Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Last Prediction

Honoured as I was by the recent shout out from Dr. Bethel's blog, the time has come to close the chapter this blog attempted to contribute to further democratising Bahamian society. Dr. Bethel is correct in criticising too much anonymity, yet anonymity has always been an integral ingredient in the online discourse, and anonymity allows for the freer expression of critical thought. It allows writers to play with ideas one does not necessarily subscribe to, to solicit reactions. Unfortunately, I was interpreted as a blog campaigning against the FNM - and, by extension, for the PLP. Apparently, I was misunderstood.

There are probably good reasons for this misunderstanding. It is more important to criticise those in power, and easier. Yet, I should have paid more attention to criticising the poor opposition work we received from elected PLPs in the House, because the opposition role is an important responsibility in a democracy, too, and The Bahamas has yet to see an opposition doing a good job. However, if I gave the impression that a change back to what we have had before would bring back a Golden Age, then be assured, the only thing characterising that period as Golden in my memory is the colour the PLP chose for its logo. In addition, I believe that the few voices in our media landscape capable of writing critically tend to be more sympathetic towards the FNM, thus criticising the PLP more readily. When the PLP says or does something stupid, there will be a well written article about it, calling them out, chastising them. And it will be there fast. If the FNM says or does something stupid, there is barely a reaction. So I called them out creating an unbalanced blog as a result. My apologies.

Throughout the life of this blog, I had hoped for more reactions from my readers, 300 to 400 every month, according to site stats. However, there never was any feedback. Whether this is because people did not want to discuss with Anonymous, or because people did not want to discuss? Who knows.

Before I go, I will leave you with a prediction though, regarding the general elections in nine days. The Bahamas will have the same government after the election as it does now. Nothing will change. That's right, I called it. But: This is not saying that I believe the FNM will win, that Hubert Ingraham will be Prime Minister again. This is saying that regardless of which party will send more MPs to the House, and regardless of whether the Prime Minister's name is going to be Hubert Ingraham, Perry Christie, or Branville McCartney, the policies put before us, and the style of governance will not significantly change.

Opportunities, genuine opportunities for drastic improvement that is, will remain an elusive illusion for most. Benefits will continue to be reaped by a small group of Bay Street Boys or Sunshine Boys, or maybe Lighthouse Keepers.

Bahamas, you deserve better. But unless you demand better, you will only get same old, same old.

Should you miss this blog, just fine tune your ears, because you can hear me elsewhere, too, sharing the same thoughts in other fora. This is no big loss. If you did not like the blog, well, then it is not a big loss anyway. Thank you for reading, and good bye.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Brave New World

In my last post, I suggested that the rhetoric of our discourse had become more revolutionary, and I was excited to see in which way this trend might continue. It was with this in mind that I attended last night's event at the Hub. This last part of the Fanon series was advertised as a discussion about "Revolutionary Cultural Practices and Engagements."

However, either our revolution was shortlived, or the cultural workers of the Bahamian intellectual elite have not yet caught on to it. It was this sector where I would have expected the most radical challenges to the status quo being posed. I was wrong.

What I heard were polite suggestions for progress by tame reformists, willing to accept the cultural leadership of a Minister of Culture, rather than demanding the abolition of such a pretentious title. "How can government help artists," was a regular mantra.

Sadly, as a nation we've been so brainwashed that even the art scene needs some brain-un-washing. The other regular theme of last night's discussion was, "Bahamian culture is more than just Junkanoo," to be followed by discussing Junkanoo, Junkanoo, and Junkanoo.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Seeds of Revolution

Did anybody else notice how the national pundits in our Bahamas are getting louder in their demands for democracy, transparency and respect for the humanity of Bahamians? One interesting debate to follow currently takes place on Twitter, a place I don’t normally pay much attention to, because I do not believe important insights can be expressed in one hundred and forty characters or less. Nonetheless, in anticipation of the upcoming general election, Twitter, like most other social media, is showcasing a wide range of opinions from various Bahamian opinion leaders.

Several days ago, a new hashtag entered the scene - “#DemandDebates.” As far as I can tell, this originated from College of the Bahamas faculty, who are now pushing for our political leader, for candidates from all parties, to not only face but engage the public and debate the issues facing this country, to present their plans and ideas for solving the various crises plaguing the Bahamas.

