the PM or the LO had to say; focus on the issue at hand. The government has no money because it has not kept up with the changes in the global economy and has not managed its finances as it should. The government, in an attempt to manage those national finances, has appointed a person who appears unable or unwilling to manage his own personal finances. This is, to put it kindly, illogical; to put it unkindly, it's absurd.

It's absurd.It's disrespectful to the citizenry who is being asked to pay more taxes, and new ones.It is, very fundamentally, part of the problem. People not paying taxes that already exist is a large reason why the government has a shortage of revenue. To have someone who does not pay taxes—or even his mortgage, if reports are to be believed—as the spokesperson who is asking us to pay more taxes is quite possibly the worst strategy that one could ever employ.

A World According to Denmark

This week I've been watching the Danish television show Borgena series that follows the career of the fictional first female Prime Minister. I'm a good way through the first season (there are three seasons so far) and I'm hooked.But this isn't going to be a discussion of the show. If you want to know more about it, go do your own research; go watch it yourselves. For me, the exercise of watching it illuminates--throws into relief, rather--the very narrow limits of our local democracy.For Borgen is a television show about government. I'm forced to watch a lot of these shorts of shows, and to be honest, ever since The West Wing I have not been sorry that I have done so. Such shows have a lot to say, a lot to teach perhaps, a lot to contribute to the way in which we (I) think about democracy. I've been exposed to the blockbusters (The West Wing), the sensational (Scandal), the seamy (Boss), the dastardly (both versions of House of Cards), but, The West Wing aside, most of them tend to exaggerate both the players and the gravity of their actions in the telling of their tales. Perhaps that's because they all deal with politics and government in countries that are used to having great sway on the world stage--the US and Britain--and so the issues that preoccupy the fictional characters are larger than life; and, in a rather Shakespearean way, the flaws of the characters (in Boss and House of Cards particularly--and Scandal of course, which cannot survive without, well, scandal) are Hamlet-sized.Borgen is different, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Denmark is not, and never has been, a world leader. It's a small, rich, successful country that had (and still has, indeed) a very minor empire; that has a very democratic monarchy; that has a parliamentary system that is very typically European, in that  political parties are ideological factions and represent many different ways of viewing the world and one's government, and that has a pretty endearing way of seeing its place in the world. The politicians about which this series is written are pretty ordinary in this sceme of things. They are about as flawed as the people I work with at the College of The Bahamas. The crises that threaten the government are more often than not moral crises (how many times does morality cross the political stage on our side of the Atlantic?), and philosophy often lies at the core of decisions made. What's even more interesting is that the government in question is a coalition government, so forget the monolithic strong-arming of policy and ideas that we are so used to on this side of the Atlantic; governing in this world has a lot more to do with finding and maintaining common ground than bullying opponents. The main antagonists (I don't mean this in a protagonist/antagonist sense) are the press, which is really free, and whose right to challenge and question politicians is guarded by almost everyone, politicians included. It's a fascinating look, for me, into a world in which democracy is related to what ordinary people believe about the world, to consensus, and to paying attention to the rights of the many, where "democracy" is not a code-word for the tyranny of the majority or first-past-the-post voting (a crash course on Danish politics can be found here and here).It makes me hopeful that it is possible to do the business of government in a different way than we currently do in our part of the world. That's the main reason I enjoy the show. Every other television show about government that I have seen, has reinforced the idea that politicians must universally be hollow or corrupt, and our familiarity with the (very lofty, very flawed) American political system has hurt our democracy, our government, and our ability to carve our own way. Do we believe in democracy, I wonder? Do we hold our politicians to account? (I can hear you now--are these serious questions?) In the forty years of our independence, how much real work has our legislature done? Why are the laws on the books still patched-up versions of colonial laws, most of which are predicated on the idea that the majority of the inhabitants of our country are little better than children and must be forced to behave well rather than treated as full citizens? Are the decisions we make made for us or in desperation to achieve something worth recording in history books?I'll stop there, and just say this to every Bahamian who cares about the state of our nation: go find this TV show, clear your head and clear your schedule, and watch it. Then see how you think about politics, governance, and the possibilties of small societies. Then let's get together and start making them happen here.

Concerning Reparations for Slavery: Part One

This past October, a tiny tempest-in-a-teacup erupted in the wake of a fairly routine report on a decision taken by CARICOM to sue the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations for slavery. Following the report, which headlined, somewhat misleadingly, as "BAHAMAS SUING UK OVER SLAVERY", was a flurry of communications on both sides of the debate, along with a quick opinion poll by the Tribune which suggested that one-third of the people who took it were in support of the lawsuit, two-thirds against. The matter has since seemed to go away, sinking into the mire of superficialities which passes for public debate in our nation. But I want to suggest that what CARICOM has initiated is something that will eventually occur, and which may, when it does happen, change the future of the region if we let it. Whatever the noise in the market, the matter of reparations for New World slavery will not go away. A great wrong was committed against millions of human beings in the name of nothing more than global domination and profit, and that is a debt that will one day be paid.Here's why I say that. It seems to me that the resistance against the idea of reparations for slavery takes one of several forms. The first is the idea expressed by the UK government representative contacted by the Tribune to respond to CARICOM's lawsuit: that "governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened 200 years ago". The second is subtly connected to the first, but it shifts the focus from the enslaving nations to the nations founded on slavery, and argues that as the ills of the present cannot be solved by placing the blame on past wrongs, the past should be buried and the future considered. There is a third: that the debt has already been paid with independence, and that the political freedom of the people who were once enslaved is all that is necessary to right the wrong. A fourth argues that instead of focussing on the slavery of the past, the continuing enslavement and exploitation of people today is more a more pressing matter to consider. And there are countless other objections to the idea.What all of these objections have in common is that they deflect the idea of reparations from the principle on which the idea rests to the practicalities of the issue. In so doing, they inadvertently make the case, at least to me, for the very thing they oppose. What not one of these objections admits is that the institution of transatlantic slavery was a crime against humanity of such magnitude that makes it nearly impossible for us to deal with even two centuries after the beginning of its abolition. What they all do, instead, is continue to perpetuate the crime that lies at the heart of the reparations movement: that the enslavement of Africans by Europeans in the process of founding the so-called "New" World depended upon the fundamental dehumanization of those enslaved, and was accompanied by the very different dehumanization of the enslavers which occurred in the process.What these objections do is focus on the people enslaved, on the practical difficulties in addressing the wrong, on the pragmatics of the issue, which affect so many things about our current existence that it is almost impossible to conceive of living any other way. What not one of them does is address the idea that the crime for which restitution is being sought is not a crime against the person; it is a crime against the very idea of humanity and the concept of human beings. And it does not address the idea that until we begin to think about reparations from this perspective, we will continue to commit that crime.In case I'm not making myself clear, let me say it this way.For me, reparations for the transatlantic exercise of slavery (which is the specific offence that is being addressed in the CARICOM lawsuit) are not being sought for some past wrong that ended two hundred years ago. They are being sought for the continued dehumanization of the people who were enslaved, the people who enslaved them, and the people (us) who have inherited the world that rose up to maintain the slave system. It is a world whose structures, certainly in The Bahamas, remain very much intact, thus giving life to, enabling, the narrative that suggests that the past can be buried. But the past is not yet dead. It lives on in the very discourse that we use to discuss--or to dismiss--the call for reparations, and it is this which needs healing.This meditation is only a beginning of an exploration of the topic, and the start of my personal attempt to make sense of the issue, and to explain why first, I support the call for reparations; why second, I am convinced that no amount of ridicule and dismissal will make the call for reparations disappear; why third, I am certain that the arguments being brought against the call will eventually dissolve and peter out, and why the call for reparations will swell until restitution is paid; and why last, I am convinced that one day reparations of some kind will be paid by European governments (or by the EU itself) for their part in the system of transatlantic slavery.If you doubt me, consider this move, initiated this past May in France, pushing Europe to do what it has already done: to declare slavery a crime against humanity. And consider the language that accompanied it:

Written declaration, under Rule 123 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, on establishing a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery1
  1. European colonisation not only caused political submission and the economic plunder of the colonised territories and population, but also the extermination of native peoples and the deportation and reduction to slavery of millions;
  2. Under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, enslavement is recognised as a crime against humanity;
  3. Colonisation had among its effects that of depriving the colonised territories of their lifeblood, impacting negatively on their development capacity;
  4. The political, economic, demographic and psychological consequences of European colonisation are still resonating;
  5. The Commission is hence called upon to support the establishment of a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery;
  6. The Council is also encouraged to take ownership of the initiative by supporting it at European level;
  7. This declaration, together with the names of the signatories, is forwarded to the Council and the Commission.
It's a beginning. It is a small step, true, and principally symbolic, as it was accompanied by no restitution; but it is a turn in the direction of rightness.I'm going to return to this topic over the next month or so.You're warned.

