Category Archives: Bahamas Government

#wemarch like flamingoes 

Something has changed in the air. 

Today, I took part in a peaceful march from Arawak Cay to Rawson Square in Nassau. I can’t easily articulate why, though. It was not a protest on my part. It was most certainly not a partisan gesture; I have come to consider Bahamian party politics (the only kind I can honestly talk about) a petty, visionless affair more concerned with personal vendettas than with any exercise of statehood. It was partly curiosity that took me out, partly the desire to see and take part in a Bahamian social movement, partly wanting to be there for myself so that I could make my own memory of the moment and not have others define it for me.

But mostly it was for the expansion of Bahamian democracy. And to take a step in a new direction, to be there on the ground as we Bahamians, for so long dependent on whatever saviour-leader we can identify, begin to pick up the reins of democratic action for ourselves.

For we have not been raised as a protesting nation. We have for a long time been a deeply partisan one, and successive governments run by the two feuding political parties have deepened the divisions in our society. We have for too long treated our democratic duty as little more than the right to take part in popularity contests. We’ve refused to analyze what has ailed our society, but have rather chosen to scapegoat and shift blame around as though we are engaged in a giant game of shuffleboard rather than the business of running a country. We have used our MPs and party affiliations as avenues for favour, and have ignored the incompetence, the visionlessness and the cupidity of those for whom we voted because of the kind of loyalties people attach to sports teams. We have used our party acronyms and colours as reasons to hurl invective at one another and somehow that has made us feel better about ourselves. 

And we have closed our eyes as our nation—which, though little, could be great—grows smaller and smaller and poorer and poorer in every way possible. We’ve been content to let it happen because we have political stability and peaceful elections and leaders we an approach and gladhand and cuss out as the feeling strikes us. 

But none of that has changed anything real at all. 

Now, I’m not saying that #wemarch today can change anything on its own. That was the main reservation I had about it: that it stood for too many things, that the list of grievances was too long, that this was a catch-all demonstration that lacked focus and real propulsion for change. I turned up and walked the route not only to be part of the march and to participate in this democratic moment, but also as an anthropologist, to observe, to analyze the moment. To see whether it was something truly revolutionary or whether it was something else, something as dismissible as some supporters of the current government have suggested.

 I believe that something basic has changed in the way we do politics. I am not saying that it is a deep-seated change or a permanently new way of doing things; only time will tell that. But I believe that today #wemarch inspired  :

  1. A deep sense of patriotism. The march was supposed to be a silent one, and presumably a solemn one. But we are not normally a solemn people. Visitors to our country have always remarked on the warmth of the Bahamin people, something I’ve usually taken with a heap of salt; we are so very often angry and bitter these days. But what stuck out most about the march was just that—warmth. And a deep love for our country. The song we sang as we rounded the corner to Navy Lion Road was “March On Bahamaland”—our national anthem. 
  2. The achievement, through social media, of a bottom-up One Bahamas. For many years leaders of various sorts have tried to impose a sense of unity on Bahamians, but it has been a false unity, one which has been deeply partisan—witness the golden colours that abound on Majority Rule day or the crimson ones that were linked with the One Bahamas celebrations. There was no sense of false unity today. Perhaps it was the sense of awe at the numbers of people who marched, or the even larger numbers wearing black, but there was some measure of solidarity in the marching and the occupation.
  3. A sense of empowerment. I am not saying that it is not a fragile one, but it is critical. One of the things that has been prevalent in Bahamian society for too many years is a deep sense of helplessness, a sense of being out of control, of mistrust of those in power (and this goes for the FNM as well as the PLP), a sense of being out of place, being unwanted in one’s homeland. Not so much today.
  4. A sense of possibility. People were friendly, people were communicating, people were stepping out of their silos and making contact with people from other domains. Active and hopeful politicians were on the march, but they were almost incidental. They were following the people, which is the way it probably should be in a democracy. 

So. It was a start. For those of us talking about the revolution, this was not it: but it was the beginning of a turn in a different direction. There’s a saying, or a rumour, about the flamingo, the Bahamian national bird. It’s said that when one starts marching in a particular direction, the others will follow. This is what happened today. 

This was step one.

Step two: to figure out where we’re going from here. 
**featured photo by Rosemary Clarice Hanna

Hurricane Matthew: #massivefail (2)

I’m writing this in the cool breeze and dark room of a home in an area which not only has yet to see electricity restored, but even to see any presence of our Power and Light company for blocks around.* Hurricane Matthew blew past us two weeks ago, and we have yet to return to normalcy. I am a citizen, and a patriot, and I am ashamed of the way in which our government has responded to this disaster.

Let me point to the areas of greatest failure.

  1. Bahamas Power and Light

I have already criticized this company roundly on social media. Let me be very clear: my criticism does not stem from my personal situation. After the last major hurricanes to affect electricity services in the capital, we invested in the sort of generator that could withstand this kind of power loss — a workhorse of an engine. Rather, my criticism stems from the fact that the result of BPL’s ineptitude in the wake of this storm has compounded rather than alleviated the suffering and trauma experienced by the residents of the Bahamas’ capital city, and it did not have to be that way.

