Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Welcome to Bahama Republic

Welcome to "Bahama Republic," a blog in which I plan to address some issues facing Bahamian society in the 21st century, and in which I hope to give you some food for thought and maybe provoke some reactions, too, leading to a much needed public discourse. In this first entry, allow me to explain why I chose the title "Bahama Republic" for this blog.

Conventionally, the term "republic" denotes a form of government without a hereditary monarch as the head of state, instead a republic would usually have a president. Thus, technically, our Bahamaland is not a republic. However, I would like to assure you that I do not wish for us to sever our last ties with Britain and abolish the monarchy. Why? I will explain later.

The term "republic" comes from the Latin phrase "res publica," which, literally translated, simply means the "public affairs." However, already the Ancient Romans had come to understand their republic to be the opposite of the monarchy, which was overthrown in the year 510 BC. This does not mean, however, that Rome had become a democracy by 510 BC, republics can be characterised by many different forms of government. The Greek philosopher Polybios, who lived as a slave in Ancient Rome during the second century BC, and whose analyses of governments still shape our basic understanding of politics today, characterised the Roman state as a mixed form of the three basic types of government - monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy - and concluded that this system of checks and balances was the basis of Roman might.

The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who considered himself a defender of Rome's republican constitution, wrote a book, "De Re Publica" (usually translated as "On the Commonwealth"), in which he outlines, amongst other things, the duties of a citizen. Cicero lived in the first century BC, and at that time, Rome, which had started as a city state, and whose political system still reflected these humble beginnings, had grown to an empire controlling most of the Mediterranean and Southwestern Europe. Ever since the Third Punic War (149-146 BC) it had become evident that Rome was facing some serious challenges ruling over a vast territorial empire with the toolkit of a city state, but many politicians who tried to reform the system found themselves facing accusations of trying to restore the monarchy - with themselves on the throne. The most notable of these was, of course, none other than Julius Caesar, Cicero's lifelong adversary. Cicero, as a politician and as a political commentator, did everything he could to defend the republic - successfully against Catiline, less successfully against Caesar. After Caesar's assassination, Cicero then fell victim to the revenge of Caesar's heirs, and was murdered on December 7th, 43 BC.

Now I fast forward through several centuries of history, and take a look at the first document establishing the Bahamas as European colonial venture, the "Articles and Orders of the Company of Eleutherian Adventurers." Sometimes referred to as the "first Bahamian constitution," this document also uses the term "republic," which has led some historians - I believe falsely - to suggest that the Eleutheran Adventurers wanted to establish themselves in the Bahamas independently of the British monarchy (Craton & Saunders, Islanders in the Stream I, 1992.). It is easy to see how this mistake might be made though, for when the Articles and Orders were written in 1647, England was in the middle of a civil war that saw a parliamentary faction led by a group of Puritans fighting against the catholic king and his supporters, and the Adventurers were, of course, Puritans, too.

However, the preamble to the document clearly acknowledges King Charles (I) as the rightful king of England (and then some). My argument thus is that the term "Republicke" (sic!) in the same document suggests that the colonial affairs are indeed seen as public affairs and that it is the duty of all settlers to take an active role in their local affairs, while at the same time reaffirming the ties to Britain and its rightful government. While to us the notion of declaring independence from a colonial power is hardly revolutionary - there are very few colonial territories left in the Western hemisphere of the 21st century - the thought probably did not even cross the mind of a 17th-century figure like William Sayle, himself a former colonial governor of Bermuda. Even in the mid to late 18th century, it was considered truly revolutionary when thirteen colonies in North America broke loose from Britain.

In the narrow Bahamian setting of the Eleutheran Adventurers, however, the free settlers were expected to participate in the public affairs, "the republic," and it is with this in mind I chose the title of this blog, because I believe that we as a citizenry today must take a more active role in shaping our nation's future. Therefore, I choose to comment an what I perceive as public matters in urgent need of addressing, because a genuine public discourse might just render results that are more satisfactory than what our politicians might do otherwise.

However, for today's introductory post, I shall just answer the last question that I've raised in the beginning and have not addressed since. Why am I in favour of the status quo of the Bahamas being a monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state? Honestly, I do not care much for the idea of a hereditary monarchy, nor do I care much for the little old lady in Buckingham Palace or her family, despite the fact that I do feel a sense of participation in a broader, supranational entity when I walk the streets of London. However, I do believe there are other important ways in which the Bahamas benefits from the ties it still has with Britain, most notably the fact that the Privy Council is still the highest court of appeal in our country.

The Bahamas is often described as a face-to-face society, a society in which either everybody literally know everybody else, or where at least has a cousin, uncle, aunt, or friend who knows them. This is but one factor that causes the unequal distribution of privilege and justice in this country, as both favouritism and victimisation are indelible elements of Bahamian life. Furthermore, neither before nor after independence has our educational system succeeded in producing a sufficiently large number of competent and qualified individuals to run a country, any country. The same can be said about many other former - and current - British colonies throughout the Caribbean, which is why a larger Caribbean community or Caribbean union, or even just a Caribbean court of appeal is not an idea that I trust sufficiently at this point in time.

Education is one of the areas that urgently needs to be addressed in this country, and as an observer and stakeholder in education, I feel that the discussion so far has turned around in rather pointless circles, but that is another topic...

Thanks for reading,

Bahama Republic.

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