The protests around the world: The march of protest | The Economist

A FAMILIAR face appeared in many of the protests taking place in scores of cities on three continents this week: a Guy Fawkes mask with a roguish smile and a pencil-thin moustache. The mask belongs to “V”, a character in a graphic novel from the 1980s who became the symbol for a group of computer hackers called Anonymous. His contempt for government resonates with people all over the world.The protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.Yet just as in 1848, 1968 and 1989, when people also found a collective voice, the demonstrators have much in common. Over the past few weeks, in one country after another, protesters have risen up with bewildering speed. They have been more active in democracies than dictatorships. They tend to be ordinary, middle-class people, not lobbies with lists of demands. Their mix of revelry and rage condemns the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the folk in chargevia The protests around the world: The march of protest | The Economist.

Makes me wonder. If the protests are so widespread, why are they not happening (yet) in the Caribbean?

Democracy, Belief, and Belief in Democracy

BahamasPrideFlag-AranhaThere's a petition circulating right now. I've signed it. I'm also promoting it. And I'm apologizing right now to those people for whom my promotion of the petition is problematic. I recognize the dilemma you might be facing. It's not my dilemma, but if it is yours, I respect it. I even apologize for not allowing the issue to go away.But I'm not going to allow it to go away. Because discrimination is not right, and I will not support it in whatever form it takes.Here's the issue:

"ATTORNEY General, Allyson Maynard Gibson said yesterday the Constitution should be amended to end all forms of discrimination, except discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (Tribune 11/06/2013)Amendments to existing law or introduction of new legislation (whether constitutional or statute) should include provisions for the protection and free expression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the Bahamas.-----------------Original story:"I Have Been Discriminated" ~ Erin Greene:

And here's the petition:

To: Allyson Maynard Gibson, Attorney General

Sincerely, [Your name]

I believe that in a democracy, one citizen should not be any less equal than another citizen. If we are removing discrimination from our constitution, let us remove it altogether, even if the process of making everyone equal may open up challenges to our personal convictions. It is that equality under the constitution that guarantees us our right to hold our convictions.If you agree with me, consider signing the petition. Let us stand for democracy together.

Under the Almond Tree | a Bahamian blog by Stephen B. Aranha

During the so-called Arab Spring, mass media pundits were quick to dub these movements Facebook or Twitter Revolutions. However, academic researchers have since shown that, while these platforms played an important role in getting information about these events to the outside world, more confidential and easily accessible communication channels, such as text messaging, were far more important in coordinating the protests inside affected Arab countries. The trend to credit social media with fuelling protest movements in the Islamic world can currently be witnessed again in Turkey, however, unlike in the countries of northern Africa, Internet access is widespread in Turkey, and 81% of Turkish Internet users have at least one social media account.In the Bahamas, compared to most of the Arab world, Internet access is comparatively affordable and readily available, and fear of criminal prosecution for voicing one’s opinion is far less prevalent, albeit growing. Can social media, in such a setting, widen the base of participants in the political process and deepen democracy?

via Under the Almond Tree | a Bahamian blog by Stephen B. Aranha.

On his blog, Stephen Aranha writes about the impact of social media on Bahamian politics. Check it out. - COBUS: "Let's Build a University Where Students are Afforded Quality Education at Low Cost"

This is worth reading from beginning to end: - COBUS Press Statement.The press in general has focussed on one small part of the document, that relating to the House of Assembly; the original title of this document online is "COBUS: 'Would like an apology from the Speaker of the House and Royal Bahamas Police Force'", but that is only part of the concerns of this press release. The refusal by the RBPF to admit members of the College of The Bahamas Union of Students to enter the House of Assembly (doubly ironic, given the fact that that day's proceedings were dedicated to Sir Randol Fawkes, the father of the labour movement in The Bahamas and a supporter of all unions) puts broader issues of democracy into question, and it is those issues that are at stake here, not the relatively trivial call for an apology. The apology is incidental. The question is the value we place on the young adults in our society who have chosen to educate themselves at home,, and the value we place on their place in our so-called democracy.In regard to that issue, here is what the President-Elect, Alphonso Major, had to say:

We have many questions about what that transpired that day: what laws gives them police such authority to pick and choose who enters into the House of Assembly? How exactly were we a threat? Who exactly was in danger? Or is the crux of the matter simply that any time a group of educated College students assembles to stand up for something within this country, they are immediately perceived as a threat that must be contained. Even if there was intent to disrupt the proceedings which we maintain we did not have, Members of Parliament disrupt each other all the time within the House of Assembly - why aren’t they being denied access to the proceedings?Is this still a democratic nation that we live in where fundamental rights apply? -- Alphonso Major, President-Elect

But that was not all that transpired at the press conference. Indeed, the meat of this release treats the proposed cuts in subvention to the College and the resultant raising of fees. If you are not a student at the College of The Bahamas, I challenge you to read the whole thing before you come to any conclusion.Some of the highlights, for me:

In the absence of substantiated data, it is our goal to bring these inefficiencies to your attention, and to show all that a solution can be found through our critical assessment and assistance by providing practical, logical solutions, not as idealists: rather as students who recognizes the direction where we as a College should beheading and who wish to insure our futures within the nation as a whole, even before we consider transitioning to University. -- Donovan Harding, PR Director-ElectLet us build a University together one where students are afforded a quality education at low to no cost! We must build on the 21st Century learning skills with the technology and resources that are needed to move the country’s level of education from the bottom of the list to the top with Barbados, Singapore and Finland. -- Ernesto Williams, outgoing COBUS President

Once again, go read it. The whole thing. I challenge you.

It's NaPoWriMo

and I have been writing a poem a day.For the last two days, the poems have been in commemoration of the iron lady, the Baronness Lady Thatcher, who ruled Britain during the time I lived there (and, of course, before that too). Others have given her kudos, and she has to be admired for her ability to transform her party and to transform her country and to do it all as a middle-class woman in the conservative party. These things made her great. But I remember apartheid, and I remember how she almost destroyed the British university system, and how she made Britain unwelcoming for British expatriates and overseas students alike, and I remember poll taxes and VAT and greedy millionaires and a general bleakness about the places I went in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a general unwelcomingness for people who were different, like people of different races or even, Maggie Thatcher and the Queen notwithstanding, like people who were not male. And I remember the fact that when I lived in Britain surveys of the British people revealed that the majority of them were planning to live somewhere else. And I remember the Falklands, as I remember Grenada, and I remember thinking how far the mighty empires had fallen, when greatness was sought by invading/fighting over small islands.So these are my limericks in commemoration of the Iron Lady.No, I was not a fan. But one couldn't help noticing how formidable she was.I call them Thatchericks.1.Dear Maggie detested all whiners,Hated unions, protestors, and signers.As they marched in the streetShe said "Shoot at their feet--And aim higher if any are miners!"2.An iron-boned woman named ThatcherResisted attempts to dispatch her;She glared as they triedAnd ignored those who cried;The truth was, nobody could match her.3."Like Maggie," said ex-Prez De Klerk,"We're sure global sanctions won't work."—But wait, Nelson's free,SA's gone ANC;Thatcher's stand's a historical quirk.4."Here's the thing," opined Nelson Mandela,"We all know I'm likable fella.Maggie Thatcher's just wrong:We can't all get along.And by jove, I'm the fella to tell her."=====================RIP Margaret Thatcher.

Nightmares and Dreams

I had a dream last night which was really a nightmare.

In it, I received a phonecall directing me to go to the cabinet office. Dutifully, I went. It was early in the morning, and I didn't have to wait as long as I expected. Not long after I arrived, someone came and led me into a back room. There were people in the room I didn't know, mostly young politically weighted professionals. They introduced themselves to me. Most had heard of me but we had never met. We observed each other warily.

Then into the office walked several old friends, people with whom I spent many days in my twenties. They were brothers, and they were working for the government.

"You're with me," said the one I knew best, whom I'll call John.

Turns out we were the publicity / public relations / negotiating arm of whatever work was being wrought within the cabinet office. This day, the work was a long-term meeting with foreign investors. I found myself rather liking the investor in question, who was a European of some sort and who was proposing a major land development somewhere on New Providence. At the same time, though, I found myself hating the job itself, hating the project, hating the government and its policies which were poised to sell yet more of our patrimony to yet another profit-seeker. I said only one thing in the negotiations that we conducted all day. I can't remember what it was, but it was something that was self-evident to me but that no one had thought about, and it had to do with the long-term implications of proceeding with the development as projected, and it seemed to change the way in which the development would, well, develop.

At the end of the day, when we were finally finished (fourteen hours or more of time wasted selling Bahamian land to external interests) John told me I was invaluable and I needed to be in all of the meetings from here on in. Thank the lord, that's when I woke up.

