Senator Telator Strachan. Dr Patricia Bazard. Dr Cecil Bethel. Cleophas Adderley. Bobby Symonette. E Clement Bethel. Ronnie Butler. James Catalyn. Sir Clifford Darling. Paul Adderley. Sir Clement Maynard. Norman Solomon. Basil Sands. Harry B Sands. David Johnson. Sir Durward Knowles.
The names read like a Who’s Who of a funeral march across the years, a litany of legacy makers. Each time we lose one, we remember the value they brought. This year, the numbers seem higher than ever before as age catches up with the leaders who helped create the modern Bahamas. Other wise men among us will go one day in the not too distant future, much as we may wish to keep them with us longer.
How do you replace a Ronnie Butler or a James Catalyn, both of whom made The Bahamas a happier, better place by their voices and their extraordinary talent? How do you find someone so dedicated to bringing out children’s talent as Dr Patricia Bazard or as steadfast as Senator Telator Strachan who understood that weaving straw helped you weave a better life for your family and was proud of the work she did until her strong, gnarled fingers could no longer plait the silver thatch?
With every passing, there are floods of tears and long ceremonies. Preachers extol the virtues of the member of their church whose life is no more. Families and friends weep over the loss. But what about the nation as a whole? How will we replace them when they leave us? What are we doing to ensure that behind those who carved a culture for The Bahamas will come those who will build it, refine it, redefine it when need be?
This is a serious question in a country where we lack strong leadership and when we discuss leaders who make a difference we are inevitably speaking about the dead or near-dead.
That is a tragic reality. It is harsh. And it is true. There are few leaders among us now who are willing to stand up for what is right regardless of political or personal cost, leaders who have the courage of a Norman Solomon who sat on a beach in cocaine-riddled Exuma facing off against Colombians armed with assault rifles who said No Bahamians Allowed Onshore, daring them to attack him.
Still shaking but undaunted, Solomon went to international media seeking an investigation, helping to bring the most shameful and embarrassing period of Bahamian history to a close.
Who in our midst today would stand up to a country whose hooligans hoisted their flag over a Bahamian island, made it their headquarters for the lucrative cocaine wars, storing and dealing drugs and collecting money so fast they could not count it, but had to weigh it? Who among us today would do what a Norman Solomon did?
Where are the leaders we desperately need, those who have the courage to stand up for what is right and just and not just politically expedient?
We see signs of courageous men and women in a few bright spots and we worry for their safety. In one case, an outspoken individual is surrounded by secret bodyguards. Living that way is not easy. Looking over your shoulder with every move is not living a normal life and it takes almost superhuman strength to agree to do it especially in a society that rewards corruption more than it celebrates honesty.
The question we must ask ourselves is, why? How did we go down a path that discouraged youth from taking a road to front line politics or cultural development or nation-building? The current governing party is younger than past parties on average and while that could be an encouraging sign, it is only a good thing if those with promise stand up for what they believe in. They are told to toe the party line if they want to get anywhere, meaning a Cabinet appointment or other position with power, and so they toe the line because power is more important than principle.
We lost our way somewhere along the way. We forgot to celebrate doing the right thing for the right reason. Instead, we celebrated the dress and costume of power. We accepted bad decisions because they were made by people we elected. We did not train for leadership. We failed to ask the right questions. We remained fearful of victimisation. If I speak out, will I be left out?
Until victimisation is erased, the chance of breeding strong leaders for the future who will fill the chasm left by those who leave us will remain a Sisyphean task, an uphill battle without a chance for success.
End victimisation and give leadership a chance to breathe. The Bahamas needs the fresh air.