Hubert Ingraham’s Quiet Revolution
“The Bahamas Achieves a Quiet Revolution as Its First Black Government Takes Hold” was the headline of a New York Times story announcing the achievement of majority rule in the Colony of the Bahama Islands in 1967.
The story began: “A quiet revolution has been achieved in these resort islands as a Negro government has taken office this week to end three centuries of white rule. The impact has been nil on the tourists who have packed Nassau's hotels, but the changeover seems to have touched the heart of every Negro citizen.”
By quiet, it did not mean that the movement for majority rule was quiescent or a laid back struggle. The word quiet speaks to the nonviolent nature of the fight for the second emancipation in Bahamian history.
In newspaper editorials and columns, from pulpits and on talk radio, we continue to read or hear the trite and factually wrong gibberish masquerading as commentary that The Bahamas has dramatically regressed in relation to the aspirations of majority rule.
This decline meme has variations, but in all versions the sky is falling or getting ready to fall. This is accompanied by the requisite wailing and gnashing of the teeth by those who have little sense of irony or historical perspective beyond their nose and the morning newspapers.
Doom and gloom
That these prophets of doom and gloom are even able to spin and spew their poorly reasoned viewpoints from the vantage point of a pulpit, a free broadcast media or writing in a newspaper is testament to the legacy of majority rule.
Moreover, those black Bahamians including black women, able to offer such opinions and who enjoy the privilege of an advanced degree and notable professional status might wish to recall that without majority rule little or none of their success would be possible.
Like all great movements, the legacy of majority rule is mixed. There are noticeable and continuing successes. In other areas there is much work to be done. Majority rule was about political, social and economic empowerment.
As noted last week, many of the progressives in the struggle for majority rule appreciated that attaining political power would be relatively easier than wrestling economic power from entrenched interests.
Moreover, surprisingly, the early ambitions of some of these progressives to dismantle the economic monopolies of the Bay Street Boys were thwarted by their more reactionary colleagues in the fight for a majority government.
Yet on the eve of the 45th anniversary of majority rule, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that his government was nearing the final stages of the dismantling of the near monopolistic control of the port business by a few families. These families included some of those Bay Street Boys from whom political power had to be wrestled.
Ingraham has added his own chapter to the Quiet Revolution. He has dismantled many decades of entrenched economic domination in port ownership in New Providence. He is also transferring some of that wealth and the opportunity for wealth-creation to the Bahamian people.
For some time, Ingraham has been building a shareholding society as a means of broadening and deepening ownership in the economy by Bahamians and especially so by a broader cross section of Bahamians.
During his first term in office the government made 49 percent of the shares of the Bank of The Bahamas available to the Bahamian public. When the funding for the second Paradise Island Bridge was done it was through the issuance of Treasury Bonds which were made available to the general public.
The introduction of cable television provided another opportunity for Bahamians to buy shares that have proven to be a good investment. Today, Cable Bahamas is fully Bahamian-owned.
When the Bahamians who owned the majority stake in Commonwealth Brewery sought the approval of the Ingraham administration to sell their controlling interests to a foreign company, the approval was conditional. It was conditional on Heineken, the new owners, making 25 percent of the shares in the company available to the Bahamians.
With the new port on Arawak Cay, Bahamians will have the opportunity to purchase shares in a potentially lucrative venture. Some of the same white merchant elite who held political power prior to majority rule also controlled many of the country’s lucrative enterprise including the port. These included families with surnames like Kelly, Symonette and Bethel.
The surnames of those who can now own shares in the Arawak Port Development (APD) will run the gamut from A to Z in the telephone directory. Members of the Mailboat Association will also own shares in the port development.
Civil servants will be afforded the opportunity to buy shares in APD through salary deductions. Those who mindlessly claim that little progress continues to be made in the advancement of the aspirations of majority rule may wish to suspend their commentary long enough to purchase some shares.
Perhaps they can also suspend their insipid rhetoric long enough to talk to the thousands of ordinary Bahamians who now own shares in various Bahamian enterprises including cable and banking, and soon at BTC.
The shareholding society Hubert Ingraham has sought to encourage is a direct link to the progressive aspirations of those who struggled for majority rule. This is an inconvenient truth for the doom and gloom crowd, Ingraham’s opponents, and those who believe that they have a copyright on majority rule.
Jan 24, 2012