Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Gone are the lazy days of summer where you were experiencing the pleasures of a Caribbean childhood. Eating mangoes till you had a serious bellyache and Grandma decided you needed a proper clean out; riding on the village donkey until the animal had enough of you and decided to kick you off; being sent up the road to catch water to be used for cooking and other sanitary purposes; playing childhood games such as Mississippi, ladder, hide and seek, or just plain out hunting lizards with your catapult just for the fun of it.
You waited patiently for Grandma to finish baking her famous coconut pie from the stone oven; or for her to take her soup off the coal pot and share it out in your enamel bowl. Helping to raise the goats, pigs, chickens, and any other animal that would help to feed the household was a chore that taught you to care for and love the animals that were around you.
Those were the days where we had no care in the world. It did not matter what fashion it was in or the clothes we wore, although the dread of having your hair ironed was definitely not a thing to look forward to, but it was either that or the endless hours of plaiting our kinky hair. All our needs and supplies were taken care of as far as we were concerned.
We did not see the struggles of our parents to put food on the table; the concern in their faces as to how they would pay the bills; or how they wondered and worried if their children would grow up to well-adjusted and contributing citizens of our islands. We were free to think, feel, play, and relax our little minds and fully believe that we would be anything we wanted to be.
Now those days are gone and we are now in our parents’ shoes but this is a different Caribbean. We are all now having to face the trials and tribulations of this modern world. Politics, economics, and social issues are all intertwined in our decisions. Everything is different and difficult and we wonder what happen to the carefree days of our childhood.
Politicians offer the Promised Land but all we receive are hardships as we are working three times as hard for the exact same pay from three years ago; crime is everywhere for it does not discriminate and worry sets in as you wonder if the things that you worked so hard for would disappear in the wink of an eye.
As for the social issues, they hit us like bricks, as we step over one another but it appears there seems to be no solutions readily available. Relationships, which should assist with these adversities, become strained, difficult, and unsupportive; friendships no longer appear to be real and churches, whose duty it is to provide ease and spiritual comfort, now appear to only want what the bill collectors want and that is money.
Where is the relief for us in this modern Caribbean? Our foundation has always been a spiritual one but in the face of such misfortune, are we doomed to be consumed by our problems? No, we are not, as we are a strong people, a resilient people; a people who understand that where there is a valley there must be a mountain.
We will continue to strive, push, and crawl if we must but we will survive and eventually succeed. It is innate in us, as Caribbean people to always thrive no manner the obstacles that are placed before us. We may wallow, complain, and stress ourselves until we see grey hairs begin to appear but deep down in us is always the will to persist. It is not in us to give up on our problems but instead we are always driven to find solutions. We are now realising that we cannot win every battle but we also know that given our faith and belief systems anything is possible.
So to my Caribbean people facing these difficult times understand the following:
• Know thyself and if you know thyself then you will know what you deserve and work towards it
• Understand that problems will come as they are a part of life and do not allow your vision to be clouded by those problems, for if all you see is problems then you will never see the solutions
• Always remember your spiritual foundation, as in times of extreme difficulty it will teach you to persevere and survive
• Nothing is ever as bad as it appears. Life is a balance where there is sunshine; it must be followed by rain. Rain is not a bad element. It may prevent us from doing certain things but its true purpose is to cleanse the earth and nurture our food
• No matter your trial or tribulations, always seek the positive. It is a change of thinking that changes our path.
Life in this modern Caribbean is definitely more difficult than what our ancestors may have experienced, but luckily for us we have been given the tools to navigate these turbulent waters. Therefore, we will shape the present and assist our children in their future by passing down the tools of survival.
February 29, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Dons are criminal non-state actors that evolved out of the divisive trade union and partisan battles in Jamaica from the 1940s to 1960s... ...The term 'don' is a recent one, however, one that gained venom in the 1980s... ...before that you had 'rude bwoys', 'top rankings' and 'area leaders'
By Damion Blake, jamaica-gleaner guest columnist
The Jamaican don is a unique figure, created by a divisive and polarised partisan culture, and produced by the social and economic conditions of urban poverty and limited access to legitimate employment.
Dons emerged in a country where social status and prestige are important markers of upward mobility, and what the late Professor Rex Nettleford termed a 'smaddy'.
But who really are dons? How have they come to dominate the geopolitical spaces of garrison neighbourhoods in Jamaica? I view them as governance actors who use both fear and material rewards as tools for achieving and maintaining power inside Jamaica's garrison communities.
I write this article against the background of research I conducted in one of Jamaica's urban communities in the Kingston and Metropolitan Area last year from August to December 2011. This urban inner city, which I will refer to as 'California Villa', is in a garrison constituency and has been termed a garrison community.
I interviewed more than 40 persons who lived and/or worked in the community. I also spoke with civil-society and NGO groups that have worked in garrison and inner-city communities for decades in Jamaica.
One respondent who lives in California Villa remarked, "Don is a leader, a man who decide when the war fi start and when it fi end. Him decide who lives and who dies." I found the pronouncement of the respondent to be both instructive and scary. Like an investigator, I followed several trails trying to better understand who these community figures really are.
The late Professor Barry Chevannes once referred to dons as "folk heroes"; I think in many ways Prof was right. Dons have a kind of social power inside garrison communities that gives them perverse legitimacy, respect, social prestige but, most of all, a deep fear among residents. Residents fear dons and the gangs they lead. To cross paths with, or diss, the don is an almost sure ticket to punishment.
Dons also have network connections outside the walls of garrison communities. One respondent who runs a community-based association remarked, "There is no don without a politician, and there is no don without his own police."
Categorising criminal dons
But are all dons the same?
From the research I carried out, I realised that there are different types of dons in garrison spaces; in fact, there are some community figures that have social influence, but are not really dons.
One respondent, who works closely with inner-city and garrison communities, informed me that there are some men called 'boss man' who provide material resources to residents in these communities. They have respect among the youth in the area, but they are, technically, not dons.
Based on my research, a three-tier structure of dons emerges: there is the mega don, the powerful community don, and the lower-ranked street/corner don. Most garrisons, it seems, tend to have street-level dons, with fewer powerful dons and still fewer mega dons.
The mega don operates across garrison communities, is awash in wealth, has transnational links to organised crime (drug and gun trafficking), leads a gang, has legitimate businesses but also organises mega robberies and extortion rackets.
The don is essentially a male (I came across no female dons) who has resources in the form of money, has some political association (loose or strong), has an arsenal of weapons, usually is a leader or top-ranking gang member, has respect in the community (whether out of fear or admiration), and someone who provides some social benefits to the community.
Dons are criminal non-state actors that evolved out of the divisive trade union and partisan battles in Jamaica from the 1940s to 1960s. The term 'don' is a recent one, however, one that gained venom in the 1980s; before that you had 'rude bwoys', 'top rankings' and 'area leaders'.
Damion Blake is an instructor and PhD student at Virginia Tech State University. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 27, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
CONSTERNATION at the news that President Chávez is to undergo further surgery was followed by an impressive wave of popular support and love. Venezuelan revolutionaries listened to his first-hand and frank explanation of the situation. Immediately, their collective response could be heard everywhere, "Palante, Comandante!" (Keep on going, Comandante!)
Once again this relationship, human and almost umbilical, which has developed between Chávez and his people, is being put to the test. What happens to the President also hurts the people and vice versa. This explains why, since this past Tuesday, all the informative and emotional life of the country has focused on the leader’s medical condition, expressed in the media and the street, on social networks and cell phones.
Chávez once again used his Twitter account to respond in an intimate way, on Wednesday afternoon. "All my love to you. I promise that I will fight without respite for life. We will live and win!"
Contrary to this support from public sectors, the media campaign aimed at taking advantage of the situation continues. A cable from the agency which reproduces the U.S. line speculated Wednesday, "The voluble socialist leader and sarcastic critic of the United States might have no option but to appoint a successor."
Communications and Information Minister Andrés Izarra immediately responded, "The wave of rumors concerning President Hugo Chávez’ health, fuelled by the right wing in some of the media, is an attempt to block his candidacy for the October 7 elections. What they are seeking is to break this confidence and the possibility of Chávez being the candidate. We believe in the word and strength of the Comandante: he will live and win."
Havana. February 23, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
“Crisis” is one of those words that is used so much that it has practically lost its meaning. And if there were a competition among regional organisations on which was most often said to be “in crisis”, my bet would be on CARICOM winning by a wide margin.