Normally, I would consider COB and its faculty to be a haven of moderation; in fact, COB always struck me as somewhat conservative. Yet, I look at their calendar of events for recent weeks, and I see items like a series of symposia dedicated to Frantz Fanon, a revolutionary thinker and theorist of the Caribbean and African diaspora.

If indeed COB has turned into a cell of intellectuals vocally expressing their disgruntlement, imagine how the Bahamian masses must feel in the current situation of economic despair and out-of-control crime. The rhetoric is becoming more radical, more revolutionary.

It looks like 2012 (or the years to come) may see the continuation of the unfinished revolution of the 1960/70s. Will the political caste recognize this in time to ensure that this, too, is going to be a Quiet Revolution, a peaceful, democratic process, or will the continued disregard for the needs of large strata of Bahamian society result in civil unrest and upheaval?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Political Police

Over the past few weeks, there have been a lot of allegations and denials regarding a new unit in the Royal Bahamas Police Force supposedly formed to spy on the opposition parties, the PLP and the DNA. Unfortunately, none of the allegations contained anything even remotely resembling facts. So why am I mentioning this?

One of the comments on an article on the Tribune's website, "Tal Russell" asks, "Why is it this FNM regime is not scaring the hell out of their own supporters?" Well, Mr. Russell, it is. But it is not this latest set of allegations that is scaring any conscious Bahamian, rather it is a whole long list of foolish statements made by this current government.

For one, there's the PM, styling himself as "Papa." This here former FNM voter does not wish to be governed by a man who proudly adopts the nickname of a dead Haitian dictator.

And then, special police unit or not, I must remind my readers of the statements the Minister for National Security, Tommy Turnquest, made during the BTC privatisation and the protests surrounding it. He threatened the unions with putting the Royal Bahamas DEFENCE Force on alert. Only dictatorship use the military in internal conflicts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who/Who Not

Last week, the College of the Bahamas hosted a symposium in commemoration of the women's suffrage movement, and I am sure, somebody at COB will soon write something telling us all why and how this was a great success. And they may be right, too.

The list of dignitaries in attendance was long, and from this list, we can learn about which policy makers value COB as an academic institution, value a broad national discourse, and value the memory of these suffragettes. However, more telling are the absences, sorely noted. Those who do not value our nation's history, who do not value COB as an academic institution, and who believe that they should dominate, rather than share, the national discourse.

As far as I can tell, no current government minister considered this national event worthy of a time out from their campaigns. And the College's President wasn't in attendance either. Things that make you go hmmm...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Expats - Really

Really?? Read this Twitter feed of College of The Bahamas president Betsy Vogel-Boze during Hurricane Irene. Funny or sad? You decide.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 2002-2007 Slump

The FNM is telling us that everything GROWS under Papa's leadership. They have a point. Look at this diagram:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?

n 2007, the FNM won the election (or did the PLP lose?) on a campaign that focussed on its leader, Hubert Ingraham. It portrayed him as a decisive leader and man of integrity ("It's a Matter of Trust"). Given the impression given by the Christie administration, this was somewhat justified if for a moment we recall that PLP cabinet members not only denied corruption charges but clearly were not even able to comprehend why they were being criticised. It may not have been visions of policies that made the decision then, but at least it was about a style of politics. Now, five years later, the Bahamian electorate is not even being treated to this level of sophistication. Instead, the governing party has settled for a pattern with dangerous precedent.

What is it with Caribbean leaders seeing themselves as father figures? The first, and so far only FNM t-shirt I've seen this year only says, "Papa or Nuttin'" - what an irrelevant message! To my shame, I must confess that my first association was Francois Duvalier of Haiti, better known as Papa Doc. "Papa ou rien."

However, I am giving the former Haitian dictator too much credit here, for he did not come up with this theme. Paternalism has haunted slave societies much longer than that. In fact, paternalism was one of the historic arguments for slavery, along with religious and economic justifications, paternalism was the popular racist defense of the slave system. It argued that slaves (read "Blacks") were too immature (read "stupid") to make their own decisions, and therefore dependent on a benevolent father figure (read "White master").

Bahamas Press is correct in criticising FNM candidates for wearing these t-shirts on the campaign trail: "What in the hell is this? MPs in the FNM are acting like ‘lil’ Kindergarten children who cannot stand on their own. "

It is a remarkable demonstration how the slave mentality is still ingrained in us, 178 years after the end of formal institutionalised slavery. The people* on the plantations are not given a programme, an outline of policies to come - no, they are expected to simply show their devotion to Papa and not ask any questions, which is why Ingraham is the only party leader who still has not committed to publicly debating his PLP and DNA counterparts.