All day I've been happy. Happy and relieved that I no longer work for government, that I no longer have to spend my days doing things I absolutely repudiate for the sake of a job, that all I have to combat the injustices our governments perpetrate on the people they supposedly serve is my mouth in a closed room.

And I recognize the feelings I had in the dream. They were the feelings I had--exactly--when I sat in the room I sat in while government officials discussed with resort officials the way they wanted Sidney Poitier to be recognized, the way they wanted to rename the bridge. I had been summoned to a meeting about which I knew nothing. My presence there was little more than an embodied stamp of approval on something about which I had not been consulted, had not even been wholly informed. I was there so that politicians, presumably, could say that the "Co-chair" of a non-existent committee had been consulted, nay, present, during negotiations. They're the feelings one has when one has been silenced.

My waking up was liberation, because I now work for the one government corporation whose freedom of speech is enshrined in its very act. I know, of course, that speaking too liberally can still be punished, can still be silenced, but at the same time my employer is governed, indeed, constituted, by a law that promises "academic freedom". That is why I support the students who have begun to criticize the government (the government that many of them trust(ed), voted for, and may even still wish to support) and the administration of the college. That is why I do not share the media and public opinion about that criticism--that it's just another example of the college's unruliness.

I support the students without wholly agreeing with all their demands because what they are doing is right, what they are doing is not partisan, and what they are doing stems from fundamental principles. I do not support their harnessing or dismissing of their actions by any political faction, because what they are fighting for is beyond any party good. They are fighting for their future, and that is not shaped or bound by any three-letter profanity that I can think of; and they know that, in the words of Dia da Costa,

the very construction of political culture needs to be changed, the method and purpose of government and democracy need rethinking and reorganisation. Political economic culture cannot be about individual and party gain because that amounts to reproducing and reducing social life to liberal democratic and market epistemes. (da Costa, "Theatre as Space of Political Economy")

The students have had the audacity to imagine a different world, and to act as though they are right to want to live in it. More power to them, I say.

Barack Obama's second term

I don't predict political results, because I don't like making mistakes, but I'm beginning to think that maybe I should. I knew in 2008 from the moment that he announced his presidency that Barack Obama would be a two-term president; I had a feeling in 2007 that the PLP was going to lose the election, and had a feeling as early as 2011 that the FNM was going to lose in 2012. I had a feeling that Obama was going to have a tighter race this time around, but had no doubt whatsoever he was going to win the election.It's not hope that makes me feel this way; it's something else. It's the sense that we live in a revolutionary time. Let me be up front here. I buy into the idea floated by Marshall McLuhan that the medium is the message, that modes of communication transform society. Reading his The Gutenberg Galaxy changed the way I thought about the world, and taught me to watch the way in which human beings communicate with one another to help to guess what kinds of decisions they are going to make.The world—not just my Bahamaland, not just the USA, but the world—is currently going through the greatest revolution in communications since the printing press. The digital revolution has changed the way in which information is shared and processed, and it has made the prediction of outcomes in any election unstable. Most political prediction machines are fundamentally anchored in the twentieth century and have not fully adjusted to the universe of social media, where conversations about politics are not limited by political party, national boundaries, or even ideological leanings. The world is talking to one another, ideas are flowing more freely than ever before, discussions are being held outside of the various centres of discussion, and individuals are making up their own minds. The expenditure of money is important, there is no doubt about it, but it is not the deciding factor in any democratic exercise. The deciding factor are the millions of conversations that are happening online, between people who may not be connected in any way beyond their phones, and these conversations are not yet being closely enough monitored to be able to make any decision on political outcomes.Beyond that, and perhaps in part because of this true spread of democracy (as opposed to the pretend spread of it as touted by the USA)—the ability, finally, for individual citizens to make their own contributions, through places like FaceBook and Twitter, to make their opinions known—the ideological temperature of the world is swinging to the left. I don't find this surprising, given the erosion of social and economic landscapes for the ordinary person around the world, and given the fact that it is pretty accepted by the global community that the current so-called recession is the culmination of years excessive right-wing economic policies.The other thing that I find notable is the demographic of the social media universe: it's younger, more diverse, and more radical than the mainstream media. It looks more to me like the faces that are appearing in the shots of the various crowds gathering at Democratic Headquarters across the USA than it resembles the faces gathered in the Republican ones. It is this situation that led, I believe, to the election of the first African-American president of the United States of American in 2008. It's this that led to his re-election this year, which, despite the noises being made by the non-conceding Republican party, is pretty well a given. And it's what's underpinned what I read as a general swinging of the world and the default of ideology to the left, from the far, far right.So I haven't been surprised at all by recent election outcomes. I haven't been looking for people to hold onto their seats, or for governments to change; I've been looking for a swing to the left in every case. And that's what I've seen; and that's what I expect to continue to see for years to come. For me, that's no bad thing.

The Bahamas Corruption Narrative: Get Yours and Say Amen

There's a narrative about The Bahamas that helps shape the ways in which we talk about politics, the nation, ourselves. It's a narrative that proposes, uncritically, that the Progressive Liberal Party is a consortium of liars, crooks, and outlaws, and the Free National Movement is a party of honest men and women whose only desire is to make the Bahamas a better, more civilized place. It expands this idea by suggesting that PLP supporters are lazy, uncouth, corrupt, stupid, and violent, while the FNM and its supporters are diligent, civilized, honest, intelligent, and peace-loving.Now I admit it: I have voted in my life for the PLP. So have many of the people around me, people whose good sense, personal integrity and patriotism I respect. (Many others whose good sense, personal integrity and patriotism I also respect have voted FNM, BDP, CDR, DNA, BDM, VNSP, and probably Labour, NDP, and maybe even the Workers' Party too, but that's another story.) For this reason, as well as for the reasons which have led me to cast my vote in that direction, the idea that I have supported a party of demons and criminals, as well as the idea that in doing so I have condoned or supported corruption, does not sit well with me. But that is where the Bahamas corruption narrative, at least in its current incarnation, tends.It's a narrative that appears in the mainstream print media, both at home and abroad, and it certainly surfaces in politically charged speeches of all kinds. It ran rampant in pockets on Facebook, especially immediately after the results of the general election last week, so much so that some dismayed individuals chattered about packing up their belongings and emigrating from The Bahamas in the wake of the PLP victory at the polls. So pervasive is the narrative that many young Bahamians, born and raised in the 1990s, accept it as truth, and tend to apply without question the concepts of the Progressive Liberal Party as gangster men with their arms up to their armpits stuck in the national "cookie jars", and the Free National Movement as white-hatted sheriffs, valiantly smashing those cookie jars to set the cookies free. It's a lovely, simple idea, and one that seems to be reiterated, consciously and unconsciously, in general conversations, so much so that discussions become depressingly, boringly predictable.The only problem is, it's not strictly true.Let me be quite clear here. I am not claiming for one minute that there is no corruption in Bahamian politics. I am not claiming that the Progressive Liberal Party is a pristine organization; the history of the party is chequered, to say the least, and definitively tarnished when one goes back a generation. The 1980s were not bright and shining times for any of us in The Bahamas, and the Progressive Liberal Party was implicated in much wrongdoing. The 1980s were, for those of us who lived through them and remember them, vexing, turbulent times. But they were not all bad. Criminality and addiction pervaded the society from top to bottom, and there was talk about our losing an entire generation to drugs; but at the same time, we had stories of remarkable personal triumphs (ask Carlos Reid and Pastor Dave Burrows), we saw a burgeoning movement of self-help and self-reliance (ask Myles Munroe and Neil Ellis), and we saw leaders taking historic stands of conscience that cost them more than many of today's holders of political office would be willing to lose (ask Arthur Hanna, Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie).No; I'm not claiming that there is no reason for a corruption narrative to exist. What I am suggesting is that it is not unique to any one political party or the other, as so much of today's discourse appears to suggest. It seems to be a truism that the PLP is corrupt, the FNM incorruptible; but the truth is politics is a dirty business on the whole, and no group is exempt. Even in the 1980s, the moral ground on which the Free National Movement stood with regard to drugs began to erode when the public realized that the shining stars in that party themselves had links with drug kingpins, with Free National Movement lawyer-politicians acting for Luis "Kojak" Garcia and Carlos "Joe" Lehder; as the former Leader of the Opposition, Kendal G. L. Isaacs, Q.C., acknowledged, in our system of law, individuals are considered innocent until proven guilty, and all people are entitled to representation.What bothers me perhaps the most is that this discussion appears to unfold without critical examination. Take, for example, this comment from one of the denizens of Facebook, regarding the change of government:

So the PLP is already off and running with their same corrupt business as usual. ... Same corruption. Same mess. Same PLP. And it hasn't been a week yet. (taken from a thread in "Bahamas Election 2011/2012" in May 2012)