In the run-up to the half-yearly meetings of CARICOM leaders, we have become accustomed to a flurry of reports, studies, speeches and media commentaries bemoaning the sorry state of the regional movement and promising renewed attention to the dying patient.
Latest in the procession are two reports in the regional media appearing this week, just a fortnight before the March 8-9 “Intersessional meeting” of CARICOM heads of government in Suriname.
Veteran regional columnist Rickey Singh is quoting at length from a letter said to be sent by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines to newly installed CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque. The letter is said to offer a “blunt assessment” of CARICOM.
According to the Prime Minister, "CARICOM's current mode of marking time at an historical moment of overwhelmingly awesome challenges for our region which compelling demands a more profound integration, is mistaken…"; and further that "Minimalism in integration has its attractions but in our regional context, it can be fatal to our people's well-being.”
One must commend Prime Minister Gonsalves for caring sufficiently about CARICOM to take the trouble to craft this letter, and for his candour. But one is hard put to find anything in the extensive passages quoted that hasn‘t been said before.
Neither is there any hint of what specific actions Mr Gonsalves is proposing in order to salvage the regional enterprise.
I also wonder if the prime minister is aiming his guns at the right target. Seems to me he should be addressing his fellow heads of government directly; and with concrete proposals about how to move out of the present malaise. As everyone knows, the way that CARICOM is structured endows the secretary general with very limited authority to act on his own. More of a “secretary” he, than a “general”.
In any case, the expectations that accompanied Secretary General LaRocque‘s appointment six months or so ago, have all but dissipated. Seems to be business as usual!
Prime Minister Gonsalves concedes that he himself took part in a collective decision in 2011 to put the Single Economy “on pause” -- a decision which, ironically, was taken at a Special Retreat hosted by then President Jagdeo of Guyana, which had precisely the opposite objective.
So what reason do we have to believe that the latest letter, sincere though it may be, will make one iota of difference this time around?
The second news item, coming out of Bridgetown on February 22, tells us that a “Project Management Team” has warned that without a “fundamental change”, CARICOM could expire slowly over the next few years as stakeholders begin to vote with their feet…
Well, well. I wonder which planet these gentlemen inhabit. Don‘t they know that stakeholders have been “voting with their feet” for some time? Whatever happened to the Caribbean Business Council, brainchild of former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur? How active are the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce, the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, the Caribbean Congress of Labour, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre? These organisations have just about given up on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Don‘t they know that the OECS is prioritising their own union? That three CARICOM countries have joined ALBA, with two more in the queue? That Guyana and Suriname are founding members of the Union of South American States (UNASUR), and looking southwards? That Belize looks as much -- if not more -- to Central America as to the Caribbean? Isn‘t it already “every man for himself”?
I have some other news for the Project Management Team: it’s all been said before.
For instance, here is what the present writer wrote seven years ago:
“The pessimistic scenario is for fragmentation of the Community and eventual abandonment of the CSME as an objective. This could result with loss of momentum in the integration movement due to the difficulties discussed in this paper, the growth of ‘implementation fatigue’ among governments and of ‘implementation cynicism’ in the regional public, waning political support for integration, and increased economic divergence.”
Long before that -- twenty years ago, in fact, there was Time For Action - Report by the Independent West Indian Commission -- -which spoke at length about the “Implementation Deficit” as the Achilles Heel of CARICOM. More recently, one can point to any amount of studies, comments and warnings by regional media commentators, business leaders, academics, statesmen, leaders and former leaders. These have grown in the light of the still incomplete project to complete the CARICOM Single Market -- supposedly inaugurated by the governments in 2006 -- and the frequent missed targets for completing the CARICOM Single Economy, first set for the end of 2008.
So what‘s new? Well, if the “Project Management Team” is supported by external donors, and has some foreign consultants among them, its report may be taken more seriously. A cynical view might be that “Aid-driven integration” and “colonial mentality” could succeed, where all else has failed. Even so, I wonder if the PMT is being correctly reported in their conclusion that “Hopes for arresting the crisis depend on a willingness on the part of Heads of Government to bite the bullet on the elusive issue of ‘fundamental changes’ in the management structure and operational modalities of the Georgetown-based CARICOM Secretariat.”
I have to ask if this isn‘t putting the cart before the horse. The CARICOM Secretariat is a means to an end, not an end in itself. How can decisions be taken on its structure outside of the context of larger decisions about the course that integration should take over the next 5-10 years; the priorities; the road map; the method of governance of the Community and the degree to which regional organs will be legally endowed with the authority to exercise “collective sovereignty”, in order to solve the recurrent problem of “implementation deficit”?
In reality, the “bullet” that needs to be “bitten” is the necessity to share sovereignty in designated areas of regional action, and to put structures of governance in place to give this practical effect. Anyway you look at it, a revision of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is inescapable. And possibly a revision of several national constitutions as well.
A tall order, perhaps. But to pin hopes on a reformed secretariat outside of this framework looks to me like a recipe for wasted investment, heightened frustration and continued decline.
So people, as the Suriname meeting approaches, dream of the best, but expect more of the same. Don‘t hold your breath. You might be waiting to exhale for a long time.
February 25, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
The Bahamas: ...The growing debt and the deficits are a deadly cancer on the Bahamian economy... ...Together they will deliver a mortal blow to The Bahamas' economy if not dealt with... ...We believe that dealing with the deficit is the single most important factor for the future of The Bahamas
The cancer of debt
CFAL Economic view
Last week the Department of Statistics released the latest unemployment numbers. They were not pretty to say the least. Given that we are in the “silly” season we expect many political analysts to offer their own opinions as to why the employment numbers are so high. What we would like to see are some specifics addressing the myriad of issues facing us today (including the high level of unemployment) over the next 36 months. We can write and pontificate on why the unemployment rate is so high, particularly among the country youth, but will instead today focus on the debt cancer affecting on our national body.
One of the single biggest issues facing us is our national debt. We are fast approaching the point when we will no longer be able to borrow at favorable rates in the international market. Although the debt build-up was several years in the making, we still have time to change course and address some of the attendant issues. We cannot continue to run deficits along with those unfunded liabilities which we never speak about — i.e., civil servant pensions.
We are in urgent need of a plan to address unfunded pensions but also a plan to grow our economy and manage the debt problem. Debt is not all bad when used appropriately. It becomes a problem when we stop borrowing for development only and begin to borrow to meet interest payments and recurrent expenditures — i.e., civil servant salaries, etc.
The Bahamas is not alone in this regard. One by one, the countries of Europe are losing their ability to sell their bonds at an interest rate that is sustainable for their economies. They have seen their revenue bases eroded and have had to resort to severe and socially disruptive restructuring exercises. Even with central bank’s interventions to accommodate their spending by printing money together with the assistance of other countries, which tax their citizens to pay for the excesses, the debt burden still remains far too high.
Deficit must be addressed
We believe that dealing with the deficit is the single most important factor for the future of The Bahamas. Some would argue that crime and education are more important but that would be shortsighted. Whenever economies are doing well there is a tendency for crime and social ills to decline. Indeed, unless the country has the financial ability to provide funding to fight crime and provide education, the social condition would only get worse.
We believe that the major focus of this upcoming election should ultimately be about dealing with the deficit and putting the country on a path to achieving a sustainable budget deficit rate; one that is less than the growth rate of our country. By not dealing with this issue we run the real risk of creating many problems for ourselves including the likelihood of opening ourselves to harsh penalties such as those imposed by international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Continued economic imbalances could, in the long run, affect the exchange rate and our sacred one to one dollar peg to the U.S. dollar.
No one likes to talk about devaluation but we must face a new reality, we can’t afford to put our head in the sand like the ostrich. Instead, we have to develop a coherent plan to grow our economy.
Unless we seriously attempt to address our problems directly and urgently, we will face tough choices in the future. Choices, which are not pleasant for any government.
The growing debt and the deficits are a deadly cancer on the economy. Together they will deliver a mortal blow to the economy if not dealt with. Putting off treatment as we all know will not make the cancer go away by itself, and the cancer of our debt is clearly growing and malignant. It will soon overwhelm our national economic body. The treatment of a cancer is always accompanied by both cost and pain, whether on the personal or the metaphorical national level.
Problem can be fixed
The problem is solvable and indeed there may be many different solutions. Our difficulty is that we have not yet found the political will to decide on what type of treatment is needed and the will to change our way of doing things and move away from doing only those things which we are comfortable with. Change is difficult, but we cannot grow without change.
