Tuesday, January 17, 2012

...the enduring legacy of majority rule in The Bahamas

Majority Rule at 45

Front Porch

By Simon

The success of great political events and movements inspire all manner of grandstanding by secondary figures who played tangential or minor roles in such events.  As often, those who played more critical roles, and are disinclined to preen and prance, are not given their fuller due.

Thankfully, in the light of greater historical accuracy, the pretensions of the airbags desperately attempting to inflate themselves into great leaders are often deflated.  And, the extraordinary contributions of the great men and women of history are recorded for accuracy and posterity.

Three events of the past few weeks highlighted aspects of the struggle for and legacy of majority rule.  They include the 45th anniversary of January 10, 1967, the passing of Sir Clifford Darling, and the opportunity for ordinary Bahamians to own shares in the new Arawak Port Development (APD).

At the inauguration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this past October, U.S. President Barack Obama chastised the negativity and cynicism of those who sought to downplay the accomplishments of the civil rights movement for racial equality.

As America’s first black president, the credibility of his claim was incontestable.  Obama further noted that there was still considerable work to be done to achieve Dr. King’s dream.

The same may be said of the achievements of majority rule in The Bahamas: We have accomplished much, yet there is significant work to be done.  To boost his political stock, a rapidly diminishing public figure continues to dismiss the enduring legacy of majority rule.



Sir Clifford’s funeral was the opportunity for a religious figure to fall into the same either/or mindset with a diatribe that ignored many of the accomplishments of majority rule.  Thankfully, that harangue was vitiated by the oratory of Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes in his tribute at Sir Clifford’s state funeral.

Sir Arthur and Sir Clifford played significant roles in the advancement of majority rule and in national development.  Humble men, not given to grandstanding, both assumed the high office of governor general.  And, both shared a confidence in the country’s future captured in a moving recollection of Sir Arthur’s: “I assured him [Sir Clifford] that in my recent travels around our Bahamas I had seen future generations of Bahamians full of promise, young Bahamians who will become social, commercial, cultural and political leaders, Bahamians who will value and build upon the legacy that he and others had bequeathed.  The man from Chester’s, Acklins, smiled.”

This January 10, the country again celebrated the expansion and deepening of democracy in The Bahamas.  Unfortunately, the Progressive Liberal Party continues to treat the event as its singular achievement, and the Free National Movement studiously avoids joining in the annual celebrations.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. always appreciated that the civil rights movement was about political empowerment and economic opportunity.  In 1963, he led a small march in an all-white enclave in Chicago to protest inequality in housing and other areas of economic life.  The protestors were attacked and Dr. King struck in the head.

Reflecting on the march, he observed that gaining political rights might be the easier part.  He appreciated that gaining economic power from entrenched interests would be a more difficult and longer process.

Many of the progressives in the struggle for majority rule appreciated the same reality.  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.

Change often takes time and comes about in surprising ways.  Hubert Ingraham’s rise from poverty to become prime minister is a testament to his own talents and ambition.   Still, his rise would not have been possible without the opportunities afforded him because of the achievement of majority rule.



The prime minister is a man of complexity and paradox.  It has made him a pragmatist.  He is fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  He utilizes capitalist-based measures to advance an extraordinarily progressive economic agenda.

Ingraham grew up in an Abaco where white privilege and supremacy were the order of the day.  He took over the leadership of the FNM, the supposedly more economically conservative major party, which counted some of the former members of the defunct United Bahamian Party among its members.

On the eve of this year’s majority rule anniversary, amidst the charged and often self-serving rhetoric that accompanies the 10th day of January, Ingraham held a press conference.

On January 9, 2012, he 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 wrested.

Not only is Ingraham dismantling 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.  There are chapters still to be written in the Quiet Revolution.

Jan 17, 2012