An overzealous supporter, you say? Someone with limited knowledge, someone who is easily led? Perhaps, but take these examples, from the editorial pages of the Tribune, which appear to chart the course:
She made a little speech about supporting the PLP and what “Papa” better not come promising around her, then in a typical PLP gesture, she held out her hand: “Gimme sumt’ing,” she begged. (April 24, 2012, my emphasis)


Yesterday we drove around various constituencies, including Grants Town. The stories we heard of vote buying in various places were mind-boggling. Some were told by the very persons who had been solicited, one of whom had succumbed.We heard the stories of men who were offered bribes of $5,000, $10,000, as high as $15,000, to take off their red shirts, reject their FNM candidate and convince other FNM supporters to do the same. (May 8, 2012)

I really don't need to state the obvious: that vote-buying is neither a new habit, nor one owned, invented, developed, or perfected by the PLP; it has been blatantly a part of Bahamian politics since men could vote. I don't need to say, further, that if one listened, one might hear similar stories regarding the taking off of yellow shirts to put on the red. This issue is not a party issue, but a cultural one, and something that needs to be addressed in a manner that involves a little less paternalism, a little more respect.Rather, I'd like to focus on what disturbs me more: that the corruption narrative appears to be validated by the fact that the American media follow the same general line as is taken above. I have long been troubled by the lack of balance, or perhaps of critical distance, exhibited by our print media, which, despite tremendous improvement over the past decade or so, is still inclined to eschew political analysis in favour of reportage and innuendo; but what prompted me to write this post was the story in the Miami Herald which appeared on May 4th—an article that made reference, of all things, to the Anna Nicole "scandal" of 2006-7, while overlooking issues of greater concern, such as (say) the awarding to the Aga Khan the right to own/occupy/develop islands within the bounds of the Exuma Land and Sea National Park, for what Bahamian benefit I have never been able to discern. I have never terribly impressed by sex scandals, or things that purport to be. I happen to believe that it's perfectly possible for a man (or woman) to make valid, even inspired, political decisions while at the same time being incapable of controlling his (or her) libido; Martin Luther King and William Jefferson Clinton come to mind. Call me crazy, but I am far more concerned about the selling of Bahamian tax dollars (say, the several million in advertising that we continue to provide Atlantis, some 18 years after its initial investment), Bahamian land to foreigners (Cable Beach from Goodman's Bay to Sandals, an indigestible chunk of Exuma to Four Seasons/Sandals, or individual islands and cays to cruise ships), or untapped fossil fuel resources to little-known private companies.This is why the current Bahamas corruption narrative unsettles me. It's not that we shouldn't be talking about corruption; of course we should. What is missing from the discussion, however, is balance. It is easy to assign blame to only one group of people, to assume that when a particular party takes power, the moral fibre of the society is under threat—but it is not accurate. It is a matter of record that politicians on all sides of the political divide have been implicated in questionable activities, if not outright examples of corruption; but it is also a matter of record that the people that many consider impeccably honest of the House of Assembly come from every party too.When we pull up Anna Nicole Smith, but ignore Mona Vie, the Aga Khan, or cease our interrogation of the 4,000+ Chinese work permits, we undermine our commitment to the Bahamas corruption narrative. When we revisit the 1980s, but skim over the scandals, such as the Clifton Cay deal, that plagued the Free National Movement at the end of the 1990s, we do the same. In both cases, we may be following our moral compass; but we're overlooking the fact that it needs calibration.My own position is that there is probably very little difference among politicians. People are people; many succumb to temptation, while a few are able to resist. What I would like to see is a willingness on the part of all Bahamians to call out corruption whenever or wherever we see it, especially if it comes from within our particular political enclave. It is not all right to endorse corrupt activities in the name of one's own party while at the same time condemning them when they are conducted by another, as happens here:

ATTENTION ALL FNMs, the PLP is now giving out PLENTY MONEY!!!!!! THE OIL MONEY IS HERE. TAKE THE MONEY, SAY THANKS YOU AND VOTE FNM. Heavy money in Freeport, Bain Town, Centreville, Bamboo Town, Mount Moriah, Fort Charlotte, Montague, St. Annes, West Grand Bahama, Coopers Town, North Andros, Central & South Eleuthera, North Eleuthera Fox Hill etc. There is plenty OIL MONEY. GET YOURS AND SAY AMEN. (taken from a thread in "Politics in Review" in May 2012)

So let me end by taking a leaf from my own book. It's this very question, the question of "oil money" that concerns me right now when it comes to the continuation of the Bahamas corruption narrative. Bahamian oil is an issue that, as Larry Smith has so succinctly observed, "is the biggest single issue facing the country today"—and something about which we know far too little; shareholders in London appear to know more. It is also something that, now the government has changed, is no longer a neutral issue for the Progressive Liberal Party. When last challenged on their relationship with the main company that has been granted oil exploration licences, the new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister stated that they had no conflict of interest, as they were not in government, and had no ability to influence national policy on the question of oil. The situation is fundamentally different today.I call upon the government to move swiftly to the referendum promised regarding oil drilling from the platform of the Progressive Liberal Party rallies. But before that, I call upon the government to engage in open and public dialogue about the oil question. Let us see and know what the Bahamas Petroleum Company plans to do with the oil that apparently lies beneath our seabed, and how drilling for it might benefit us. Explain to us what good things, beyond the $$$ we naively associate with oil money, drilling will bring to our nation, in this century that is already looking beyond fossil fuels to sources of alternative energy. Show us how ordinary Bahamians will benefit from oil exploration, and why we should trust any investment in a resource that has brought poverty and turmoil, not prosperity, to too many of the regions that looked upon it as a remedy for all their ills—Nigeria comes all too swiftly to mind. This is an issue as big as any we have faced thus far in our history, and it is an issue on which the new government of The Bahamas, a government in which I have chosen to believe, will stand or fall.