Our solutions must be politically feasible; we have an aging population requiring increasing health service which is growing in cost annually. Some estimates place the figure as high as 70 percent over the last decade. This is clearly not sustainable. We must address this issue as a matter of urgency. As our population ages, an increased burden is placed on the National Insurance scheme. Informed opinion suggests that National Insurance in its present construct won’t be able provide for all of us in the future unless fundamental changes are made. We should add here that National Insurance was never intended to provide 100 percent for us in our retirement.
We also need to address our tax structure. Why we continue to kick the can down the road is beyond us. We must deal with this issue now. It cannot be left for future generations to deal with. If we continue to ignore those problems, it is our considered view that our economy will become like some of our friends to the south.
If the government decides to raise revenue via tax increases, it may be useful to conduct an exercise to examine the different implications for various tax increases. Not all tax increases give the desired effect; some can have the reverse effect of further stalling revenue intake rather than increasing it. We won’t argue how we should spend our tax revenues. However, we do suggest that we should seek to collect them with as little negative impact as possible. Taxes have consequences.
Some appropriate level of government spending is required. We believe, however, that the spending should be targeted with a view towards creating new industries and employment opportunities for our citizens. Keynes did argue that deficit spending was a good thing in recessions. But he also assumed that the debt would be paid back in the next growth cycle. Must government and citizens forget the latter part?
There are some ideas that are fundamental to the growth of the economy, capitalism and free markets as we know them today. Thomas Hobbes argued that income measures what you contribute to society and spending measures what take away from it. Adam Smith argued that it is the wealth of nations and not the wealth of governments that matters. He argued it was more important to grow the economy and not government.
Without economic growth, the average person will be left worse off. If our population grows by one percent a year and at the same time our gross domestic product fails to grow by one percent, there is less for each person to share. It follows, therefore, that private sector growth is what is needed for general prosperity.
We should take the opportunity to learn from the crisis. Our economic structure as it currently stands, cannot be supported or sustained if we are to move forward with minimal pain. Our structure assumes that our government knows best how to allocate capital, a proposition that has been rejected in both theory and practice over the years.
We should never let a good crisis go to waste. Our economic structure as it currently stands is just unworkable if we are to move forward with minimal pain. Our structure assumes government knows best how to allocate capital, a proposition that has been rejected in both theory and practice over the years.
With regards to the problems facing The Bahamas in the next few years, we believe that there is no easy solution. We are convinced that there are no easy choices. Nevertheless, we are confident that the choices we eventually make will have both short-term and long-term consequences and we stand a better chance of success if we plan carefully.
•CFAL is a sister company of The Nassau Guardian under the AF Holdings Ltd. umbrella. CFAL provides investment management, research, brokerage and pension services. For comments, please contact CFAL at: email@example.com
Feb 22, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
A closer look at The Bahamas’s birth rate... ...The birth rate among Haitian women in The Bahamas has nearly doubled in the past 40 years... ...Births to unwed mothers have practically doubled since 1970, and remain “the largest annual natural increase to the Bahamian population”... ...The number of boys and girls born in The Bahamas has consistently remained almost equal for the past 40 years...
Born in The Bahamas
By Juan McCartney
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
An overview of the data collected by the Department of Statistics on births in The Bahamas over the last 40 years shows that women, domestic and foreign-born, are having fewer children.
The data in the births report, collated from 1970 through 2010, shows that with a population of about 170,000 in 1970, there were 4,894 live births recorded. Juxtapose those numbers against the 5,362 live births recorded among a population of more than 340,000 in 2010, and the downward shift is apparent.
The report also shows that the birth rate fell almost 50 percent, from 28.8 births per 1,000 persons to 15.8 births per 1,000 persons from 1970 through 2010.
The conclusion: Women between the ages of 15 and 49 were having an average of four children during the course of their lives in 1970. By 2010, women were only having an average of two children.
The data doesn’t indicate why birth rates have dropped so dramatically, but a scrutiny of the numbers does uncover some interesting trends among particular groups of women.
Births by foreign women have dropped in the past four decades, from about 30 percent in 1970 to about 18 percent in 2010.
However, an unavoidable fact – as pointed out by The Nassau Guardian several days ago – is that the birth rate among Haitian women in The Bahamas has nearly doubled in the past 40 years.
“The number of births grew from 7.2 percent in 1970, to an average of 13.7 percent by 2010,” the report noted. “In contrast, births to women of Jamaican ethnicity declined by some 50 percent. For females from countries outside the Caribbean, the numbers of births plunged, especially since 2008 to (nearly zero) from 12.1 in 1970.”
The report also points out that births to unwed mothers have practically doubled since 1970, and remain “the largest annual natural increase to the Bahamian population”.
“Births to unwed mothers in The Bahamas escalated in the past 40 years, from 29 percent in 1970 to a high of 62 percent in 2009. For the period 1990 to 2005, the annual birth trend, though high, leveled at 57 percent,” the report said. “Four years later, births to single mothers advanced by five percentage points and declined to 59 percent of the national total in 2010.”
Meantime, the birth rate among teenage mothers (ages 10-19) has dropped significantly.
In 1970 the birth rate in this group was 32.4 per 1,000 women. The birth rate in that group now stands at 17.6 per 1,000 women.
“When compared to the annual national totals the proportion of births to teen mothers fluctuated, reaching a high of 21.7 percent in 1980, to a low of 9.7 percent in 2005,” said the report.
“During the last two years, the percentage of births to females under the age of 20 dropped to single digits, indicating some degree of stability in terms of the annual number of births to this group of females.”
Females ages 15-19 had a birth rate of 40.9 in 2010, compared to 38.9 in 1970.
Women ages 20-24 had the highest birthrate in 1970, with a little over 100 births per 1,000 women. Now that group has a birth rate of 96.7 per 1,000 women and has been eclipsed by women ages 25-29, with a birth rate of 106.3 per 1,000 women.
Women ages 30-34 had a birth rate of 91.7 in 2010, compared to 54.2 in 1970.
Some women are also having children at an older age. Women ages 35-39 had a birth rate of 49 in 2010, compared to 40.8 in 1970.
However, women ages 40-44 had a birth rate of 13 in 2010, compared to 16.7 in 1970.
Women ages 45-49 were having two children per 1,000 persons 40 years ago, and that rate has now fallen to one child among that age group.
As was the case 40 years ago, most children are still born in New Providence.
“In 1970, 63.3 percent of the nation’s children were born in Nassau. Between 1970 and 1980, births in New Providence grew by more than seven percentage points, and about 11 percent by 1990. Thereafter, the proportion of births remained in the low 80 percent range, peaking at 83.9 percent in 2008,” the report found.
“Over the past four decades, the proportion of births which occurred in Grand Bahama decreased by more than four percentage points; from 20.5 to 16 in 2010.
“Forty years ago, the Family Islands accounted for 16 percent of births in the country. By 2010, these island communities experienced a significant loss of birth occurrences, from 794 births during 1970, to a record low of 17 births in 2010.”
The number of boys and girls born in The Bahamas has consistently remained almost equal for the past 40 years, with the majority number fluctuating slightly between the genders.
Most babies are still being born in August and September, although many children are also born during the months between October and January.
But for all the babies being born, there are still many who don’t make it out of their mothers’ wombs alive – though that number is decreasing.
In 1970 there were 105 stillborn children in the country. By 2010 that number decreased to 61.
Expressed as a rate, it would mean that in 1970, for every 1,000 live births there were 21.5 stillborn children.
In 2010, for every 1,000 babies born alive, 12.1 died in utero.
Ed. Note: This information can be viewed on the Department of Statistics website at http://statistics.bahamas.gov.bs
Feb 20, 2012
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The Bahamas: ...The defining outline of the 2012 general election is clear... ...In making their choices of party and leader, voters will assess and compare the records of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and its leader, Perry Christie, from 2002 to 2007 and that of the Free National Movement (FNM) and its leader, Hubert Ingraham, from 2007 to 2012. This comparison and assessment will serve as the basis for who voters believe may best lead the country for the next five years
The so-called silly season
The term silly season is often used to describe the lead-up to a general election and the ensuing election campaign. It is a favorite of some journalists who apply it dismissively in discounting what they view as boilerplate rhetoric from politicians.
Unsurprisingly, the term has a history, obscured by its indiscriminate application by the self-same journalists who wield it to chide and caricature the political class.
Originally, the silly season referred to the period of the late summer when news was scarce. In response to this slow period, newspapers utilized attention-getting headlines and graphics, and printed exaggerated stories on frivolous and “silly” topics to boost circulation and advertising.
Silly seasons are a human phenomenon and not the provenance of any professional group, be they politicians or members of the press and media personalities.