BPL has worked hard to earn my criticism. I will give props to the company for restoring power to the hospitals, the security agencies, and Paradise Island the day after the hurricane. That part of their strategy made sense, considering that Atlantis was being used by many as a hurricane shelter and a home away from home. But that is where my commendation stops.

Thereafter, BPL’s response to the hurricane was wrong-footed, revealing that the new managers were clearly out of their depth. In the first instance, the company was wrong to reject hurricane protocols established by its parent company, BEC. This decision left residents of Nassau perplexed and rattled, as we did not see the company mobilize and jump into action until after our first weekend in darkness. Rather than beginning as soon as the storm had passed, it seemed, BPL was wasting time “assessing” the extent of the damage. No doubt it was working feverishly to repair its own plants. But this was accomplished in utter silence, in the absence of any real communication to the customers it served and on whose money — from our taxes and from our pockets — it depends for its own survival.

In the second instance, the communications in which it engaged after this sluggish first response were not only inadequate, but downright insulting. The tenor of the communications came off as defensive and self-serving, with frequent references to the “unprecedented” nature of this storm and the lack of adequate resources to address the state of emergency.

This was insulting because while Hurricane Matthew is widely claimed to have been the strongest storm to directly hit Nassau since 1929, the reality is that the situation is more a matter of degree rather than of quality. In my adult memory, I can count eight storms which have affected New Providence substantially, six of them this century. Further, as we should all be well aware, a decade ago two of those storms devastated Grand Bahama and wiped out its power generation ability altogether, requiring the replacement of all the utility poles from Freeport to West End in 2004-5. Our legacy power company, BEC, has extensive experience in dealing with hurricane recovery within and outside of Nassau and has learned how to do it well. BPL’s insistence that the impact of Matthew was somehow extraordinary rang false, and had the effect of discounting everything Bahamians have learned about the restoration of power after major storms.

So while I am perfectly willing to agree that Matthew may have affected our power generation plants more than any other in recent times, and that it may have left a different kind of destruction behind, I cannot accept that BEC lacked the experience or the strategies that would allow the capital to be functional more quickly and in a more reasonable amount of time. The fact that the majority of the island of New Providence remained without light until the Sunday after the storm spoke more to the inexperience and hard-headedness of the new management team than to the magnitude of the storm. After all, Matthew sideswiped New Providence as a Category 3 storm, and the eye passed us by. The continual references to its “unprecedented” nature sounded like excuses for ineptitude.

Let me support this point with some more comprehensive detail. These are the other significant storms we have weathered in New Providence in the past quarter century: Hurricane Andrew (Cat 5) (1992), Hurricane Floyd (Cat 3-4) (1999), Hurricane Michelle (Cat 1) (2001), Hurricanes Frances (Cat 4) and Jeanne (Cat 3) (2004), Hurricane Irene (Cat 3) (2011), and Hurricane Sandy (Cat 1) (2012). For Bahamians, and for Nassauvians, although the eye of a hurricane has not come this close to us for some fifteen years — not since Hurricane Michelle, whose eye stayed over the capital for some hours — the statement that the strike was “unprecedented” has the effect of dismissing our collective experience as irrelevant, unworthy of recognition.

Let me be clear on another point, too.  Lest people misunderstand what I expect from our power company and imagine that I am judging the response of BPL to the storm solely by the restoration of power to the capital, let me assure you that I am not talking about full restoration of services here. Hurricanes bring devastation, and I do not expect miracles. I do, however, expect rationality in the wake of a storm; I expect our power company to understand the way New Providence works, and to make decisions that minimize suffering and confusion rather than ones that exacerbate that suffering.

I am talking about commitment, confidence, and communication. After those other hurricanes that disrupted the capital’s electricity — primarily Andrew, Floyd, Michelle, Frances and Jeanne — residents of New Providence were given comprehensive reports of the damage to the electrical grid, a general understanding of the scope of the repairs to be undertaken, and then regular updates about the progress of those repairs. We have come to expect this kind of respect, and we have missed it sorely this time. It is the kind of communication that allows us to understand that while it might take weeks to restore full electricity to the whole island, two weeks after those storms, the capital will function again. Schools without significant damage will re-open. Businesses will return to some level of normalcy. Traffic will move without snarls at traffic lights and many communities will have their power restored.

Additionally, in those past storms, after two weeks, we all knew our electricity corporation was working for us. Crews had been visible throughout the island from the moment the storm had passed, at times even before the all-clear was given. It was understood that the restoration of electricity to as many people as possible was of the highest priority. We understood that BEC recognized that the swift resumption of power generation was critical to the recovery of the economy and of the island, and public confidence was boosted by the corporation’s clear communication and a sense of commitment to the quickest restoration in the shortest possible time.

I cannot say that I have confidence in any of the above this year. On the contrary: BPL has succeeded in convincing me that its primary interest lies in conserving its bottom line, in protecting whatever revenues it expected to earn from this management contract, rather than in restoring power to the people it serves in the shortest possible time. It may well have worked to restore power in the shortest cost-effective possible time, but that is not the same thing at all, and it inspires little confidence in me that I matter to BPL in any way other than the payment of my electricity bill.

