It’s 2019. Conversations in the public domain are swinging round to elections, which are coming in two years. (Is it coincidental that conversations in the American public domain are doing the same?) But the conversations are more of the same-old same-old: who makes the best leader, who we want to elect. Who, who, who.
There are too few conversations about what we need as a nation if we hope to grow any further in the twenty-first century. Because the truth is, we are not growing. Our nation is floundering. And the only solutions politicians seem to be able to offer are weights to help us sink to the sea-bottom faster, not life rafts or under-the-seat flotation devices or even, heaven forfend, entirely new ships headed in entirely new directions.
But that is what we need.
In virtually every area we can measure, The Bahamas is objectively faring worse. Wait—I can hear the protests now. We are modestly performing better on international economic lists. We are complying with rich countries’ desires for smaller, poorer countries. We are scrambling to join international organisations which were set up to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor, which, arguably, encourage the creation of poverty in order to simultaneously create wealth. In other words, looking at some internationally-sourced standards of measurement, we are “doing better” as a nation. Our numbers, they tell us, are headed in the right direction; our laws are more palatable to those nations who would prefer to keep their wealth in their own hands rather than sharing it across borders.
But when it comes to the lives of Bahamians?
Our cost of living has gone up.
Our standard of living has gone down.
Our tourism product is faltering, badly, even though no one will admit it.
Where our tourism product is holding its own (large New Providence resorts and small foreign concerns across the Family Islands), most of the gross revenue leaves the country. Experts estimate that 70% of every dollar earned by tourism is banked overseas.
What good are “jobs” when we are working on plantations whose profits are sent far, far away?
Bahamians are caught in a stranglehold of expense that prohibits our ever being able to become internationally competitive, even as we tremble on the edge of entering global free trade agreements that will open up our economy to be despoiled still further by the rapacious of the world.
And the only solutions our politicians can conceive to offer us are higher/more taxes, fewer services, and more competition from corporations whose home countries support their efforts through incentives, tax breaks, and free trade agreements that work in their favour but not in ours.
Two years ago, in deciding not to cast a vote for any political party or candidate in my constituency, my partners and I were vilified by people who felt we were, I don’t know, betraying the democratic process/opting out of creating change/supporting wrongdoing in the highest circles. In response, we stated that we had no confidence that anything we did, any vote we cast, would change the direction of The Bahamas in any positive way. Voting against bad policy is not a solution; it enables the election of the incompetent, the intellectually bankrupt, the politically hollow. And the result of the palpable anger against the bad governance of 2012-2017 was the election of a house of assembly that might, in the absence of concrete ideas of how to change the Bahamas’ fortunes, be open to any and every suggestion from external actors, and which could, given the tiny opposition in parliament, be in a position to do virtually anything at all.
Which is where we find ourselves today.
It does not matter who sits in government.
It matters what their plans are to change the course of our nation.
So, as we begin our conversations, and, hell, as we begin to see rallies and have closed-door meetings about the teams we might build that could win the next election, we need to start having conversations that are not partisan in nature, but that are clearly about policy. That talk about how we go about building a better country.
What solutions do we need to craft if we are not to slide rapidly into the maelstrom that is the general Caribbean economy?
In what, or whom, do we need to invest (while we still have the resources) to ensure that the wealth that we possessed for the fifty years between 1945 and 2005—in part by design and in part by accident—bears fruit and continues to benefit the Bahamian citizenry?
How do we avoid the disaster that is, to my mind, clearly around the corner—the disaster that recreates the economy of the colony of the Bahama Islands that existed until the 1950s and 1960s, where a few people (a tiny, interconnected oligarchy) amass all the wealth and all the power, and the rest serve as an underpaid, under-served, unhealthy workforce?
How do we leverage the advantages our nation has to make us into a Botswana of the Atlantic, rather than a nation in which wealth (almost always foreign) is our only criteria for success?
Because here’s the thing. If we are not having these conversations, or demanding them from the people who seek our votes two years from now, then what, what is our vote really for?