Predicting the 2012 General Election: Third parties & other things

Been following some of the predictions re the upcoming elections. (There are others too: here, here and here.) Not closely, you understand, because I just don't have that much time in my life (and I've been doing other, really exciting and constructive things), but occasionally, with some interest, because this is the most fascinating election period that has occurred in a long, long time, and because every prediction out there has to contend with a new, unfamiliar curve ball: the rise of the third party movement.Note I didn't say the DNA. That's because the Democratic National Alliance is just capitalising on something that has changed in the country, something that I believe is going to continue to grow, even if the two-party acolytes succeed in killing the DNA off. It's the fact that the split between two major parties in The Bahamas has developed almost by default. Its roots are in that most ancient and powerful division in our nation: the centuries-long categorisation of Bahamians of colour as "natives" (white Bahamians were "residents") whose purpose was to serve their betters—not to lead. The FNM-PLP split, for better or for worse, is buried in this dichotomy, and for decades one could fairly safely assume that PLP supporters tended towards the privileging of black Bahamians, while FNM supporters advocated the One Bahamas movement (by which I mean the recognition that Bahamian and black are not necessarily synonymous). As a result, anyone who has voted in two or more elections should recall that no election season till this one has been allowed to pass without the invocation of race—whether from rally platforms, in letters to the editor, or by reference to the American TV miniseries Roots.The third party movement has queered that pitch. The 2012 election is historic in any number of ways, but one of the most significant is that I have not noticed any real reference to race in the campaigns. In fact, it would appear from the images being projected by the Afrocentric PLP, in posters, the Mandate, videos and ads, that white Bahamians are embraced and included, and that it is no longer possible to assign PLP-ness to black Bahamians and FNM-ness to white. The simple fact is that race is no longer a major issue for most Bahamians. I am not saying that it is no longer relevant in our society; what I am suggesting that it is no longer a primary determinant of one's ability to succeed in The Bahamas. And because of that, the principles on which both the FNM and the PLP were founded are growing obsolete, and both parties have for some time been losing their "base".This is a trend that started to show in 2002, when no less than 4 independents sat in the House of Assembly. Some people might disagree with me, arguing that the resounding defeat of the CDR at the polls in that year, and the continuing trouncing of the BDM to boot, challenge  my position. They may well be right, but I would argue that by 2002, the transformation of the Bahamian society that was begun under the PLP and continued by the FNM had resulted in a society where the largely uncontested foundations of the FNM and the PLP were being eroded, a place where one did not necessarily need a political party to give one legitimacy, a place where ideas rather than tribe began to matter. Never mind that the independents that sat in the HOA between 2002 and 2007 were there because, for the most part, they ran unopposed by one of the other of the parties (Wells, Cartwright, & Dupuch were unopposed by the PLP; I can't remember whether Bastian won hands down despite going up against FNM and PLP or not); I suggest that the facts that they sat in the House of Assembly as men beholden to no one but their constituents, and that they were watched representing those constituents, and appeared to vote with their consciences for the most part, were not incidental to the growth of the faith in the third-party movement that we are witnessing in 2012.(I also have very little doubt that, had the CDR weathered their defeat in 2002, regrouped, continued to develop their platform, and continued to work on their base, they would be a very real contender in this election, and would have attracted far more of the mature disaffected voters than the DNA has been able to do after one short year; we might be looking at quite a different situation today. But you know what they say about hindsight, and I digress.)But there's something else that's important here, and something else that the pundits appear to have overlooked. The greatest obstacle to the ability of a third party to gain traction among Bahamian voters was its ability to get its message out. Until the by-election in Elizabeth in 2010, third parties needed considerable sums of money simply to make their voices heard. The advent of Facebook and Twitter, however, has changed the ground completely. As has been observed elsewhere, much of what has enabled the green wave to continue to gather has been the presence of third-party candidates on the internet, their activity, their accessibility, and their willingness to engage in dialogue with potential voters. This is quite different from the traditional Voice-of-God politics that the older parties continue to practise. And while the DNA has capitalized on this change in the past 12 months or so, the real success story of this shift was the short-lived NDP.Think about it. The NDP did not only use Facebook as a means to spread its message; the message it spread was also a reflection of the ethos that prevails on social media. The principal tenets of the new party included a real focus on the constituents of Elizabeth, and—remarkably—a new approach to the selection of candidates. Instead of the traditional system of delegates nominating and ratifying candidates behind closed doors without the knowledge or input of the citizens those candidates were supposed to serve, the NDP advocated a more open process, in which hopefuls would present themselves to the voters, and the voters would indicate who they wanted to represent them. Furthermore, the NDP campaign on Facebook was remarkable and ground-changing, as it addressed issues in ways that enabled citizens to review them, think about them, and become involved in them. (Read a full account of the rise and fall of the NDP here.) I would argue that much of that energy was shifted to support for the DNA. What has happened is that, although the principals of the third-party movement have melted away, amalgamated with more established parties, or otherwise disappeared, the general interest of the voters, the hunger of Bahamian citizens for something different, has not abated. Rather, it has built, and the existence of the DNA has allowed it to be fed.Because of that, I think this election is too close to call. I believe anything could happen when the results start coming in an hour from now. Anything. A landslide victory for the FNM, say with the 4 x 7 sum of 28 seats? Sure. A landslide victory for the PLP, with the same numbers? Definitely. A split house, with (say) a tie between the FNM and the PLP, with the DNA holding the balance? Possible. A minority or coalition government, with the DNA calling the shots? Even that.The point is, we just don't know. There's a lot of conventional wisdom floating around, and it's on this conventional wisdom that the political parties have all based their strategies. It's on this conventional wisdom that the big guns—from the Prime Minister and the Boundaries Commission to the invocation of the traditional Saint-FNM/Demon-PLP narratives to the outrageous claims of The Punch and Bahamas Press—have drawn to build another issueless, diss-the-citizen campaign. If I can sum it up, it goes something like this: The base needs to be fed, because you have to be sure they vote. So feed them with trash-talk, sound-bytes, snippets of carefully pruned information, and exciting political gatherings where people gather together wearing the right-coloured shirt so that some photographer can take their picture and post it on Facebook to make the other side scared. As one earnest  political candidate actually told me: the people don't want meat; what they like is gravy. Keep them entertained and fed and well-supplied with liquor, trash-talk, insult-trading and dancing you'll get their vote.It's on this conventional wisdom, too, that many of the pundits are basing their predictions. Now maybe they're right, and the election will be as predictable as they hope; maybe the careful redrawing of the boundary lines, the glad-handing of shirts and caps and wads of cash, and the Junkanoo-competition rallies will do the trick. But I have my doubts.Why ? Because the last election was the closest in modern Bahamian history, with an initial outcome of only five seats separating the government and the opposition in the House of Assembly, meaning the balance of power was three seats alone (which three, incidentally, might have been held by the former CDR if the members had so chosen). That election was won by a margin of 2%—a margin that is fundamentally affected by the so-called "swing voters", those of us who think about how and why we cast our X, who are not predictable, who consult our consciences, who watch the price of the fish. Yes, we do exist. And the third party has attracted many of us.So don't sleep on the DNA, even if they do not win one seat. The outcome of this election will depend on them. And I have no intention whatsoever of attempting to guess what that outcome will be.We'll just have to wait and see.

Blog - The Nassau Liberal

Blog - The Nassau Liberal.Just for those who think that we "aren't ready" for a university, READ THIS BLOG and tell me if you still think so.With one exception, the contributors to this group blog are students at the still-College of   The Bahamas. They are Bahamians born and raised and yet their thought is revolutionary, especially for this ultra-conservative, Papa-lead-me, Saviour-please, Help-and-hope land in which we live. They are young, articulate, erudite, and critical. Amen.My own socioeconomicpolitical leanings aside (I have managed to temper but not cast aside my socialist preferences), I will be following this blog, these thinkers, these Bahamians. I trust that their voices will be heard more widely. They discuss issues and principles, not who said what and who did what. They put most of the people who stand for office, who have the temerity to ask for our votes, to shame.Go spend some time there. Read, and tell me if these students (products of our much-maligned "college"), don't deserve to be graduates of our national university.And no, I'm not crusading at all.

Bahama Republic

Election fever has brought some interesting things back to my attention, such as this blog, Bahama Republic.It's not that I didn't know it existed. It's right there in my blogroll, among the various links that are expired, obsolete, or moved. That means I knew about it three, four or five years ago (don't know how long ago I constructed the blogroll—the older I get, the more time compresses into one big blur). Still. As is the case with many of those links, I haven't revisited it in some time.But links to its posts are resurfacing on Facebook via the Demand Debates campaign, and because there's more discussion regarding life and work at the College of The Bahamas.Go check it out. It's good reading. I tend to fall into its camp with regard to the ways in which we view ourselves, our fundamental conservatism and fear of confrontation, our need of "brain-un-washing". I particularly agree with the idea that 2012 and possibly years to come "may see the continuation of the unfinished revolution of the 1960/70s." I'm not sure I share all of its cynicism, and while I am as unimpressed with the "achievements" of the past five years as the author is, I have not been convinced that a return to a PLP administration will be the magic bullet that solves all our problems.My only criticism? There's nothing on the site to indicate who's behind it. Now while I can't blame a person (who for all I know may well be a civil servant, and therefore prohibited from exercising the constitutionally guaranteed right of free-ish speech, or a sitting MP, or even—weird thought—a down-low member of the FNM cabinet) for wishing to keep a low profile, the lack of identifiable authorship does give me pause. Anonymity is sometimes necessary, but in this cyberage it is also an easy way to make statements for which one does not have to take responsibility. We live in a country where responsibility is too easily shifted from the person to the generic; it seems to me that one way to counter that failing is for each citizen to step up and take personal responsibility for what they feel, think and say.That said, what do I know? I don't know the author's situation, and for all I know his/her livelihood may depend on keeping the powerful happy. In that case, the blog itself is an exercise in responsibility.In any event, go read Bahama Republic. It's heartening to see the continued level of discussion, and well worth it.