I resent this deeply. Unlike money which was paid to BEC in the past, this insistence on cost-effectiveness is not, and cannot be, merely to ensure efficiency. It must also be to repatriate some of the revenues earned from Bahamian pockets to the USA, where the parent company of the new management resides. Otherwise what would be the point of accepting the management contract?

There may be people who will argue with me, who will take the stand that even in an emergency, money matters more than people. For the sake of neo-liberal argument, I’ll give them that point, although every atom in my body screams that it is wrong. Even so, if cost effectiveness is your primary motivation, I expect a level of fiscal efficiency. If your goal is cost-effectiveness, at least achieve it with the minimal possible disruption to normal life. Even here BPL’s miscalculation has been great. Its slowness and muddled strategy of restoration has resulted in the following impacts on life in the capital:

  • the slow restoration of internet and cable communication, which is dependent in many cases on the restoration of electricity
  • the inability of public schools to reopen as scheduled owing the continued lack of power to their surrounding communities, a direct result of the company’s decision to leave the northeastern and southern segments of New Providence to the last
  • the protracted power outage at the Port of Nassau, the core of New Providence’s economic activity
  • the continued inability of a considerable proportion of the business community to function at full capacity, as much of the economy of New Providence is still centred in and around the city of Nassau in the neglected north-eastern segment of the island, and also as a result of their remaining without cable and internet
  • traffic chaos owing to the scores of traffic lights that remain non-functional in the wake of the hurricane

Even as I write this, these are the traffic lights that impact me personally that remain non-functional, two weeks in: Village and Bay, Village and Shirley, Shirley and Mackey, Mackey and Bay, Mackey and Pyfrom (Bar 20), Mackey and Madeira, Parkgate and Village. The lights at Madeira and Montrose, Madeira and Mount Royal, Madeira (Fifth Terrace) and Collins, Rosetta and Sears, Rosetta and Hawkins, Rosetta (Fourth Terrace) and Collins, Mackey and Wulff, Collins and Wulff, East and Wulff, Market and Wulff, Nassau and Meadow/Boyd, Elizabeth and Shirley, Blue Hill and Cumberland, Blue Hill and Dillet. These are not insignificant junctions. No doubt there are scores of others. These are not rural outposts, and they are not areas that can go without traffic signals for long. But they are testimonies to the way in which BPL’s approach to this storm was woefully and tragically off the mark.

What is more, it appears as though, contrary to a more established practice of  tackling the most difficult jobs first, BPL has left them to the last. This means that the people who were most impacted by the storm itself — who suffered the flooding from the storm surge, who lost cars and roofs to falling trees, who lost their vehicles and their furniture and in some cases the stability of their homes — are also those people who remain the most neglected two weeks after the storm. This has the effect of compounding their trauma and of increasing, rather than alleviating, their suffering. I am not suggesting that the damage to the electrical system that occurred in those areas should, or could, be fixed immediately. But I am saying that there is some comfort to be had simply from knowing that one’s area is a priority for officials, from knowing that you are on someone’s list, that you are not being forgotten. And that is what has sorely been lacking in this post-Matthew time.

In short, BPL’s recovery plan has appeared ad hoc, foreign, and woefully unsuited to the realities of life on New Providence. I can only conclude that what has happened at BPL — as BEC delivered a far better service after hurricanes, even if it did not deliver much in the way of service day-to-day — is that the new managers have come in with their own way of doing things, and disregarded protocols that have been in place for decades. (I am only speculating here, and my speculation is fuelled both by rumour and by a deep bias against the outsourcing of any essential utility to an external company, so take this part of my criticism with the appropriate dose of salt.) I suspect, however, that the new managers discounted the institutional and local knowledge that allowed BEC to function to this point, given the decrepitude of the plant and the chronic misallocation of funds it has suffered for decades. I suspect that the new managers instituted their own post-hurricane protocols instead of considering the value of those that have been tried and true — to their detriment. There were babies in that bathwater, as we have all found out.

There is very little in the way of mitigation that can be had at this stage, but there are some things that can be done.

One of the areas that stands out most glaringly about BPL’s non-handling of this crisis is its persistent refusal, apparently, to offer any rebates to its customers in this difficult time. Not only have the press conferences that I have heard mentioned cost at every turn, BPL — unlike every other public utility company in the nation  — has insisted clearly that they will continue to bill their customers for their services and that they will continue to disconnect those customers for non-payment of their bills.

Come again? Is BPL the only agency in this country to emerge without loss in the wake of this hurricane? Is the right to repatriate profits more important than the ability of Bahamian citizens to recover from the storm? Is BPL oblivious to the ways in which it has compounded the suffering and slowed our recovery? Are we expected to pay for this massive failure?

Words massively fail me here. The only thing I can do is to call upon the bosses of BPL, the politicians we have elected to manage our nation, to demand that some other arrangements be made, to demand that BPL recognize its contribution to our suffering and to at least consider offering reduced bills to those who have been without power for longer than seven days. Something concrete, something tangible, must be exchanged for the frustration, confusion and inefficiency that we have experienced from BPL over the past two weeks.

What I would also like to see now is some humility in the wake of this disaster. At the very least, I would like to see the new managers learn something from this experience.