* I could have said "slaves" instead of "people," but even slave owners such as William Wylly in 1815 referred to the forced labourers on the plantations as "people" in an effort to disguise the inhumane nature of the system they had created and continued to force upon the majority of us/our ancestors. As a "caring father," Wylly worked hard to give the impression that he cared for his "people." In fact, the regulations that governed slave life on his plantations were published in the newspaper; here is an example: "An Ox (or a competent number of hogs) is to be killed for the Christmas dinner of the people; and Rum, Sugar, Pipes and Tobacco are served out on that day." Now you know where your MP got the idea from, next time he or she gives you a turkey or a ham.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Voting... based on what?

Every evening I drive past a golden Jaguar convertible, parked at Montagu Beach, and I cannot decide whether this modest vehicle is supposed to mobilise the proverbial Bahamian grassroots voter, or whether the choice of vehicle is an attempt to speak the language of the well-to-do Out East Folk on their way home to Winton and Port New Providence. Whatever the case, elections are obviously just around the corner.

I wanted to write something about the upcoming elections, but I find it rather difficult. One reason is that there are our three parties, which so clearly lack programmatic or ideological differences, and a golden Jaguar convertible turned into a political ad for a so-called progressive and liberal party pretending to fight for the interests of the lower strata of Bahamian society is the perfect illustration of this sad state of affairs.

Tap is on to something, you know. There is a core of voters loyally dedicated to one party or another for no apparent reason. At least for no apparent political reason. There is also a good chunk of voters who will sell their vote for either a turkey and Xmas ham (cheap) or fridge/washer/flat-screen TV (not so cheap), depending on how well-funded and/or desperate a candidate's campaign, and how good a negotiator the voter in question.

That leaves a small percentage of voters who actually make up their mind, every five years, and who swing the vote. But based on what? Technically speaking, we vote for individual candidates, not for parties, who run in our respective constituencies. But do we actually give a damn about these individuals? Do we expect these MPs to represent their constituencies in the House of Assembly? If necessary against their party's line? We might wish they would, but we are disillusioned enough to know that that ain't gonna happen.

As a result, we vote for candidates because they represent a particular party, and we want this particular party's leader to be the next Prime Minister. Either because we think Hubert/Perry/Bran is just plain fabulous, or because we hope to gain some advantage because it's the country of Who You Know, or - and this is usually the case - because the past five years went reasonably well (in which case governments get reelected), or because the past five years were a disaster (in which case the incumbent loses).

What this really means though, is that we do not even vote for parties, rather, we simply evaluate our own experiences over the past five years. Or less, as our memories tend to emphasise the recent past over the distant past. And we evaluate the experiences that were influenced by government actions, as well as those that were out of the government's control.

It's not looking good for the FNM:
  • In 2011, the murder rate increased by 35%. (Short term memory item #1.)
  • The roads are, still, a nightmare, and while nobody denies that the roadworks were/are needed, digging up the whole island at once is really shitty planning.
  • No visible progress has been made in the field of education. (I actually have my doubts if Joe the Voter cares about this one.)
  • Since the 2008 international economic meltdown, we have seen painful inflation in the Bahamas, but stagnating salaries.
  • That is, if you still have a job and a salary.

To counter this, what is the FNM selling as success stories of their administration?

  • A new airport terminal, which nobody really remembers (long term memory loss, see above), and which, in all reality, is actually woefully inadequate.
  • A new Straw Market, which I personally consider an eye-sore, and the opposition is busy convincing us was a waste of taxpayer money.
  • Unfinished roads.
  • Gun courts? [Imagine an app in this space that automatically updates the country's murder count.]

Their hope is the DNA. If it fragments the opposition vote more than it hurts the government vote, it may just be enough for Papa to hang in there another five years. Maybe.

Regardless of the outcome, though, it is unlikely that there will be a change. Certainly not for the better. There are just too many flaws, some rooted in our system, some in our society. Changing the latter is a generational task, tuning the former, however, might yield some surprising results within one election cycle. Proportional representation would enable smaller parties to enter the political arena, some of them may in fact offer genuinely different politics. It would certainly make our democracy more inclusive. More attractive.

And even small inroads such third, fourth or fifth parties may make, would certainly result in the established parties being forced to make more of an effort. Or is that why the Progressive Free Democratic Liberal National Parmoveliance will never consider the move towards proportional representation?