There is a group of celebrity journalists who work in the print and broadcast media and also play pundit on talk shows. Some of these media figures look in the mirror and beam: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the best journalist of them all?”
Perhaps more editors, producers and senior journalists may look in that proverbial mirror and ask how they can more comprehensively, intelligently and creatively cover the 2012 election cycle.
The little secret many journalists won’t admit to publicly is that they enjoy the entertaining elements of politics and general elections as much as their readers and viewers. Good for them. Still, they have an obligation to inform and educate the public beyond what is said by the speakers at various political events.
The defining outline of the 2012 general election is clear. In making their choices of party and leader, voters will assess and compare the records of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and its leader, Perry Christie, from 2002 to 2007 and that of the Free National Movement (FNM) and its leader, Hubert Ingraham, from 2007 to 2012. This comparison and assessment will serve as the basis for who voters believe may best lead the country for the next five years.
It is essential for journalists to be objective. In the interest of objectivity many journalists operate under the rubric of “fair and balanced”, an important principle. Still, it is a principle with a goal in mind, namely to get to the facts.
The misapplication of the notion of fair and balanced has been lampooned by the fictional example of a television anchor promoting a news segment. The segment includes a politician who believes that the earth is round. Of course, in the interest of fairness and balance, there will be a politician who believes that the earth is flat.
The veteran and now deceased American political journalist Tim Russert served for 16 years as the moderator of the highly-respected NBC Sunday morning news program, “Meet the Press”.
Russert was legendary for being generally “fair and balanced”. He was respected by Republicans, Democrats and independents, liberals, moderates and conservatives.
His “Meet the Press” table was a must-stop for those who sought and won the presidential nominations of their respective parties. Presidential aspirants, powerful Congressional leaders, governors, Cabinet secretaries and business moguls were interrogated by Russert.
Getting through a Russert interview without a major fumble was a badge of honor. Before going on “Meet the Press”, interviewees did serious preparation, which often included mock interviews and combing through briefing books.
Tim Russert’s method was as simple as it was compelling. He did his research and held politicians accountable for their words. The Russert method was simply good journalism. Perhaps the media can better employ such journalistic methods during this election cycle.
As a start, one of the dailies may consider making a master list of the promises made by the PLP and the FNM in their election manifestos and speeches from the throne, and see how well or poorly they kept their promises.
The period in question for the PLP would be 2002 to 2007 and for the FNM, the period from 2007 to 2012. The reporting would simply hold each party accountable for their own words. This would be of considerable service to voters who do not have the time to do such research.
The press may also hold political leaders accountable for their new promises. For example, Ingraham has promised to expand the National Prescription Drug Benefit. A newspaper like The Nassau Guardian may ask how much such an expansion would cost. Similarly, Leader of the Opposition Perry Christie may be asked how he will pay for his promise to double the national budget for education.
This is the kind of good research journalism that is sorely lacking. Quite often nowadays, many editors and reporters are so caught up in getting the juiciest headlines that they fail to do the important research pieces that are necessary, and sometimes they miss important aspects of a story.
This journal has done work of this nature in reporting on how MPs spent their constituency allowances. More such work would be welcome and a good way to improve the quality of political journalism in the country.
Feb 21, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
The modern Caribbean woman -- she is every woman; a phenomenal woman; and a woman of class and stature
By Julie Charles
Although she is born and bred in steep tradition filled with a rich culture and heritage, there is much that the Caribbean woman carries on her platter. Should she be a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, modern day professional, and the defender of her culture or is her role one of revolutionising the expectations?
Today’s Caribbean woman has evolved into a superwoman, carrying the burdens of society on her shoulders much like her ancestors did before her but with additional responsibilities. She is a decision maker in government, head of financial institutions, and CEO of mighty conglomerates, yet still she is expected to be wife and mother, friend and counsellor, spiritual guide and all around guru for all that ails the nations.
Can she really fulfil this enormous task? She already has with her, strength and intelligence, mixed with good old fashion common sense. She has forged ahead while her other worldly counterparts are still wondering where to begin.
How does she accomplish so much, yet able to raise a nation? Simply by allowing the wisdom of the mother, grandmother, aunts, and other elders filter through her. She understands fully that she is nothing without her heritage or her ancestors. She infuses what she knows with what she continues to learn and makes her decisions. She then monitors the situation until a better solution can be found and then she implements. She appears fearless when it comes to living and, although fear is necessary to remain alert, she understands that fear is a healthy emotion and uses it wisely.
Can she stand the test of time? Not only can she stand the test but she can pass with flying colours. Why? Because her character is made of strongest steel, her mind is as sharp as the sharpest cutlass, her body is well taken care of and her spirit is the core of who she really is. Her spirit is resilient, no matter the obstacles. It is constantly fed by her beliefs, which were ingrained in her as a child but has carried her through to womanhood. She is indeed invincible, for no matter the situation or circumstance, the modern Caribbean woman does not falter. She may buckle but she does not fall.
Am I only speaking of a professional woman? No, this refers to all Caribbean women, as they are special women found nowhere else in the world. They are all shades of brown and black, they are of many different shapes, they are from many backgrounds but one thing makes them unique and that is they are uniquely Caribbean. Their skin bathed by the warm Caribbean sun, their eyelashes brushed by the Caribbean breeze, and their hearts warmed by the love of their country.
Caribbean women for many years carried the weight of their communities on their shoulders and it was a responsibility that they readily accepted. They were able to shape the society and teach boys how to become men. This mantle has now been passed on to the modern Caribbean woman. She has to fulfil all that is expected of her.
The expectations are:
• She is to raise her children to be meaningful contributing adults
• She is to ensure that her husband is taken care of
• She is to take care of her aging parents and relatives
• She is expected to be a good friend and confidant
• She is expected to excel at her job whatever it may be – from office attendant to prime minister
• She is expect to continue learning no matter the format
• She is expected to volunteer of her time and resources to ensure that her community remains healthy and safe
• Her spiritual life must be healthy so that she can provide guidance to those in need
• She is expected to take care of her health so that she does not inherit those known Caribbean diseases should as hypertension, diabetes, and most recently HIV/AIDS
• Finally, she is expected to have some fun through music and dance. It was embedded in her to enjoy the riddims of the drums and ring out in all Caribbean music.
The modern Caribbean woman is a woman who is light years ahead of her time. She is a pepper pot of modern day teachings with old people sayings. She loves fully and is not afraid or ashamed to show it. Her beliefs have been instilled in her as a child and they have not departed but rather, they have gotten stronger with each passing day. She knows that modern technology has its place in her world, but she will never forsake her old teachings and remedies. She is an eclectic mix of the old and the new worlds.
The modern Caribbean woman -- she is every woman; a phenomenal woman; and a woman of class and stature.
February 18, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
Nassau, The Bahamas
WE have always had Haitians in the Bahamas. Like all Bahamians they came by different routes. Peaceful citizens, they were fully embraced by the locals, and many of them made outstanding contributions to their new country.
For example, the first black man to sit in the House of Assembly -- remaining there for 33 years - was Stephen Dillet, a Haitian by birth.
His mother was African, his father a French Army Officer. In Haiti's revolution of 1802, young Stephen and his mother were put on a boat headed for Cuba to find safe haven. However, their boat was captured by a British privateer and taken to Nassau, where the Dillets settled, and Stephen later entered politics. He was also an active Free Mason, having been appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master in 1857. Another account of his life has him settling in the US where he owned slaves, then coming to Nassau where, in addition to being a member of the House, he was the island's coroner and postmaster.
It is recorded that at one time the historic Balcony House on Market Street --now a museum and believed to be the oldest house in the Bahamas dating back to 1788 -- was his home.
And so, over the years, Haitians settled in the Bahamas, fully participated in the island's activities, were embraced by other Bahamians -- all, at one time or another, themselves immigrants -- and were solidly woven into the Bahamas' human fabric. In those days, no one questioned their identity or their right to be here. Today, however, the story has changed. Bahamians whose tendrils once clung to Mother Haiti are terrified to share their now "shameful" secret with their fellow Bahamians.
Over the years, the situation changed. The PLP came on the scene with the late Sir Lynden Pindling promising that no longer would Bahamians be "hewers of wood and drawers of water". Manual labour was not only demeaning, but abhorrent to Bahamian ears -- "that's Haitian work!" And so Bahamians left the farms. Slowly Haitians started to fill the gaps. This was a different type of Haitian -- they were even unsettling to their Haitian brothers who had quietly settled here and become Bahamians. Haitian-Bahamians feared that the spotlight would also be turned on them. They, like many Bahamians, did not welcome the unskilled who had started to infiltrate the country, and who, as the illegal numbers increased, grew into what is today the "Haitian problem".