They should learn something about the Bahamian people — that we expect better than they have given us after this hurricane. They should learn something about the expertise that they met in the corporation that they were contracted to manage — that perhaps local expertise is worth listening to, worth making room for, worth promoting. They should learn something about going into another country armed with the assumption that they way that they do things elsewhere may not be the best way, may not even work if transplanted. And they should learn something about basic communication. The provision of electricity should be divorced from spin. Tell the truth, tell it fairly, and gain the confidence of your consumers. Try to confuse us with numbers and percentages and mumbo-jumbo of the American kind, and worse, charge us for it, can only yuck up our vexation (Eng. translation: raise our ire).

That is all.

——

*Edit: the very night I wrote this post, the trucks came. They appeared in the neighbourhood by threes. One car, three trucks. 14 days after the hurricane. But the restoration of power was not as easy as that. By the time this publishes, it may have been achieved, but for now: we’re still in darkness. [Back]

Love, Hate, Democracy and Christianity

Bahamian pastors, I have a question for you. 

What did you preach about yesterday? It’s the first Sunday since the referendum, so I imagine that many congregations were engaged in praise and thanksgiving for the Bahamas’ rejection of changes to the status quo that might allow for gay marriage. 

But it was also the morning of a massacre. Did you preach about that?

If you did, was Christ your example? Did you, in your rejoicing, spare a thought for the families of the 50+ dead in Orlando? A prayer? Did you lead your congregations in prayers for the wounded in Pulse nightclub, or did you (God forbid) offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the shooter?

These things matter. 

I’m asking because we are responsible for the stands we take. We’re responsible for both the positive outcomes and the negative ones. We can never know how our words will be taken when we utter them, and when they leave us, but that does not make us any less responsible for them. Words are not children; they do not have consciences of their own. But they do have consequences.

A choice was made by a significant proportion of the Bahamian Christian community during the lead-up to the Bahamas referendum. It was a choice I did not understand, and a choice that I would not have made myself. As a result, significant portions of the discussion that surrounded the referendum focussed on a “gay agenda” that had to be defeated at whatever cost—even the cost of not affording equal rights under the constitution to Bahamian women. 

When challenged, many of the people advancing that position insisted that their stand was not against individuals. Christians love homosexuals, they said; it is the homosexual lifestyle they do not love. For the sake of argument, I will accept that position, though I did not see a whole lot of love being shared. I didn’t see too many pastors sitting and engaging with Bahamian gay rights activists, or embracing members of the Bahamian transgender community. I heard a lot of aggression and a lot of judgement, though. Plenty wrath. Not so much gentleness.

Well, on Saturday night, a real blow was struck against the “gay agenda”, and it was struck with bullets and with blood. More than fifty homosexuals were removed from this world by a man who was taking his own personal stand against their “agenda”. Now I am in no way linking that shooting directly to any Bahamian Christian. I am well aware that the shooter was an Afghani-American. But his intent seemed all too familiar here in The Bahamas. And some of the responses appearing in Bahamian social media—which rejoiced in his actions, which threatened the same here—sickened me.

Hence my question. Pastors, what did you preach about yesterday? Did you remind your congregations that, no matter what your stand in principle about same-sex marriage and homosexual lifestyles, the slaughter of actual human beings was wrong? Did you remind them of Jesus’ words about judging others, about turning cheeks, about loving neighbours as yourself? Did you condemn in advance the outpouring of hate that was certainly about to come from people who used your stance against the proposed amendment to justify their personal homophobia? Did you, in short, accept responsibility for your position on the referendum, recognize the links between yesterday morning’s shooting and that position, and work to explain the difference between a principle and an action? That your call to righteousness is not a call to murder? That the freedom of speech, of expression, or of opinion, are not the same as the freedom of action? That the shooting of people in a nightclub catering to LGBTI people is certainly not what God is calling His people to do? 

And beyond that, what have you written about it? Where are the words that you will use to help heal this hate? I am not condemning the position you took on the referendum, though I disagree with it, and was saddened by it. We live in a democratic society, and democracy guarantees you the right to hold and defend your personal convictions. But that right comes with responsibility. You are responsible for the words you used in this fight. I am holding you responsible for the words you will use from now on to spread the love of Christ, as well as judgement. 

You are our pastors. You can lead us astray, or in the paths of righteousness. I’m waiting.

PS: Check this out. 

Gilbert Morris on the Referendum

In a well organized society, equality cuts both ways, and must include for instance changes to family law so that good fathers, can gain custody or have proper access to their children. Overall, I do not believe this referendum contributed to the good of The Bahamas. Governments of the Bahamas are too political and so undermine their credibility as constitutional arbiters. We cannot make the first change to our constitution some rule change on a narrow basis. Bahamians need to learn the basic meaning of having a constitution, and feel kinship with its principles.

Source: On Referendum 2016 by Gilbert Morris

I appreciated this analysis. Go read the whole thing.

 

Why public transport works better in Barbados | Bad Drive — news on transportation, traffic, and transit in Trinidad and Tobago.

Here’s something you’ll hardly ever see in Trinidad: A group of well-dressed European women jumping off a maxi taxi at 9 p.m., laughing as they walk the last couple blocks to their hote…

Source: Why public transport works better in Barbados | Bad Drive — news on transportation, traffic, and transit in Trinidad and Tobago.

