Annually on July 10 and on its peripheries, The Bahamas is en fête. The weeks and days leading up to that date signal an appreciable banquet of trade for dry goods stores and the occasional vendors, who sell Bahamian flags, buntings and a seemingly endless supply of Independence novelties. July 10 also generates bounty for the major newspapers, which provide paid space for equally interminable congratulatory Independence advertisements. Not shabby either is the uptick in sales for restaurants and anyone who can generate entertainment that combines music, dance, food and liquor into a potent mix that makes for hangovers and, in some cases, head-hanging in shame for many.
We have come to expect an archipelago-wide flourishing of colour, most visibly in the bedecking of countless business establishments, private houses and public spaces in The Bahamas with flags and various types of bunting bearing the black, gold and aquamarine of the national emblem. On ‘Independence Day’ itself or the weekend preceding, there will be marching bands and displays of precision and music by the armed forces, regattas and “sail-aways” featuring raucous, on board bacchanalia.
Not to be undone in this febrile outbreak of patriotism, Bahamians will bedizen themselves in flag-patterned clothing and accessories from hats to shoes, drive vehicles bedecked in small flags, and greet fellow road users with honks of the horn, smiles and hand waves.
The ‘dis we country’ fever usually cools down with the dawn of the July 11. If the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, giving rise to a ‘long’ weekend, the heat can last for the entire period. All too soon, though, the heat abates, reality intrudes. Nevertheless, the cold light of dawn and reason reveals that we in The Bahamas have not yet achieved independence. The document signed by the British, our imperial masters from 1629 to the date of signing in 1973 could only free us from British colonial status. It cannot liberate the self-inflicted colonization of our minds and our practices since 1973, when the Union Jack descended the flag pole at Fort Charlotte.
Know this—in 2018 we are merely celebrating the 45th year of our march toward a truer independence. We can be proud that we have covered quite a distance, covered a long stretch of the road than much older nations. Sobering is the length and condition of the independence trajectory. It is filled with many potholes, yield and stop signs, steep hills to climb, dangerous curves and trick detours in which we can lose our way.
There is, however, a GPS that spits out signals that can keep us on track, helping us to hold on to each stretch of the road we conquer. Following are a few of those indicators:
- Civil/human rights are not to be triaged by gender, sexual orientation or country of origin. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR) speaks justly of the universality of human rights. “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”
The organization holds that Human rights are inalienable—“They should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.”
This means that we have an obligation to recognize people as human beings even when they are remanded to prison to await trial or convicted and sentenced to periods of incarceration, even lifetime imprisonment. It means that such persons still deserve decent toilet facilities, clean water and food, and opportunities for continuous learning and rehabilitation.
Further, it means that The Bahamas is violating the United Nations conventions, when it continually rationalizes denying women and other groups rights.
- Another indicator of independence is a respect for and an obligation to protect our country’s natural heritage. We are obligated to a deep concern for the health of the global environment, which drives us to sustained action. How independent is the nation if we can’t keep our personal property and neighbourhoods clean? Are we independent if we cannot obey town planning and road traffic laws that are meant to protect us and others within our ambit?
- The Bahamas National Pledge calls us to be “one people united in love and service” We are not “united in love”, if there are children who still go hungry on a daily basis because we care little and give even less to alleviate their lack. We are not independent but bound to the wasteland of destructive insouciance, if the aged of the nation are too often ill-housed and lacking in healthy meals and regular health care.
- We are not independent if “work ethic” gives offense to all too many Bahamians, and ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ is lost on many of those who purport to fight for the rights of the workforce.
- True independence is a distant, Everest-high and inaccessible peak, if the majority of Bahamians, from birth to death, can only hope for low-wage earning, because our economy has for centuries and continues to be hallmarked by big-money turf-protection by means fair and foul. The same is true of our young people leaving school only semi-literate and not sufficiently skilled to be employable in worthy economic, social and peace-preserving pursuits.
- We are far behind on the drive to true independence, when at the 2018 graduation of new physicians, the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Sir Hillary Beckles, backed by the Bahamas Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, could say with confidence and backed by well-documented statistics that we and our neighbours of the Caribbean region are the sickest in the world. Can we honestly say that we are free, if our rate of mortality from non-communicable, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are among the highest in the world? Wouldn’t our claim to a high degree of freedom be an empty boast, if The Bahamas now has a higher incidence of HIV/AIDS than Sub-Saharan Africa?
Bahamians are a people of great smarts and creativity. Inherent within the people of this small nation is the power to cause the world to “mark the manner of our bearing” with jealous awe. To get to this highly desirable destination, we must acknowledge and cater for an unalienable truth that is denied only by the obstinately dull or ill-intentioned.
The desired promised land of true independence is internal. It is reached only when each citizen and resident of the country has attained independence in thought, in self-analysis and a love of country that encompasses a sense of responsibility for and an obligation to work and even sacrifice for the well-being of fellow countrymen and the land itself. The absolute essential of true Independence lies in each of us understanding and taking to heart that there is a concept of ‘nation’ that should be held sacrosanct. A true nation is an amalgam of people of varying genders, ages, colours, faiths, creeds and ancestral heritages, who are bound in a concrete-strength bond, reinforced by a mortar of truth, justice and fidelity to a God who lives beyond Saturday and Sunday Sabbath church-going, and whose only criterion for judging worthiness is love.