Elections—and beyond

So, in the parlance of the day: Papa done ring da bell.Whatever that means.Don't get me wrong. I can talk the talk like any other Bahamian in 2012. Papa = the current prime minister, Hubert Ingraham. "The Bell" = the announcement of a date for the next general election. I know how to translate the statement.I just don't know what it means.Here's why. Some time ago, I wrote up my own manifesto (since the political parties vying for leadership of the country hadn't seen fit to share any of their promises or policies for the next five years) as a voter, a participant in a process that is commonly called "democratic". Since that time, others have joined me in making similar statements, and a few voices have called for our leaders and other politicians to have the balls to step out from behind their carefully crafted propaganda and open themselves up to discussions of issues with reasonable citizens.But, disappointingly, and with one important exception (Branville McCartney of the DNA) they haven't.And this, to my mind, does not bode well for our future. This is, after all, not like any other election year. For one thing, there are three major parties contesting the general election, a broad slate of independents, and a few fringe parties as well; for another, the two oldest parties are in fact comprised of the political parties that have made some impact over the past twenty years—the BDM in the case of the FNM, the NDP in the case of the PLP, and the CDR split between the two. Even the DNA has absorbed at least one extant party into its ranks: Rodney Moncur's Worker's Party. For another thing, for any dispassionate person, it is very unclear who is likely to win the next election. Popular support for both parties seems to have declined since 2007 and 2002. Back then, both the FNM and the PLP had trouble finding public spaces that were large enough to hold the assemblies of their supporters, and ended up taking turns on Clifford Park itself, which was packed with bodies sporting the shirts of the party colours: red for the FNM, yellow for the PLP. This season, however, the largest gatherings in Nassau have taken place on beaches—which, thanks to the generosity of both parties in giving away Bahamian beachfront property to foreign investors, are relatively small spaces in our city-island. This past Easter Monday, the FNM repaired to the Montagu foreshore, (for which it seems to have no trouble taking credit, but which was actually renovated by a private concern acting, at least officially, in a non-partisan manner) and the PLP occupied the Western Esplanade. Photographs have been circulating around cyberspace in an effort to compare the two gatherings and suggest that one was bigger than the other. There is a sort of frenzy on Facebook and other places Bahamians gather, where people engage in heated and emotionally charged exchanges of—what else?—propaganda, hurling the same invective our MPs have been hurling at one another across the floor of the house of assembly. But there is also a very large silence as well, and it is this silence that makes the outcome of the election so difficult to determine.I'd like to consider that silence at some other time, because I find it very interesting. It's a silence that sits in judgement, that does not buy into the insult-trading or hop the partisan bandwagon. It's the kind of silence that affected the outcome of the Elizabeth by-election, where a seat was won because the majority of registered voters did not turn out to vote. I know that Larry Smith has argued that low voter turn-out is not uncommon for by-elections, and I agree to a point, but I also sense (as does he) that there is more at work here than that; it seems to me that there is a growing group of Bahamians who watch the antics of all the political parties with a mixture of disgust and despair, because all politicians alike are missing the point. Which is that no matter who wins on May 7th, 2012, we will all have to live in this country together on May 8th.So my question is this. Given the passion and energy being expended in tearing down the other parties, or the other leaders—in dismissing reasonable questions and observations as "FNM" or "PLP" or even "DNA"—each of these being intended as insult, what happens the day after elections, when one party has won and the other(s) has/ve not? How do we work on building a nation of Bahamians? I have heard absolutely nothing from any party about what the future holds. The PLP has crafted some very general principles for the next few years, but these, when decoded, seem to amount to a reinstatement of what was in the works between 2002 and 2007 when they were in power. The FNM has focussed very much on vague generalities like "proven leadership" and "deliverance", and what has been done, largely in material, infrastructural terms, in the very recent past (one or two years at most). The DNA speaks in broad terms, pushing the buttons that they feel gain them support, but not showing any real coherent ideology about which their philosophy has been crafted (well, OK, to say that the PLP and the FNM have any coherent ideology would be being too kind, but at least their track records suggest that one group makes noises that are vaguely populist while the other tends to appease the local business community).Election seasons last for no more than six months at best. The remaining four and a half years require some measure of governance. And what frightens me the most in this election is how much it seems to be a game to those who are playing it. It's entertainment, a sport, which involves the kind of trash-talking that one expects to hear at a football game (American or soccer, makes no difference) or before a boxing match, but which has very little place in the governing of the country. One could argue (and I certainly would) that for four of the past five years, there was no governance at all, but just more of this sparring in the house of assembly, just more trading of insults back and forth across the floor, while the world got on with changing its foundations all around us and the ground on which our society and economy rest crumbles away. I am not impressed by the roads and the harbour or the extension of the hospital, as every one of these, no matter the expenditure, represents to my mind a kind of patch on a society whose foundations are in danger of falling apart. Nor am I impressed with the way in which the opposition opposed these things, because, well, whining and insult do not an opposition make. And I'm also not impressed with the kinds of "solutions" proposed by either of the opposing parties, because no one is explaining how they are going to implement those solutions. I would venture to suggest that it is time that the era of development-by-foreign-investment come to a close in The Bahamas. But I see no evidence that the parties who have governed for the last twenty years in that climate have come up with any ideas about how to manage this country all by themselves.So as we stare down the home stretch, as we slide into these last three weeks before Bahamians go to the polls and cast our votes, I would like at least one day to be dedicated to having the people who are contesting the elections to tell us what their vision is for this nation. Where do we go from here? How do we find our place in the twenty-first century? Why should I cast a vote for men who were educated before Bahamian Independence, and whose philosophies are, must be, out of place in this digital, global age? Why should I cast one for a man who has ridden the wave of dissatisfaction with our leaders to prominence as a real third-party contender, but who has not yet crafted a vision of his own as to how the country might be different?Do I have hope for the Bahamian future, no matter who wins the next election? I can't honestly say that I do. I have seen no vision from any of our prospective leaders, but see divisiveness and excess among their followers. So I'm preparing for five more years of struggle, no matter who wins or doesn't win this election; for five more years of escalating violence in our society; for five more years of a contracting economy, traffic problems, and decreasing revenues. I'm preparing for five more years of governmental desperation, of prostitution of the country to the biggest donor (China seems to be the crowd favourite right now), of undereducation and of brain drain, no matter who wins. Because the governing of a country—and of a postcolonial, neocolonized country on the edge of America at the turn of the digital age—is a delicate, precious business; and, because governing in such a climate requires more than snap decisions made by a despot, the demurring of a wannabe democrat, or the pontification of a malcontent, I have seen no indication that any of our prospective leaders are capable of governing at all.May 7th can't come soon enough. But, people, think what May 8th will bring. 

On the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

One of the reasons I am unmoved by either any of the current political parties' manifesti, plans or proposals, is that I have the pleasure of teaching new groups of young Bahamians every year. This is a pleasure, because they are far more open and interested than they have any right to be, given the abysmal neglect of their generation and those immediately preceding them by the governments of our nation; but it is also a scandal. They know so very little about their country, themselves, and the world they are expected to navigate.We came into our own as a nation in 1973, almost 40 years ago. The generations that straddled that watershed were erudite, educated, aware of the world and our place in it, bent on changing the world they had grown up in, and educated to do so. The generations that they produced, by contrast, are none of those things. There are of course pockets of erudition, handfuls of individuals who can be considered "educated" in the democratic sense of the term, but these are not common. They are usually the products of families for whom The Bahamas matters, who may have earned a critical place in Bahamian history, who invest in education for themselves and their children, not because of what they perceive that education might earn them but for its own sake. More damningly, they are all too often also the graduates of private schools, hailing from the middle class or the upper middle class, children of privilege. Ironically, our self-rule and our independence, bought at some cost by people for whom education was by no means a given, to whom education was prohibited, has created a society in which the so-called "universal" education has bred a population whose ignorance is legion.As I tell my students, I don't blame them for reaching voting age without knowing anything important about themselves or their country. I can't; the fault is not theirs. But as I also tell them, I will blame them henceforth (to invoke the one-word motto of my alma mater) if they maintain that ignorance now that they know they possess it. That it should proliferate after a generation of Bahamian scholars, all of them investing their time, money, and energy into writing our stories, in penning our histories, in telling tales about us, is an indictment on every single government of The Bahamas since independence.But even that indictment cannot be evenly spread. Different administrations bear different kinds of guilt. The first Progressive Liberal Party administrations must shoulder the responsibility for skewing our history, for telling only part of it, for erasing whole chunks of Bahamian life and experience from the spoken record. Even given the fact that there is something understandable in the fact that the first decade of community building in the wake of majority rule was given over to the Black Bahamian experience, the continuation of that bias into the third decade after Majority Rule is unconscionable, given the fact that The Bahamas was the site of not one but two important republics in the New World, and a site of a very ancient, if politically skewed, democracy. The myth created out of the PLP rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s was that Black Bahamians had no vote and no voice in the pre-PLP era. The result of this half-truth is that young Black Bahamians were never made aware of the role of free African settlers in the Eleutherian Republic—the second republic in the new world—or of the Pirates' Republic of the end of the seventeenth century, which, though branded as lawless and rebellious by a Britain intent on global conquest, was also multi-racial and strangely democratic. The other result of this half-truth is that successive generations of Black Bahamians were created who had, and have, no comprehension of the actual composition of the Bahamian population, who take fair-skinned Bahamians of colour for the "whites" who controlled the nation in the past, and who take actual white Bahamians of ancient pedigree for tourists; and this serves to disenfranchise otherwise productive Bahamian citizens, to render them invisible, to remove from them a real stake in the fortunes of the nation.The first Free National Movement administrations, on the other hand, must bear a different responsibility. Perhaps coincidentally, the change of government from PLP to FNM occurred in the same year as the complete phasing-out of General Certificate of Education, the international school-leaving qualification previously earned by Bahamian students. The creation of the BGCSE was not the doing of the FNM, but the way in which it was administered must be. It is on the doorstep of the FNM that we must lay the blame for the continued miseducation of Bahamians. The miseducation of Bahamians with regard to the Bahamian citizenry and the place of whites within the Bahamas was addressed, but was done so as destructively as the miseducation of Bahamians under the PLP had been done. Instead of increasing the knowledge of young Bahamians about their nation and the world within which it existed, a choice was made to decrease that knowledge. History was not only made an optional subject, but even the origins of the Bahamian nation itself were concealed. It is impossible to recount the story of the rise of universal democracy in The Bahamas without privileging the role of the PLP; and so the history of the post-independence Bahamas was not taught at all. It is impossible to talk about slavery without acknowledging the oppression of Africans by Europeans; and so the history of Bahamian enslavement was not taught at all. By erasing critical eras of Bahamian history, by valourizing pre-1967 heroes such as Stafford Sands and Roland Symonette, or by recognizing (belatedly) other pre-independence heroes such as Cecil Wallace-Whitfield,  the first two FNM administrations effectively blotted out the story of the Bahamas that obtained between 1967/73 and 1992.I am told—I wasn't there, but have no reason to doubt the source—that during the 1990s, attempts to address living Bahamian history were actively discouraged by serving educators. I am thinking about an incident recounted by a colleague of mine, who told of a time when he stood up to make some reference to the days of Black Bahamian oppression at a school assembly where he was a guest speaker, only to be rebuked by the head teacher, who told him that teaching young Bahamians about the past would encourage racism against white people. That helps to explain the huge gaps in the knowledge of the students I teach today, some twenty years after that most recent active erasure of our selves. These are students who have heard of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X, of Barack Obama, but who have no idea of who Lynden Pindling and Milo Butler and Cecil Wallace-Whitfield were, much less having even heard of other great Bahamians like Randol Fawkes, Etienne Dupuch, or Roland Symonette. They do not know what was suffered to give them free access to education, or what it means to be able to earn a college degree. They have barely heard of apartheid, the Holocaust, or colonialism. They do not know that the red, white and blue they associate with the Stars and Stripes were also once the colours of the Bahamian colony, not because of our American proximity, but because of our annexure to Britain. They have never heard of the Haitian Revolution, or know that Haiti was the first and the only successful ex-slave republic anywhere in the world. They do not know that, when he was released from prison and knew that victory for native South Africans was assured, Nelson Mandela came to The Bahamas to study the way in which we had achieved majority rule without bloodshed and created a successful society in its wake. They do not know who Nelson Mandela is. They do not know, and yet they are expected to become full citizens of this African-influenced, slave-shaped, postcolonial nation. The idea is absurd.And so I regard the incoherencies that pass for election rhetoric with a sense of disgust. These people who are now on their game, who are engaged in the grotesque performance that passes for "democracy" in the voting nations of the late capitalist era, are either complicit in the creation of the mass ignorance of the voters, or they are the products of the skew-eyed histories that have shaped our existence since independence. How can anyone who believes in democracy as the expression of the will of a people, support any set of politicians who have so completely seen to the erasure of the kind of knowledge that best informs that will? How can one, with good conscience, cast a vote in this climate? Why should I care about the leaders of the parties, when I know that they will all come out the same in the wash—blustery, misinformed/misinforming, irresponsible?Somebody tell me why.