•••

There’s always stuff we can learn from our neighbours. We desperately need to reform the transportation system in New Providence. Barbados can give us an example of how to do that: it employs a three-tier system incorporating true public transportation (like what you’ll find in North American and European cities), a private bus system (like what we have here) and ZR vans (a variation on our taxi plate system, but using vans like many taxi drivers use). Read more from Fulbright fellow Martine Powers.

Talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper

It’s been a long time since I was one for debating politics. I’m not saying it never happened. I am a Bahamian after all. But I’ve since recovered from that particular illness. There is little to debate. There is little that is happening worth debating.

OK, so I know that the pundits and the newspapers might disagree with me here. After all, you have only to open a computer or a newspaper and you will see drama splashed across the page or screen. Hit men. Foreign investors. Referenda. Rogue politicians insulting people. The wry satire of political one-liners. The rabid hate of, well, haters. And crime, crime, crime.

But there is nothing to debate about these things. There are simply facts. They are sobering facts. They tell us very serious things about who and where we are as a people and a nation. And yet we do nothing about the facts. Rather, we use them for entertainment. We use them to point fingers at public figures, to rack up Likes on Facebook, to provide “commentary” on what we generously call “politics”, to delude ourselves that engaging in that kind of conversation is making any kind of difference.

We are in decline, because we spend too much time talking about people and situations, and too little time doing anything to bring about change.  We continue to assume that those people who present themselves for election to public office can make any kind of dent in this decline, and waste hours and breath bigging up or tearing down this or the other of those people.

We willfully ignore another fact: that far too many of today’s public political actors are either devoid of any shred of integrity or compassion or intelligence, or else have compromised so much of themselves that integrity, compassion and intelligence have been bartered away for nominations, political ascendency, power. We disregard the very clear truth that virtually all the people we’re currently faced with electing have had to choose between their personal convictions, their values, their goals for their nation (assuming they began with these), and their place in their particular political party—and that virtually all of them have made the wrong choice. What we see in the political sphere are greed, truthlessness, cowardice, megalomania, and lunacy.  When last did we see our politicians display qualities like honesty, humility, or common sense? These days, party politics are a corrosion which destroys everything it touches.

And so I have absolutely nothing to say about political parties. Do not ask me to say anything; do not ask me to comment on any one of them; they are all compromised, all tarnished, all corrupt in many ways, big and small. One or two individuals stand up head and shoulders above the crowd; but even these have sacrificed their ability to bring about real change for the perceived security of remaining tethered to their parties.

But I do have something to say about this:

We need a movement.
I am the first Volunteer.
I am not going to create a new initiative. I am going out from the studio everyday, and I am going to help those who are already helping others; I am going to serve our people and I am going to ask you to send them what you can to help, but more than that, I am going to ask you to join me.

Simply put, My Fellow Bahamians, we are in the midst of an unprecedented national emergency. A crisis of faith, a crisis of conscience, and ultimately, a crisis, not just of leadership but of servant leadership.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Anyone can become great, because anyone can serve. In service is our greatness”. Therefore, my friends, I will do everything in my power everyday from here forward not to permit any Bahamian child to go to bed hungry, homeless or in fear.

I am going to live Dr. Kings message.
And, I am asking you to join me.

–Jeff Lloyd

Amen. I am on board. It’s a new day. Talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper, and I’m whispering.

Back to the Referendum

Eighteen months ago, I was invited to write an article for Global Voices about the proposed referendum on gender equality in The Bahamas. It was published in October 2014, a month before the referendum was initially scheduled to take place. That the referendum didn’t take place is common knowledge now; it was postponed to allow “public education” to take place. Well, it’s now back on the national agenda, and I’m not sure how much education has happened. So I am now going to publish what I wrote back then in its entirety in an attempt to inform the discussion we are now having with some facts.

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is amending its 41-year-old constitution. I’m using the present continuous tense, because the amendment is a process, one that began some twelve years ago in 2002. Back then, a constitutional referendum was held and failed—the proposed amendments to the Constitution were rejected by the general public. But the need for amendment has persisted, and ever since 2012 a constitutional referendum has been imminent.

The main issue at hand is the question of equality between the sexes under the constitution. The most striking instance of inequality in our constitution is that between men and women in relation to their ability to pass on Bahamian citizenship, but, as the most recent Constitutional Commission has noted, the inequalities in the current constitution are manifold. This Commission has narrowed them down to the following categories: inequality between men and women, between children and between married and single people. To this we can add inequality based on place of birth.

The last item on that list notwithstanding, the Constitutional Commission has drafted four bills which, if passed by the two Houses of Parliament and agreed to by the general public, will make Bahamian citizens more equal than non-Bahamians by seeking to address the first three inequalities.

Put simply, the main inequalities are as follows:

– Married Bahamian men and unmarried Bahamian women automatically pass their citizenship on to their children at birth.