On a radio talk show in 2006, Bahamian Paul Cumberbatch, describing himself as a "small farmer" with more than 200 acres of land, had a serious complaint with then PLP Minister Shane Gibson, who at the time headed Immigration. Mr Cumberbatch said he needed 500 Haitians on his farm, and did not agree that any of those already in the Bahamas should be sent back to Haiti. He felt that all those with jobs -- legal or illegal-- should be regularised and only the jobless should be returned to Haiti.
"When Sir Lynden was prime minister," he said, "no minister could do what Shane (Gibson) is doing now." He said when then deputy prime minister Arthur Hanna, who had Immigration in his portfolio, and later when the late Sir Clement Maynard headed Immigration he was given whatever work permits he needed for his Haitians. Those were peaceful days, he said.
And so this is how Haitian immigration grew into today's social problem -- Bahamians refused to work the land -- themselves labelling it as "Haitian work." And PLP politicians pandering to the needs of their supporters by giving them permits to bring in unlimited numbers of unskilled workers to replace Bahamians on the farm. These Haitians, according to Mr Cumberbatch, were landed at the Coral Harbour Defence Force base. Some Bahamians, who were able to get unlimited numbers of permits, developed side businesses by farming out their Haitians to other Bahamians who had no political godfathers -- at a good price, of course.
Today, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette, now in charge of Immigration, is trying to regularise the status of foreigners, among them Haitians. As for work permits, more than half approved were for unskilled jobs such as handymen and housekeepers. Mr Symonette said that the majority of people who received Bahamian citizenship were born in the Bahamas to foreigners and/or lived here all their lives. Many others were women married to Bahamian men. The Opposition's claim that 10,000 people were awarded citizenship was "grossly exaggerated," he said.
"People keep talking about 10,000 citizenships given by the FNM. That's wrong, wrong, wrong," said Haitian Ambassador Antonio Rodrigue.
"During the year," he said, "we had about 500 renounce -- so where are those 10,000?" Mr Rodrigue wanted to know.
Bahamian voters have to remember that this is "silly season" when lies abound. To qualify as an intelligent and responsible voter, they will have to be smarter than the liars and themselves search for the truth.
February 16, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The modern Bahamas is a nation created through migration... ...The Amerindians Christopher Columbus met in The Islands 520 years ago are no more... ...Europeans and Africans displaced those people when permanent contact was made between the old and new worlds
Nassau, The Bahamas
The comments of Haitian President Michel Martelly to Haitian-Bahamians last week have dominated public discourse since Martelly advised Bahamians of Haitian descent to form a voting bloc, and to vote for the party that has their best interests at heart. His remarks exposed raw emotions on the immigration issue in our country.
The modern Bahamas is a nation created through migration. The Amerindians Christopher Columbus met here 520 years ago are no more. Europeans and Africans displaced those people when permanent contact was made between the old and new worlds.
Today’s Bahamas is even more ethnically and culturally dynamic. People from the Middle East, China and India also call this country home. They bring their experiences to our cultural mix, expanding The Bahamas.
The Bahamian relationship with the Haitians who migrate here is complicated. Haitians have come to The Bahamas since the creation of the Republic of Haiti in 1804. With the collapse of Jean Claude Duvalier’s regime in the mid-1980s, however, those flows increased as Haiti’s poor looked for new lives in new places.
Some Bahamians resent the large number of poor Haitians who have come here looking for a second chance. Some Haitians are upset at the discriminatory treatment they have received from some Bahamians.
Martelly should not have gotten involved in Bahamian politics while visiting. Staying out of local politics while on foreign trips is a convention of diplomacy, but his intrusion into Bahamian politics is no excuse for bigotry and xenophobia.
The Government of The Bahamas has as a responsibility carrying out the laws of the country. It should provide our border protection officers with all the resources needed to prevent people from illegally entering Bahamian territory. Foreigners who come here illegally should be repatriated in accordance with the law.
But what must be remembered is that those who are given citizenship are Bahamians once that decision is made. They should be afforded the same rights and privileges as other Bahamians.
We can debate who should be given permanent residence as opposed to citizenship. Countries have the authority to set residency standards based on the consensus of the times. However, we should not disparage those given status or argue that they are lesser citizens if citizenship was granted.
In deciding to become part of our community these new Bahamians bring different ideas, languages, traditions, foods and energies to our already multicultural society. And as a culturally richer community we should work together to solve common problems.
Haitian-Bahamians should not close themselves off and form exclusive political blocs to defend themselves. Haitian-Bahamians should, like all other Bahamians, examine the various political parties and candidates and determine who is best to advance The Bahamas.
Conversely, ‘native’ Bahamians should not fear the inclusion of new people into our commonwealth. What should exist is an immigration policy that can reasonably control who comes to The Bahamas. We should seek to recruit people from around the world – in the numbers we think reasonable – to add skills to our country. In doing so, we as a nation become stronger.
When governments are unable to police the flow of people to a territory, the established community becomes suspicious. Hence, it is important for clear immigration policy to exist and resources to be provided to help ensure the policy is enforced.
We hope the passions cool on this issue. Ethnic rivalry has made many countries unstable and has led to conflict and war.
Feb 15, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Guest Scholar at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
In recent months, the media has widely reported on the continuous human rights violations committed by members of the Mexican military. While news of these atrocities only recently surfaced on major news stations, Mexican authorities, in fact, have been struggling with human rights abuses since 2007 when these pivotal events first started to come to light. Such atrocities peaked during President Felipe Calderón’s six years in office, as police and armed forces have been found to be involved in at least 170 cases of torture, 24 extrajudicial killings, and 39 forced disappearances since 2006.1
When President Calderon first came to power, he dispatched military forces throughout Mexico in an attempt to take down the drug cartels and deter the violence generated by rival criminal organizations fighting over territory and clientele. Instead of reducing violence, the military forces began perpetuating the very crimes they were charged with stopping. In a country where drug cartels have been coexisting with civil society for years, the police and military forces became embedded in the pockets of the traffickers.
In Mexico, the cartels dominate specific geographical parts of the country, and the fight for influence and expansion of territory is constant. These drug cartels are not managed by corner thugs and criminal layabouts, but by sophisticated businessmen who employ a vast network of individuals, which include financial officers, hit men, and lieutenants.2
Mexico is a poor country containing many immensely wealthy individuals. Most Mexican citizens, however, struggle daily to bring food to the table to feed their families. In order for the drug cartels to be able to operate in a country like Mexico, it is widely believed that the government has to be, directly or indirectly involved in supporting these criminal elements. Accusations that the country’s various police forces have been corrupted by the cartels have been mounting for decades and unquestionably have merit to them. The fact that almost no major progress has been made towards dissolving Mexico’s drug cartels shows that the police departments have been deeply compromised by bribery, corruption, and venality.
Narcotics dealers also have been exerting a steadily increasing influence over Mexican authorities that could complicate efforts to contain and neutralize the drug cartels. With their operations spreading throughout the country, the cartels’ bribery tactics are having an impact not only on the poor but also on many high ranking government officials. Recently, US officials found a sophisticated drug-smuggling tunnel under the border of Mexico with the US. Considering the fact that such a project would take many weeks to build, some have speculated that security force members from both countries may have been persuaded to look the other way as local drug cartels continued to expand their illicit empires.
Time and again, contemporary reports about human rights violations have been inevitably backed by a victim’s family member asserting that the government statistics on human rights are inaccurate, and that many more civilians have been killed in the drug conflict than officially have been reported. Human Rights Watch reports have detailed that the majority of these victims were average citizens who had worked as farmers and mechanics, as well as factory and construction workers. No one makes a fuss over these little people when they are reported missing, and in desperation, many of their families have spoken out, contending that their murdered relatives were innocent and that they had no established ties to illegal activity. However, the police reports routinely implicate them as petty criminals in the drug war, implying that their deaths could have been expected and that there is no reason for the public to be alarmed.
Even though in Mexico, “the government is… ethically and legally obliged to use every means at its disposal, under the principle of joint responsibility, to reinforce the presence of authorities in communities with the highest incidence of gang rivalry,”3 a persistent and critical threat is being posed by the police and military itself.
Unfortunately, the security forces are stripping citizens of the power and authority to sustain pressure on the government to stop pretending that it is attempting to protect the rights of ordinary Mexicans when this is clearly not the case.