Answering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy, and voting - part I

Of all the responses to the Voter's Manifesto I received, it was the one that challenged it that I appreciated the most. Not that I didn't welcome the people who commented and wrote in support of the Manifesto, or that I am not happy to know that the original seemed to have struck a chord with several other voters; but at the heart of democracy is, and must be, the ability to disagree. A space for dissent, for disagreement, for debate, must be built into any democratic system; democracy cannot hope to be achieved when no debate takes place.And it's not enough for room to be left for debate; that's only the first step in the democratic process. Unless debate happens—and debate that is rational, not polemic, slander or other forms of empty political rhetoric—unless, in other words, the group of people for whom democracy was provided do not exercise their freedom to speak, the process cannot survive. Silence paves the way for tyranny, and so also do name-calling and mud-slinging. There is very little that's democratic about a host of people, all clad in rainbow-coloured clothing, gathering insults into a pile to throw at one another. In that scenario, Ian Strachan's comment that no matter who wins the general election, the losers will be the Bahamian people is spot-on. What's missing from our political discussion is any reference to real, debatable issues, and any honest debate about them; and if we hope to maintain our hold on democracy, already tenuous in several respects, blind agreement can be as unproductive as senseless personal attack.So to the critique of the Manifesto, which was described by its critic as "ill-conceived, emotive, and racist". The main area of contention was the "I do not believe" section, which rejected the ideas

In response, the critic observed that

  1. the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership 
  2. it is arrogant to suggest that a population of under 400,000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country

and concluded that these statements "seemed designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses". The response challenged me "to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation".Here is my defence. To the first, the claim that the electoral process in The Bahamas is "fully democratic". This I challenge on many levels while at the same acknowledging the core of truth in the statement. On the one hand, we have a right to be proud of our electoral record. Great changes have taken place in The Bahamas via the ballot box, without bloodshed, and with a relatively low incidence of coercion, fraud, or corruption, the common understanding of all of the above notwithstanding. One could of course argue that there is a long-standing practice of wooing voters with cash incentives or of rewarding them for their support with gifts of food, or, apocryphally, large appliances; I could counter that with the challenge that the twenty-first century has seen an overall reduction in the value of these incentives, given the fact that neither of the two latest elections resulted in any major hiring of supporters to work in the absolute security of the Government Job. But I digress. We have a strong democratic tradition when it comes to voting for people to sit in Parliament. But we have a very poor democratic tradition when it comes to raising, debating or considering issues that have relevance for our nation; what passes for "political" discussion in our country is really personal attack and gossip dressed up in cotton tees.There are several areas in which we fail miserably in the development of the democratic tradition. The first is in the fact that, unlike other democracies, Bahamians have only one tier of representation. In our elections, two-thirds of the population may vote only for the national government. The city of Nassau has no local government, and there is no talk of any serious nature of creating one any time soon. Although we talk about urban renewal and the regeneration of downtown Nassau, the agency that we imagine will be given the responsibility for this is a corporate entity appointed by the government and accountable to no ordinary citizen. Family island communities have a measure of local governance, but urban Bahamians are governed by corporations—the Port Authority in Freeport, and whatever the title of the proposed agency will be for Nassau.The second is in the method by which our representatives are chosen. It's not good enough to invoke the Westminster model of parliamentary governance here; I am arguing that no matter where it came from, it does not meet our needs. In Nassau (where, I repeat, our Members of Parliament are the only voices we have at the governmental level), our much-touted ability to vote is seriously compromised by the fact that voters have the very last say in choosing the candidates. There are no primaries, no public weeding out of candidates, no debates, no means by which the average person can vet the candidates before they are presented to us. The selection is in the hands of the political parties alone. This dilutes the democratic process. I'm going to quote Pat Rahming here, because his poem "Power", now four decades old, continues to resonate:

cuz vot’n ain’ much powerif somebody else guh choosethe choice

The third is that the representatives are not answerable to the people from the time they are elected to the time they begin to campaign for votes three, four or five years later. Voters, having gone to the polls, made the best choice they could from among a group of (generally) unsuitables, are obliged to sit back and live with what they have done for five years. We cannot recall our representatives. Our representatives have no obligation to report to us what they have done with our trust. All we can do is watch them make fools of themselves and a mockery of our state on the Parliamentary Channel, and at best talk behind their backs—or on the air, sometimes—while smiling and kowtowing to their faces. Our so-called full democratic process has succeeded in making passive hypocrites of too many of us.The fourth is that in order to create democracy, more than a vote is needed. A voice is also not enough. We got our vote in the 1960s when women were allowed to cast ballots, and we got our voice in two parts: in the 1960s when we elected the first majority government of The Bahamas, so that the faces that ruled us looked like ours, and in the 1990s second when the Free National Movement made it possible for different perspectives to be heard on the airwaves by breaking the broadcasting monopoly that had hitherto been held, by law, by the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. Neither fact seems to have prevented us from enacting the same dumbshow of electing and revering individuals who by their greed, lack of exposure, lack of knowledge, lack of morals, or lack of sense of self have proceeded to disenfranchise the average citizen even more. We need more than a voice; we need to be given the kind of education that breeds a sense of pride, a sense of honour and a sense of integrity so that we, the citizens, can exercise that voice in such a way that democracy is strengthened. That is clearly lacking. The very real oppression of the 1970s and 1980s—by which dissent by ordinary people was silenced in numerous ways, not least among them the very real activity of victimization, when opponents could be, and were, stripped of their livelihoods, their positions, and their reputations—has given way to an oppression of the mind. We have the channels and the means to speak, but what we have to say is ignorant of Bahamian history, lacking in substance, and small-minded.And so. We live in a nation that is nominally very democratic, but that is actually little better than any tyranny—and perhaps worse, because we are comfortable with our situations and so prefer not to rock any boats. We live and die by our passivity, and when things don't go well for us, we complain, we moan, or we lash out with knives and guns. Our democracy is a veneer, and a thin one at that.End of this part of my response; more to come

A Reader Responds to the Voter's Manifesto

Got the following response to my Voter's Manifesto. It was sent privately, for reasons the writer makes clear, but as that individual has encouraged me to post the response and to respond in my turn, I'm honouring the request.