  • Bahamian women cannot pass their citizenship on to their overseas-born children at birth, if they are married to a non-Bahamian.
  • Single fathers may not pass their citizenship on to their children, as the constitution defines children born out of wedlock as not having a father.
  • The non-Bahamian wives of Bahamian men are afforded the right to be granted citizenship upon application.
  • The non-Bahamian husbands of Bahamian women are afforded no such right.

The issue, however, is complicated by several other requirements that make the passing on of citizenship from parent to child less straightforward. Primary among these is a clause which addresses the institution of marriage. Under this clause, unmarried Bahamian mothers are defined as “fathers” for the purpose of passing on their national status to their babies. This particular clause also nullifies single Bahamian fathers’ ability to pass on their citizenship.

The four bills drafted to amend the constitution seek to rectify the situation. They are designed to promote equality for children, among men and women, and to enshrine the principle of equality throughout the constitution. The first of these seeks to award the children of both Bahamian men and women citizenship at birth. The second entitles all non-Bahamian spouses of Bahamian citizens to Bahamian citizenship. The third allows single Bahamian fathers to pass their citizenship on to their offspring. And the fourth bill seeks to enshrine the principle of equality between the sexes in the constitution by adding the word “sex” to the list of categories under which discrimination is prohibited.

On the surface, this seems a simple enough task. It is complicated, however, by a public discussion which has focused mainly on the fourth amendment—the one which is, in its own way, the simplest of the proposed changes: the adding of “sex” to the categories prohibiting discrimination.

The current categories include race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, and creed, but exclude sex. The opponents of this amendment have construed the word “sex” as relating to sexual orientation, and have gained much traction in the eyes of the public by claiming the constitutional amendments are designed to permit same-sex marriage. If this Article is amended, their story goes, Bahamians will be giving the government permission to allow same-sex marriages to take place. These arguments obscure the principle of equality between the sexes and make this clause appear the most controversial—which also makes it the most threatened as the time for the referendum draws near.

And there are other questions of inequality that have not been addressed. Most notable among them is the question of birthplace and its effect on the awarding of citizenship to Bahamian children. There are two elements at work here. The first is the fact that birth on Bahamian territory is no avenue to citizenship if neither of one’s parents is Bahamian. The most that a person born in the Bahamas is entitled to is the right to be registered as a citizen upon making application at the age of 18.

The second, more difficult challenge, is the kind of citizenship one is granted if one is born abroad to Bahamian parents. One peculiarity of the current constitution which has not been put forward for amendment, is that children born to Bahamians abroad, even if they are classified as citizens, have no automatic right to pass their citizenship on to their own offspring. In other words, children born to Bahamians studying or working abroad, or giving birth in another country for reasons of health, may be classified as Bahamian citizens. However, if they themselves have children outside of The Bahamas, those children are not Bahamians at birth, and have no right to claim Bahamian citizenship whatsoever.

The issue is complicated, and most Bahamians are not aware of this stipulation. Most of the discussion relating to citizenship and our constitution has focused on the next generation—on our children. We have not yet thought about our grandchildren. What the current situation does ensure, though, is that not one of us, whatever the outcome of the referendum and whatever amendments are made to the constitution, can be confident that our grandchildren will be Bahamians at birth.

Let me bring this home. In my family, I have cousins who were born abroad because their Bahamian father was studying in the UK at the time of their birth. They are Bahamian. Their children, though, unless they are born in The Bahamas, are not.

Similarly, I have a nephew who, once again, was born in Canada when his Bahamian father was studying. He is a Bahamian, but his children, unless they are born in The Bahamas, will not be.

Finally, I have another young cousin who was born in Miami while his parents were there getting medical treatment for their older son. That cousin, even though both his parents are citizens, will not be able to pass on his citizenship unless his children are born in The Bahamas.

And none of these issues even begins to address the question of statehood for the many children of undocumented immigrants (most of them of Haitian origin) in The Bahamas. Most of those children currently have no national status at all. It is a situation which must be addressed, but which has not been touched upon in the present referendum.

So critical is this question of citizenship that a 2013 Report on the constitution recommended appointing a second commission altogether to focus exclusively on the issue of statelessness in The Bahamas, as the commissioners did not feel they could give it the necessary attention. No such move has yet been made.

The constitutional amendments are long overdue. They will go some way to equalizing the granting of Bahamian citizenship to children, and to even out the distinction between male and female, married and unmarried, that currently exists. But they are only a beginning. Serious issues of inequality remain, and the climate in which the discussions regarding the referendum is taking place has grown fraught with misdirection. The popular interpretation that the addition of “sex” to the categories where discrimination is prohibited is an endorsement of same-sex marriage plays into a deep-seated homophobia in Bahamian society. But it’s also worrying for another reason: it is entirely possible that this relates to homophobia only tangentially, and is in fact a strategic move to campaign for constitutionally-sanctioned misogyny without openly admitting that fact.

#100things I want from government 11-20

More of what I want from government. I have not yet met/heard a politician willing to address even one of them. Not just mention them: address them. Build campaigns around them. Hold them close to their hearts. Will someone prove me wrong ?

11. #100things I want from government: A little bit of bold originality. Let’s not get the same things wrong tomorrow that we did yesterday.

12. #100things I want from government: A little bit of courage. Specially when it comes to doing the right thing. Or even doing things right.