For references on this article, click here.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visit www.coha.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
February 14, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
Haitian President, Joseph Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly woke up some of the worst nationalistic passions in The Bahamas on his recent visit... ...We as people from various backgrounds must work to ensure that passions cool... ...When countries divide along ethnic lines fueled by hatred and rivalry, peace and prosperity become illusive
The Haitian president’s divisive remarks
Tensions rise as Haitians told to form voting bloc
By Brent Dean
Guardian Associate Editor
Nassau, The Bahamas
The presence of tens of thousands of Haitians in The Bahamas has for a long time been a point of frustration to the ‘new natives’ who call this chain of islands home. There was no policy announced, or agreed to, stating that our gates would be opened to all the poor and frustrated of Haiti. Yet many have come, and many continue to come, to these shores from the poorest country in the hemisphere.
The ‘accepted’ flow of people from Haiti to The Bahamas since the republic emerged in 1804 began to become more of a problem to Bahamians in the latter part of the 20th century, coinciding with increased instability in Haiti and larger migrant flows.
Successive administrations have maintained the policy of repatriation. Yet the shantytowns remain.
The Haitian presence goes beyond shantytowns, however. Haitians have increasingly migrated to established communities in New Providence such as Fox Hill and Bain Town. And in doing so the Haitian who decades ago was a ‘just’ a yardman, or ‘just’ a housekeeper, or ‘just’ a farm laborer in the minds of Bahamians has become a more prominent part of The Bahamas.
Young Haitians proudly celebrate Haitian Flag Day; Haitian ads in Creole play over the airwaves; Haitian business people have establishments in ‘Bahamian’ cultural areas such as Arawak Cay. Haitian pride in being Haitian in The Bahamas is rising.
Many Bahamians have watched the expansion of the Haitian presence these last few decades and are concerned about being displaced. Haiti has a population of nearly 10 million and The Bahamas has only 350,000. This fear of displacement is married to an anger. Many ask, “Who invited all these people here?”
The uneasiness many Bahamians feel towards growing Haitian influence in their country is at the heart of the controversy surrounding the comments of Haitian President Michel Martelly last week. Many feel they did not consent to these new neighbors ‘moving in’ and fear their involvement in the political process.
What the leader said to his people
There is an unwritten rule in diplomacy: When you go to a foreign country, stay out of its politics.
Martelly, an entertainer known as “Sweet Micky”, broke that rule during his short visit to The Bahamas.
“I told them to organize themselves and identify in the upcoming elections who is on their side. That way they can become a force. By being [unified] in the elections they might have people taking care of them… this is the democratic way,” Martelly told reporters Wednesday.
He was repeating statements he made in Haitian Creole as he spoke to thousands of Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians at a meeting on Tuesday night in eastern New Providence.
Martelly, inappropriately, went further. He lamented the plight of ‘stateless’ people who have to wait until their 18th birthdays to apply for Bahamian citizenship even though they were born in this country.
“This could be considered as a crime, but that’s not the issue to talk about crime here; the issue is to stand by them and find the right solution,” said the Haitian president. “Be responsible, be humans and see how to better assist these Haitians.”
Martelly’s business is Haiti, not The Bahamas. Those who can vote here are Bahamians and they do not need advice from foreigners regarding how they should vote.
When foreign leaders interfere in the elections of sovereign countries, they insult the country being interfered with and its people. They can also spread division.
The reaction of the political leaders
Bahamian politicians have been nearly united in their criticism of Martelly’s intervention in Bahamian politics.
Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Branville McCartney said the president’s remarks were a “direct attack on Bahamian democracy and all Bahamians – those of foreign descent or otherwise – who uphold the ideals of the nation and their right to vote for whichever political party they see fit”.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) chairman was also offended.
“I thought it was an insult to the Bahamian people that a foreigner would come here and instruct Bahamian citizens to vote one way or the other,” said Bradley Roberts.
His rival in the governing party, speaking personally, said he was shocked by the political remarks.
“Non-Bahamians cannot dictate what goes on in The Bahamas, whether they visit or live here,” said Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Bethel, who also cautiously stressed that this comment did not refer to Martelly.
But, of course it did. Bethel and all FNMs have to speak carefully on the Haitian issue because the leader of their party has taken a more moderate, discursive approach on immigration than the PLP and DNA.
Perry Christie, the PLP’s leader, criticized Martelly at his party’s candidates launch on Friday night.
“I wouldn’t go into someone else’s country and tell the people there how to vote and I don’t want anyone from any other country coming here and telling me or my people how to vote either. So let’s be clear about that,” he said.
Ingraham, however, on Saturday in Andros said Martelly was perfectly entitled to encourage his former citizens to form a voting bloc.
“So insofar as the persons who are citizens of The Bahamas who were formerly Haitian nationals, we certainly look forward to receiving the votes of the majority of the Bahamians whether they were born in The Bahamas, naturalized in The Bahamas or otherwise,” he said.
“And we certainly would enjoy receiving the majority of the votes of persons who were naturalized of Haitian parentage and/or who have been living in The Bahamas for a long time.”
Ingraham has always maintained that his governments follow the laws of The Bahamas when it comes to immigration. However, while McCartney is almost hostile towards Haitians when he discusses immigration issues, and Christie takes a nationalistic approach in his rhetoric, the prime minister at times is empathic.
Many remember the simple but profound remark Ingraham made at a FNM rally in March 2011 at Fort Charlotte, when he sent a shout out to his “Haitian brothers and sisters”.
Ingraham does not engage in the type of demagoguery McCartney does when it comes to Haitians. By taking a more subdued, rhetorical approach to the issue of Haitian integration in The Bahamas, Ingraham is connecting his party to a new set of voters who will play a more prominent role in our politics.
The danger of ethnic politics
There are tens of thousands of Haitians residing in The Bahamas. Some live here illegally, some have legal status and some have become citizens.
As more and more Haitians are naturalized, their influence at elections, and their role in frontline politics, will increase.
Eventually more Bahamians with French names who are of Haitian descent such as Stephen Dillet, the first black person elected to the House of Assembly in The Bahamas, will be candidates and politicians.
If we all want to build a great nation then we as people from many different cultural communities must work together. If we form different ethnic voting blocs based on narrow cultural or racial interests, our politics will become more divisive and confrontational – possibly even violent.
This was the greatest tragedy of Martelly’s remarks. Rather than speaking to unity, those few words on voting and politics spoke to division.
Martelly woke up some of the worst nationalistic passions in The Bahamas. We as people from various backgrounds must work to ensure that passions cool. When countries divide along ethnic lines fueled by hatred and rivalry, peace and prosperity become illusive
Feb 13, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
There is still a desperate need for the black world to coalesce around an affirmative ideology of blackness... Not a political concept of black power, but a soulful concept of blackness that is rooted in its source of power... Africa
By KHALILA NICOLLS
Nassau, The Bahamas
THE other day I stumped a politician by asking him a simple question: What is Africa? The question emerged because he responded to another question I posed, are you African, by saying, "No, I am a Bahamian with African heritage." So naturally, I pressed, and asked, well what does it mean to have Africa heritage?
He fumbled for a response, claiming that regrettably, he had not done the research to know which tribe in Africa he came from. He said if he were asked the same question by one of his children, he would say, let us go and research it together.
Being perturbed by my unbridled dissatisfaction, he gave it another go. This time, he responded with the politically correct answer, speaking to Africa's wealth, in terms of her beautiful and bountiful natural resources and the many venerable world leaders she has given birth to.
The reason I was perturbed by his response was not because I felt he gave a poor answer initially, which he did, or that I was unsatisfied with his answer in the second instance, which I was not. It was because he seemed not to have understood the question.
What does Africa mean in the context of your identity? The question completely went over his head. I was not totally surprised, because when it comes to questions of identity and the study of meaning, many Bahamians seem to be uninterested or simply clueless.
As a street scholar with a professed love for questions of identity, I am often starved for engagement on these questions. It is a challenge arriving at a common understanding of Majority Rule, because without an interrogation of meaning it is difficult to arrive at a full understanding of one's identity or a consensus of worth.
As a Bahamian, I feel personally slighted, not having had the opportunity within the framework of my state-mandated educational career to interrogate the meaning of Majority Rule or any number of other concepts that are central to my identity.
Needless to say, engaging in the process of inquiry is part of the reason for creating my own platform, and of great interest to me is the idea of blackness and its relationship to the concept of Majority Rule.