Happy New YearI wish to challenge your Voter’s Manifesto as ill-conceived, emotive and racist. You will notice that I am doing this in a private message rather than a post.I would rather post and challenge publicly, however, unfortunately, foreigners do not have freedom of speech in the Bahamas without fear of consequences, and so I am forced to challenge you in private.I request that you honour my request for anonymity, but I encourage you to post (anonymously) and respond to my challenges in public.I have no argument with your ‘I believe’ section.I suggest that you are being intentionally emotive and encouraging misunderstanding in your ‘I do not believe’ section.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project’ I am not sure what you mean by ‘project’ but the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership so this statement seems gratuitous and a little divisive to me.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now’ Wow this is an arrogant statement, to suggest that a population of under 400, 000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country. In this context I am reading ‘help’ as ‘help from non-Bahamians’ as I don’t see what else it can mean.Let me take an example that is close to your heart ……. COBCOB has been struggling for over 10 years now to transition from a community college to university status.• I question what percentage of Bahamian lecturers at COB became qualified for their job in the Bahamas? I believe over 98% of Bahamian COB lecturers gained their education abroad.• There are a number of foreign lecturers at COB. According to work permit requirements, COB was unable to fill those posts with Bahamians or work permits would not have been granted.Did you mean that you want to get rid of all the foreigners from COB and stop Bahamians going abroad for their education?Let me take another example………. The economy.The two largest industries in the Bahamas are tourism and off-shore banking. Both of these industries rely on foreign investment and international interactions.You might not like Sol Kerzner building Disney Land on Hogg Island, but it is one of the largest employers in the Bahamas, and there were no Bahamians in a position to build at the same level, as proven by Baha Mar, which tried for a number of years to elicit Bahamian investment and failed, and also could not generate the skill set required for high rise construction within the Bahamas.The off-shore banking industry functions through cooperation between the government of the Bahamas and international banks, who generate significant income for the Bahamas.These two industries between them generate the majority of the wealth of the Bahamas and the majority of opportunities for Bahamians. Take away the foreigners and the money of the foreigners and both will collapse, along with the economy of the Bahamas.You may not like the Bahamas’ dependence on foreign industry, but the Bahamas cannot do without it until it generates a broader economic base.Your statements seem designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses.What does it say about a country who shows such little respect for the foreigners legitimately living there?“If you want my vote don’t come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.”Are you saying it would be ok if they were rich black people from abroad?I do not think you intended to be so disrespectful to those white foreigners living in the Bahamas, but it is significant that, whilst addressing your agenda of quality of jobs provided by the government, you are comfortable using derogative phrases like this.This document does not match your usual quality of work in my opinion. I think it is significant that you published it on MLK day in the USA and its style is derivative of the ‘I have a dream’ speech.I invite you to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation.I moved to the Bahamas because it is a country that still values family, community and humanity. As you correctly state, it is a country full of people with talent and creativity. I love the Bahamas and the people of the Bahamas and I believe I make a positive contribution to this country, so I find it hurtful to hear ‘getting rid of the foreigners’ as an election platform.


A Voter's Manifesto

With elections around the corner and three political parties, none of which appear to have formulated, much less articulated, any new or credible plan for Bahamian development or growth in twenty-first century (and no, planning to beg more rich people for more money to buy up more of our precious archipelago does not count), I think it's time for the average Bahamian, the voter, to exercise her democratic right and put down in pixels what will or will not get her vote.I am a Bahamian who has never been represented by any party that has held power in The Bahamas to date. I am a woman, middle class, neither black nor white, a cultural worker and intellectual, a citizen and a voter, an ordinary Bahamian who does not campaign, carry a voters' card, attend rallies, or otherwise show her face during the silly season that surrounds politics.I pay my taxes in every way they are presented to me. I have never sat in a politician's office to beg for anything when doing so was not part of my job as a civil servant. I have been eligible to vote in the past 6 general elections but in that time I have only once been visited by a prospective MP, who believed that he was making a social call on old friends, my parents. I have never,  in my civilian position, called any sitting politician for a job, for a handout, for a favour, for any sort of help. I do not work in the tourism industry, real estate, the construction industry, or any other other area that figures in political discussions of "jobs" and "economics" or anything else.I am one of thousands of productive, independent, patriotic Bahamians who make this country run on a daily basis. I took the opportunities offered to my by the first independent government of The Bahamas and went off and earned a college degree. I came home because I wanted to serve and build my country. To date, my country has not put in place anything to serve and build me; to every politician who has served in parliament in the time I have been voting, people like me have been invisible. In our democracy, we do not count.And so: a voter's manifesto.

I believe:
  • that Bahamians are as intelligent, as resourceful, as industrious, as talented and as deserving as any other group of people on the planet;
  • that Bahamian innovation, creativity and adaptability carved this nation out of these scattered rocks in the sea, and that that innovation, creativity and adaptability will make flourish in the twenty-first century;
  • that Bahamians are full human beings, with needs that go beyond the merely material;
  • that The Bahamas is as important as any other nation in the world, and should be treated as such;
  • that our human capital -- the ingenuity, intelligence, talent and independent spirit of the Bahamian people -- is the most important resource that our nation has.
I do not believe:
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project;
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now;
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to make our country better.
And so:
  • I, the voter, do not care what colour T-shirt you offer me or what three letters you cast before my face.
  • I believe in democracy.
  • I do not care nearly as much about the history of your particular party (or of your opponents) as you think I do.
  • I do not care about how good (or bad) you look in a suit, how well you speak off the cuff, or whether your leader is God incarnate or the Devil himself.
  • I care about this country we all share.
  • I care what you and your party are planning The Bahamas will look like tomorrow.
  • I want to know the details.
  • I believe that it is the right of a people to elect a government who will represent them and not the foreign interests who come offering the latest wads of cash or promises grander than the grandest Prime Minister's.
  • I believe that is the obligation of a government to seek out and hear the needs of the people whom it represents.  All the people, not just the vocal few at the bottom who have depended thus far on their crippledness to coerce their representatives into enact ill-thought and hurried acts of bribery-in-return-for-votes, or the fatcats at the top who enact coercive acts of bribery of their own.
  • I believe in governments who represent and serve the people who vote for them, not the people who pay them, or bully them, or frighten them.
  • I believe in equality. That is not to say that I believe that all people are universally idiots, or that we must make all decisions according to the lowest possible common denominator. Rather, it is to say that I believe that all citizens—and, indeed, in a truly civilized nation, all people within our borders—should be equal under our laws and treated as such. No better, and no worse.
  • I believe that our ideals should be more important than individual exceptions.
  • I believe that a nation should be founded on ideals. Tell me yours.

If you want my vote:

  • Don't come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.
  • Don't come not debating policy.
  • Don't come bad-talking the other politicians around you.
  • Don't come not knowing basic things about this country, about governance, about policy, or the world of the twenty-first century.
  • Don't come expecting my political philosophy to do the trick and make me vote for you party because it happens to be the next best thing to the ideals I hold.
  • Don't come expecting your track record to move me.
  • Don't come expecting my colour, my family name, my friends, my profession, or any other attribute to influence the way I vote.
  • Don't come trusting in your personal political arrogance and my continued political passive stupidity.
  • Come talking to me about the Bahamas you will create the day after Election Day, and come telling me in detail how we are going to create it together.

It had better be a different Bahamas from the one I live in today.•••More links:A Reader Responds to the Voter's ManifestoAnswering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy and voting - Part IOn the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

Towards A Voters' Manifesto

It's 2012 and the silly season is officially upon us. Bloggers and tabloids and Facebook commentators have begun their discussions and predictions. To quote Pat Rahming (and I'll quote him again before this post is over), everybody catchin politics like germ.It's a rare situation this election. For the first time in 35 years, it's a proper three-way race; in almost all of the 38 new constituencies, voters will have the option to choose candidates from one of three parties.Predictably, and unfortunately so, the discussion is progressing the way football hooligans support their favourite teams. Most of the loudest voices have painted themselves with the war-hues of their favourites, so that the air has taken on the quality of a rastafarian flag or (to employ the more common metaphor) a stoplight; the political parties (I am tempted to call them teams) adorn themselves in the party colours of red, gold and green.Equally predictably, the squabbling is as shallow and as thought-free as that paint. In almost no quarter does one hear discussions of the issues that affect us all, regardless of party -- of the economic future of the country, of ways in which we hope to function as citizens, of the kinds of fundamental changes that are necessary for the continued process of nationhood -- of questions of how to expand and deepen the democratic project, or how, in this small country of 350,000 people, to find solutions to the problems that plague us.I've been thinking for a long time now that what we need are not more political parties with platforms, plans and promises as fragile and transparent as cheap glass. No. What we need is a voters' manifesto -- a code by which we, the voters, live and move and cast our votes. So I've been thinking about what I want from a country and from a representative, and working back from there. Watch this space -- as I develop it, I'll post it. Maybe you'll share my perspective. If so, let's work for our own small change whenever the election is called!