13. #100things I want from government: Teaching our complex and remarkable history to the next generations so we can celebrate ourselves

14. #100things I want from government: Teaching the next generations the crafts our ancestors mastered. Pride and income can go together.

15. #100things I want from government: A lower cost of living. Affordable necessities will give everybody the chance to buy some luxuries.

16. #100things I want from government: Mastering the art of waste disposal on limestone islands with porous bedrock & fragile freshwater lens

17. #100things I want from government: Policies that foster economic equality for all residents: close the gap between well-off & poor

18. #100things I want from government: A municipal government for my city to pay attention to little details like roadworks, garbage, traffic

19. #100things I want from government: A walkable city. Not just downtown where we don’t go anymore: all over the island.

20. #100things I want from government: Real local government where islands get to keep their taxes to meet their needs & handle their issues

#100things I want from government 1-10

Bahamas Houses of Parliament

This week I began to write a series of tweets which, I hope, will break this pattern of silence that has fallen upon me since Boston. I find I can’t engage with any public discussion happening in Nassau right now, largely because the disussions are without result. They are unproductive because they tread old ground incessantly so that they begin to resemble the path of white rats in lab mazes. I don’t like feeling like lab rats or hamsters on wheels, so I have unplugged for some time.

But one can’t stay unplugged forever. So I’m trying to get at least some of the concepts that are crowding my mind down in 140 characters or fewer, hoping the discipline will be constructive. Here’s how the series  began:

Been blocked/silent on big issues since I went to Boston. Maybe because the gap between life there & life here was so wide …

… not in experience but in possibility. And this is the opposite of what I felt when I lived abroad 20 years ago …

Living in the UK in the 1990s was like living in a coffin: rules everywhere & few rewards. Innovation? impossible. You emigrated to breathe

Today Nassau feels the same, only without rules. So as we move towards elections the silly season has graduated to full stupidity

Am going to start tweeting what I want to see from my next government. Prospective politicians, you want my attention? Bring it.

And so? The first 10 of the #100things I want from government:

  1. #100things I want from government: Gender equality. Don’t mind the noise in the man-ket. Women vote.
  2. #100things I want from government: A citizenship policy in a constitution that makes sense. l’d like to be sure my grandkids are Bahamian.
  3. #100things I want from government: An energy plan that makes sense. An energy plan that puts the power in my hands not some outsider’s.
  4.  #100things I want from government: Ideas and ideals for the good of the nation, not new letters and faces for the good of themselves.
  5. #100things I want from government: Research that unveils the causes of crime PLUS programmes to address them not reaction to the symptoms
  6. #100things I want from government: Some real democracy. No more vote once every five years & done. Want my MP to represent me not a party.
  7. #100things I want from government: Protection of the humanity of all within our borders: justice for all regardless of age, sex, origin.
  8. #100things I want from government: Facilitation of fresh ways of being/seeing, not frustration of everything different or new
  9. #100things I want from government: Honour & a place at the table for youth. Elders deserve respect, not deification.
  10. #100things I want from government: Devolution of power. Break up the rule of the 1% over the 400k.

Junkanoo, Carnival, and Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival

First things first.

Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is over, and it was a rip-roaring success. As happened in Grand Bahama, in Nassau thousands and thousands of people thronged the festival site, hungry for the new experience, and for the first time ever The Bahamas entered the twenty-first century world of festivals, productions and events. For the first time ever, too, the government of The Bahamas understood and supported the need for real economic investment in bringing something like this off; the committee that was appointed brought local financial and production expertise to the table and ensured that the execution of the event would be top-class; Bahamians and international performers were hosted on the same stage and that stage was beamed to the world; and at long, long last the Fort Charlotte/Arawak Cay arena has been turned into the kind of festival village that has long been dreamed about.

Throughout the world, the twenty-first century has brought with it a hunger for the festival experience, and, together with tourism, the cultural economy is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. To say we have been slow to capitalize on that is to understate the reality. There are many festivals throughout The Bahamas. They have been happening for years, but none of them have been able to  tap into the global economy the way Junkanoo Carnival was able to for many reasons. They are run like petty shops; they are overly politicized; they rely too much on government handouts rather than focussing on economic generation; they are poorly advertised; they are treated like backyard get-togethers rather than businesses. This homecoming culture, as one might call it, has not taken advantage of any of the things that the twenty-first century has to offer with regard to linking culture and tourism and participating wholly in the global cultural economy. Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has changed that game entirely.

In the months leading up to this event, many people asked me for my opinion of Junkanoo Carnival, and wondered if I would speak publicly and critically about it. I did not. I didn’t join the chorus of people criticizing the concept for the simple reason that I fundamentally agree with the need—economically and socially—to shift the government’s focus and investment from old, mid-twentieth century economic activity to the cultural industries. I fought for an event like this when I served as Director of Culture. The festival model that was put in place here is in many ways a mirror image the festival model that was put forward by Keith Nurse in 2004 when he was engaged to lead a task force on the transformation of CARIFESTA. It’s something you will hear me talk about if you download and listen to the podcasts on CARIFESTA, which were produced back in 2008 when we were hosting and not-hosting the festival. Those of us who fought for the inauguration of a festival culture in The Bahamas have all been vindicated. I could not oppose what I fundamentally support.