The last time I wrote about Majority Rule, I argued that its assumed meaning, a symbol of black liberation in the Bahamas, failed to stand up in the face of scrutiny. That Majority Rule represented an expansion of our democratic system; the shattering of a glass ceiling for black Bahamians seeking political office; a milestone in political progress, but not a transformation in black consciousness or an ideological awakening of black people.
Evidence suggests that at the time of its coining, our nation's leaders were conflicted in the concept of their own blackness, and the real worth of that identity. Certainly, our leaders recognised the political power of the black association, but they also accepted that blackness was a political liability. It was something they were willing to bargain with.
All in all, I suggested, our collective vision of a black nation was ideologically tame, and so too was the impact of the black majority government on the progress of black Bahamians as a collective body.
So what is left to be said? Lots, because when it comes to understanding our own blackness in a country that celebrates Majority Rule and recognises itself as a majority black nation, I feel our nation's leaders, when they led us into the era of self-governance, failed to set the record straight on a number of important race issues.
First, racial solidarity is not a form of discrimination against white people or some kind of reverse-racism.
Second, blackness does not have meaning only where racial discrimination exists.
Third, to speak about white racial prejudice and how it was used to justify genocide, to disfranchise and dehumanise indigenous people across the globe, and to enrich white people and their generations yet to come is not an act of denigrating white people; it is basic world history.
On the first issue, I need to reflect on another interview I recently conducted. When I asked the person the meaning of being black, his first instinct was to say, let me see how to answer this without sounding like a racist. He then fumbled on to answer the question in line with the politically correct things to feel and say.
I had a similar encounter when listening to Freddy Munnings Jr on the radio programme Matters of the Heart. He recounted a time when he asked the Minister of Education (he did not specify which one) why Bahamians do not learn African history in school.
The minister replied by saying he did not want to teach racism. Mr Munnings rightly asked what is racist about teaching our children that their ancestors brought the world astrology, astronomy, mathematics and medicine, among other great contributions to world history.
I am with Mr Munnings on this one: what is racist about African pride? What is racist about affirming a black identity? Why have we chosen to accept the view that racial solidarity is somehow a destructive and divisive concept; that affirming a connection to one's blackness is somehow racist? It is an apologetic view of being black that black people would be better served to reject.
In January, the Arizona State legislature won its battle to outlaw the Tuscon Unified School District's Mexican American Studies (MAS) programme, on the grounds that it "promotes activism against white people, promotes racial resentment and advocates ethnic solidarity".
Best-selling classics like Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire, and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow, were banned from the curriculum.
It seems white people still fear that blacks and other subjects of white oppression might one day turn the tables and exact bitter revenge. In a school district where 60 per cent of the students are Latino, the fears must run high. But quite frankly, I find this fear to be arrogant, delusional, self-absorbed and downright ignorant, but completely unsurprising.
It is on the same basis of Arizona's objection that a black man would find it uncomfortable to give meaning to his own blackness. Not wanting to sound racist is a euphemism for not wanting to make white people uncomfortable; not wanting to evoke their misplaced fears.
Whether a black man's racial resentment is real or perceived, warranted or not, he should have the right and the space to feel as he may, and process his own experience, without having to be politically correct about it.
Denying him his right to feel does more to promote racial resentment than allowing him his space to heal. I think that is worth repeating (and I hope people at Arizona State are reading):
Denying him his right to feel (which includes inquiring into and processing his own experience) does more to promote racial resentment than allowing him his space to heal.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire states: "Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence," and a "violation of their humanity". When I spoke earlier about feeling personally slighted, it was this violation I alluded to.
For all of our accomplishments, blacks are still negotiating the right to think, speak and feel for ourselves about our experience of being black.
As a society, we do not have a humanising pedagogy in which students of the former oppressed and oppressor classes can deepen their consciousness of their situation and be responsible for their own liberating process.
The failure of inquiry is one of the primary racial dilemmas of the 21st century, and our blind longing for a post-racial world only exacerbates the problem.
Race is an important means by which people in a post-1492 world are able to recognise, understand and celebrate their collective identity (an identity I must note that predates 1492 by millennia); race has been a great source of pain and is now the basis on which there is need for great healing; race was the mode in which white people established their position of superiority and wealth, and it is the basis on which the former oppressor class must now humble itself.
For all of the post-racial idealism of the Obama age, race is far from being an irrelevant concept.
This leads me to my second contention: The suggestion that blackness only has meaning as a means of political organisation or as an object of someone's oppression, whether in a state of subjugation or resistance.
Basically, the argument goes like this: because we do not believe there is any longer racial discrimination, or because we no longer believe we have to fight for our rights, we no longer need to hold on to a black identity. It is the "we are one" argument.
The problem is, black people are not mere objects of someone's oppression, and seeing blackness solely as such is a shallow way to conceive of one's identity. Sadly, this is how we have been taught: to identify with each other based on struggle. That is why, typically, those who feel the struggle is over, celebrate the good fight, but feel little to no need for race association. They see no fallacy in the concept of One Bahamas. On the other hand, those who feel the struggle continues, see the world more pronouncedly through a racial lens, and experience dissonance in the concept that we are one.
The black identity does not exist only because white people once were the authors of our oppression. The experience of the Maafa (a term used to collectively describe the history, effects and legacy of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the various atrocities on African people as a collective) has no doubt shaped how we understand race, but prior to the perverted introduction of the post-Maafa racial construct, there was still a black identity to which black people are inextricably linked.
The reason I say the black consciousness of our leaders, and our nation as a whole, in the era of Majority Rule was skin deep is because it was not an affirmative ideology that defined our blackness; it was a concept of our biological likeness, otherwise known as skin colour, combined with a common experience of oppression under white control and a common political objective. It was around that identity that black political leaders were able to carve out a black constituency and mobilise the masses.
Many black Bahamians to this day still find it difficult to answer the question, "What does it mean to be black?"
Many black Bahamians still cannot reconcile the concept of being Bahamian and African. It pains them to assume that identity unless it is qualified, as in Bahamian with African heritage or Bahamian who is a descendant of Africa.
The black experience of the Maafa created in black people such a hatred of Africa and all things African, but to this day, blacks who claim to be liberated have yet to reclaim their mother. I am no Bible scholar, and usually I avoid Bible quotes, but I make an exception to cite Exodus 20:12, a verse Bahamians are well familiar with: "Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the lord thy God giveth thee."
What about restoring the love for our earth mother? Despite our discomfort with claiming a "one (Bahamian or African)" identity, there is no conflict of identity or need for a dichotomous relationship. Think, after all, about our mothers who marry - they take on a new legal name (Bahamian), but they never lose their maiden name of birth (African). My birth mother, for example, has every right to claim her Gage identity as she does to her Nicolls identity. Her being a Nicolls does not negate her being a Gage. Her being a Gage does not deny her being a Nicolls.
The main point in all of this is how we understand our blackness as black people. I maintain that Chinese people do not hold a concept of being Chinese because they have been caricatured as having slanted-eyes. An Indian's concept of being Indian is not because of an accent. The recognition of their Chinese or Indian identity is based on a shared understanding of heritage, language, food, culture, history, geography, legacy and the likes.
Black people do not have a consensus of identity, not because no commonality exists, but because we have chosen to deny our very existence. To this day, we identify with a very shallow concept of self that goes only skin deep. It is a very lose concept that can be easily manipulated to serve political objectives, which is what happens most often when politicians play “the race card”.
Given the complex legacy of slavery and colonialism, it is apparent that skin colour is highly problematic as a mode of identity. As inter-racial realties continue to shape our world, skin colour will be more and more an irreconcilable mode of identity. But none of this negates race.
There is still a desperate need for the black world to coalesce around an affirmative ideology of blackness. Not a political concept of black power, but a soulful concept of blackness that is rooted in its source of power, Africa.
Any concept of blackness that lacks a consciousness of Africa lacks its primal essence and true source of power.
In the Bahamas and across the globe, black people as a collective community are in a dire state. We need to piece ourselves back together and heal our wounds in order to secure the progress we wish to see.
Paulo Freire once asked the question: “How can the oppressed, as divided unauthentic beings, participate in the pedagogy of their liberation?" Real progress of the mind, body, spirit (and pocket book) must entail growth in an understanding of our very blackness. It must entail inquiry into understanding who we are. In African tradition, to know thyself is one of the most noblest callings.
In 1967 our leaders, already enculturated into the new world order, were unable to champion this calling. In 2012 our leaders are in no better position. Humbly, I issue the call.
