Today, the country marks its 42nd year as an independent nation. More than four decades ago our forefathers fought and agitated for the freedoms we now enjoy. The freedom to vote in democratic elections and the right to own a piece of this great nation we call home. These freedoms while fundamentally important to our continued growth and development, are for the most part, taken for granted by many Bahamians.
Since breaking the bonds of colonial rule in 1973, our small island chain has made many strides but we have also faced many challenges. Today’s Bahamas is a far cry from the strong independent nation that our forefathers envisioned. Former US President Franklin Roosevelt once famously said: “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made”.
This could not be truer of our modern day Bahamas. Where the founders of the nation saw freedom, we now live with the shackles of unprecedented levels of crime and unemployment. Where they dared to dream of an educated populous, we now contend with a substandard system which continues to churn out individuals who are functionally illiterate. Where our forefathers imagined economic growth and stability the country’s leadership over the last forty years has delivered only a higher tax burden and a stagnant economy which threatens to choke the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Clearly, forty years of self-governance under the PLP and FNM has done little to move our country closer to the dream that was once the Bahamas: A paradise where the country’s natural resources are protected and preserved and where talented and industrious Bahamians could thrive. Instead, our political leaders have used their platforms to further personal agendas and line the pockets of their friends, family members and party supporters, creating a nation of individuals who have become dependent on the scraps which fall from the table of the country’s elite.
Over the past forty years the country’s political leaders have created policies which allow foreign investors to become kings in a land where Bahamians should be owners. One need only skim the headlines of the local dailies to see the latest such example: Bahamar. Is this the Bahamas for which our nation’s founders fought? Has our Paradise been lost? Are we proud of where we are as a sovereign nation?
If that famous quote by Franklin Roosevelt is to be used as a measure, then my fellow Bahamians WE ARE NOT FREE!
Even as we contend with the many socio-economic issues that currently plague our country however, there is HOPE. Our Paradise is not lost forever.
As a young and developing democracy, we still have an opportunity to realize the dream of a truly independent Bahamas. To do so, we must look inward, taking advantage of our greatest resource: OUR PEOPLE. We must create new industries in which Bahamians can become real economic stakeholders, and owners of our own economy. We must move away from the current system of dependence and cronyism and work to empower Bahamians through education and entrepreneurial opportunities.
In a truly independent Bahamas, we will play a more active role in charting the course to the country’s future. In a truly independent Bahamas, the constitutional dictatorship which has bred mediocrity will give way to the greatness once envisaged by our forefathers. The road to true independence will not be easy though, the challenges will be many. It will take the collective strength of ALL BAHAMIANS and BAHAMIANS AT HEART to refocus our nation; that we may march on to that loftier common goal which we proudly sing about in our National Anthem.
On this 42nd Anniversary of Independence, let us reflect on the dream that was. Let us honestly examine the challenges we currently face and let us work daily toward the goal of reclaiming Paradise.