But I have always resisted the linking of this transition from homecoming culture to festival culture with the name and form of Carnival. I have always believed, and continue to believe, that we missed a major, major opportunity to put the whole of Bahamian culture squarely on the world stage by choosing to make our mega-festival in the image of the Trinidad carnival rather than studying the ways in which Carnival were monetized and working out how we could do that with Junkanoo.

I am not convinced by many of the reasons spouted to justify spending money to bring in Trinidadian consultants to produce a cookie-cutter event. No one has yet explained to me to my satisfaction why it was necessary to import a Trini-style Carnival (when we could have turned to Brazil, whose Carnaval is even bigger and more lucrative than Trinidad’s, and whose production is far closer than to what exists in Junkanoo today) rather than investing in the time and energy required to make Junkanoo the centre of the experience. Now I have worked with Junkanoo for almost all of my adult life, and I know as well as anyone who has done so how unbelieveably difficult it is to work with the Junkanoo community; how obstructive that community can be; how unreasonably protective they are of their vision of Junkanoo; how ignorant many of them are of the history and significance of what they do; how petty their differences; how slow they are to change.  Any one of these arguments would have brought agreement from me; but I still would have demanded that the new festival at least consider ways in which our own aesthetic and traditions could be honoured, rather than supplanted by those of another territory. But the ease with which our leaders were able simply to import a ready-made festival was troubling, to say the least.

The whole process behind this festival revealed, once again, how deeply people who sit in positions of authority in our country distrust what is ours, how ready we are to push aside what is vibrant and indigenous when it is unformed and messy in honour of what is foreign and nicely packaged. What we did with the festival itself is akin to what we do with our houses, our fruit, and, in general, our national development. We build Florida boxes that hug the ground, have no cross-ventilation, and which bake in the heat and flood in the rains, when he have a perfectly good vernacular architecture that developed to handle our environment. We buy mangoes and avocadoes and bananas and oranges with “Dole” and “Sunkist” and other US stickers on them when the same fruit are growing in our back yards and on our islands; and we have come to regard the solution to all of our local issues as being the outsourcing the problem area to the most convenient foreign direct investor.

Countries don’t grow by outsourcing. Corporations may do so, but citizens are not commodities. And cultural expressions are not interchangeable. What is most troubling about the whole exercise is the narrative that has emerged, that local expressions of culture cannot be monetized, that Junkanoo cannot be improved, that Junkanoo has “served its purpose” and needs to move over to make room for Carnival. This discussion, this argument, which I have seen flourish on Facebook in too many places to be believed, is part of the reason I am weighing in on this now, after the fact.

Let me be quite clear here. I do not believe for one moment that the reason this weekend was successful was because we were celebrating Carnival and not Junkanoo. The greatest success took place at Da Cultural Village. Even though many people took part in, and enjoyed, the Road Fever, the real achievement lay in the hosting, the production, and the presentation of the concerts on Fort Charlotte and Arawak Cay. The real value of the mega-festival lay in the promotion of Bahamian music, and in the development of our event management skills. It was connected also to the recognition/admission/understanding, at long last, that we exist as part of a wider pan-Caribbean world and that our music has a place alongside it on the global stage. The success that was achieved lay in the marriage of industrial standard production values—and international-style expenditure to achieve those values—rather than in any shift to the celebration of Carnival. Let us keep that in mind as we carry this discussion forward.

But let me be equally clear. The most disturbing thing that has come out of the weekend has been the fact that we have now set the carnival in opposition to what is ours—and that to do so, we have spouted the most arrant nonsense about carnival, Junkanoo, and what they mean to us. I have seen people try to argue that Carnival and Junkanoo are basically the same thing. I have seen people suggest that for us to move on from Junkanoo to Carnival is some sort of inevitable cultural evolution, in complete ignorance of the cultural evolution that has got Junkanoo to where it is today. Rather than incorporating the Carnival as a celebration of our Caribbean connections, which we could have done to the same effect, we have set up an opposition that pits Junkanoo against Carnival.

Finally, here is my deepest concern of all. Much has been made of the fact that a study that I oversaw has found that Junkanoo does not turn a profit. People who have never looked at that study, who have clearly never even heard me explain what that study did and showed have been all over the airwaves using that study to justify why we should invest in Carnival and not in Junkanoo. We have bought into the idea that Carnival is an economic engine for development and Junkanoo is a drain on the public purse. I will go into far more detail about that study in a later post, but let me just say this: Carnival could not have happened the way it did this year without the participation of the Junkanoo community; their artistic and costuming expertise was hard at work in many of the Carnival companies. Many designers and builders participated in Carnival as a means of making money out of the event, as a means of turning what they do every year for love and the nourishing of their spirits into a means of making a living because they have not been afforded the opportunity to make that living out of Junkanoo. Whether Carnival offered them the economic returns that it promised has yet to be seen. For me, the real value of this event will lie in its ability not only to allow at long last the chance for musicians, dancers and producers to make a living doing what they love, but also to bolster the growth of Junkanoo, a festival that we Bahamians have already developed. And that success still remains to be seen.