* Pan-African writer and cultural scholar Noelle Khalila Nicolls is a practising journalist in the Bahamas. Her column Talkin Sense explores issues of race, culture and politricks.
February 09, 2012
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Haitian President Michel Martelly's visit to The Bahamas turns political in a general election climate
Nassau, The Bahamas
JUDGING from the squeals in the political arena since the two-day visit of Haitian President Michel Martelly, it would seem that many guilty consciences have been exposed.
In speaking with his people -- some born in the Bahamas with the legal right to be here-- President Martelly advised those registered to vote to organise themselves and "identify in this upcoming election with who is on their side".
In plain, simple English (and Mr Martelly speaks good English) they were told -- vote your conscience. No one heard him say vote FNM, PLP or DNA. The decision of each of them will be subjective, as it is with all voters. Each one will have had a different experience with the various governments -- and like each and every Bahamian, they too will have to decide which government is capable of doing the best, not only for them, but for the Bahamas - their country.
But now the political hoodwinkers are about their dirty work of confusion. The rumour, fanned by various members of the opposition, claim that President Martelly encouraged Haitians to vote FNM. If that is so, maybe some of them had better go back to kindergarten to learn to speak English. Many Bahamians complain that Haitians will eventually take over the Bahamas. If this is the level of Bahamian politicians' understanding of their own language, then maybe Haitians will one day takeover the country.
Mr Martelly did not instruct anyone on how to vote. He arrived in Nassau on Wednesday to have discussions with Bahamian officials and the Haitian community on how to develop trade opportunities and improve conditions for Haitians legally in the Bahamas. "I promised them to work for them to better their possibilities to remain in Haiti so I had a very open discussion with officials as to how can we protect those who at least have the legal papers."
President Martelly said he was "committed to working with the Bahamian government to find responsible and humane solutions to reports of mistreatment of legal residents and persons born in the Bahamas of Haitian descent." However, he said, his ultimate focus was to try to create jobs that would keep Haitians at home and stop the illegal flow to the Bahamas. He was also here to encourage investment in Haiti - "we want trade, we need to create jobs, as we create jobs, companies make money, they pay their taxes and Haiti prospers".
He also hoped to resume talks regarding the export of agricultural produce from Haiti. Apparently, Mr Martelly's predecessor was already negotiating with the Bahamas government for the importation of Haitian mangoes -- talks that ended with the 2010 earthquake that crushed Haiti. Mr Martelly was resuming those talks.
Bran McCartney, DNA leader, formerly Minister of State for Immigration in the FNM government, found that for Mr Martelly to "insinuate that Bahamians of Haitian descent are being abused is misleading".
Come now, Mr McCartney, you know that this statement is not misleading. Even today there are certain officials, in uniform, who will shake down a Haitian for his money. And what about the legal Haitians in Eleuthera -- many in their nightclothes - who were roused from their beds by the police and herded to a fast ferry bound for Nassau. Of the 193 persons arrested and sent to the Detention Centre, 170 had to be released because they were legal residents. True, in 2006, this was not on Mr McCartney's watch, but still, under then Immigration Minister Shane Gibson (PLP), it was unfair harassment, and a legitimate subject for discussion by Haiti's visiting president.
Mr Martelly talked of the children born here who have to wait until they are 18 to apply for citizenship - in the meantime they "don't belong anywhere". He said that if these persons are sent back to Haiti they would know nobody, and would not even recognise the place where they had landed.
We also know that this is true. We have had personal experience with such a situation. It was the case of a young girl, who if it had not been for her name, could pass as Bahamian. Both parents, had legal standing in the Bahamas. She arrived here a babe in arms. One day, she was picked up working as a shop girl -- her employers probably did not suspect she was Haitian. She was taken to the Detention Centre. The next day, she was to be flown to Haiti, where she had no family, friends, or even acquaintances. A top girl in one of the government schools, even her teachers went to bat for her. Eventually, we got her out. But how many more have there been like her who have had no one to turn to for help.
We understand that one of the issues that hastened Mr McCartney's departure from his post as FNM Minister of State for Immigration was his harsh position on the Haitian question. His policies were out of step with that of his party. Hence a parting of the ways, and the eventual establishment of the DNA party.
And, of course, we needn't remind anyone of the harsh treatment of Haitians under the PLP administration, particularly under former immigration minister Loftus Roker when Haitians were hunted from the bush with dogs, while their unattended homes were raided by thieving Bahamians.
Yes, Mr McCartney, Mr Martelly had a lot to talk about. It is now up to the Bahamians of Haitian descent and Haitians with the right to vote to decide which party has the more humane approach to their unfortunate situation.
But to say that Mr Martelly's presence was a "political ploy by the FNM to manipulate the (electoral) process" and the President's comments - at this politically sensitive time - were a "direct attack on Bahamian democracy" is just so much political chicanery.
February 10, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
Haitian President Michel Martelly’s encouragement to Haitian-Bahamians to vote in a bloc for the party that best serves their interests in the upcoming general election in The Bahamas has sparked outrage among Bahamians
Outrage at Haitian leader’s remarks
By Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
Haitian President Michel Martelly’s encouragement to Haitian-Bahamians to vote in a bloc for the party that best serves their interests sparked outrage yesterday from political observers, who called the comments ‘insulting’ interference in the country’s political system.
Some members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) said Martelly’s comments were inappropriate. Some observers also said they were ill-timed, considering the fact that the next election is so close.
It was also suggested by some yesterday that newly-regularized Bahamians might heed Martelly’s advice and be inclined to vote for the FNM.
“I thought it was an insult to the Bahamian people that a foreigner would come here and instruct Bahamian citizens to vote one way or the other,” said PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts.
Roberts, who was briefly a former immigration minister in the Christie administration, pointed out that only Bahamian citizens can vote in elections. He said they should therefore vote for the party that best serves the country, not a particular sect or group.
His sentiments in this regard were echoed by Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell and former PLP MP and senator Philip Galanis.
“People vote for their best interests, they don’t in my view vote as a bloc. Every Bahamian who is voting will vote for the party that is in the best interest of The Bahamas,” said Mitchell.
He said, however, that the PLP was assured by the Haitian Embassy that the comments were not meant to be inflammatory.
However, Galanis said Haitian-Bahamians who were eligible for citizenship and regularized by the government over the past five years may see Martelly’s words as an endorsement of the FNM.
“It was totally inappropriate for him to make those statements in the run-up to the next election because there were so many persons who just received citizenship by the FNM, and they may take that as [a cue to say] that’s who they should vote for,” said Galanis.
The government granted citizenship to nearly 2,600 people in the four-and-a-half years it has been in power, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette revealed earlier this week, but he did not indicate how many were of Haitian descent.
Yesterday, the Democratic National Alliance said Martelly’s comments were not suitable considering the heightened political season.
DNA Leader Branville McCartney said the president’s remarks were a “direct attack on Bahamian democracy and all Bahamians — those of foreign descent or otherwise — who uphold the ideals of the nation and their right to vote for whichever political party they see fit”.
“Haiti’s president should respect the sovereignty of our democracy,” McCartney added in a statement yesterday.
FNM Chairman Carl Bethel, who did not speak for the party but gave his personal views, said Martelly’s political statements shocked him.
“Non-Bahamians cannot dictate what goes on in The Bahamas, whether they visit or live here,” said Bethel, who stressed that this comment did not refer to President Martelly.
He also shot down speculation that Martelly’s visit was orchestrated by the FNM to gain votes from the Haitian-Bahamian community.
“The FNM is a Bahamian party whose first interest is the interest of The Bahamas,” he said.
During his brief visit to The Bahamas, President Martelly urged Haitian-Bahamians with the right to vote to support the party that could serve and protect their interests.
He made the statements during a meeting with Haitians and people of Haitian descent at Church of God on Joe Farrington Road on Tuesday night, and repeated them on Wednesday.
Last year, PLP Leader Perry Christie said successive governments have been hesitant to take a strong stance against the illegal Haitian immigrant problem because they fear a voting bloc of Haitian-Bahamians.
“Once governments become frightened of the numbers of Haitians who have become Bahamians and who can vote... they have become an important voting bloc. So somewhere along the line the purity of the commitment to protect The Bahamas and its territorial waters is sort of merged to the fear of doing things that might cause you to lose an election,” Christie said.
"...We allowed ourselves to be influenced too much by their presence as opposed to using our own commitment to convince and satisfy them that they are Bahamians, accepted as Bahamians, and that the programs that we are offering them to close down illegal immigrants coming into our country are programs as much in their favor as in any other Bahamian's favor.”
Feb 10, 2012