The Bahamas Weekly Facebook The Bahamas Weekly Twitter
Columns : The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Crafting a Shared Vision: National Development, Nation Building and Participatory Communication
By Joseph Gaskins
Dec 12, 2014 - 8:31:07 AM

Email this article
 Mobile friendly page

We are all born at a specific historical moment, in a specific geographical space randomly and without choice. We are told that because of these random occurrences we are Bahamian and that we must pledge our commitment to the nation that defines this geographical space and the people who inhabit it, most of whom we will never actually meet. Yes we talk the same, we eat the same food and we share certain cultural artifacts, but these, it could be argued, are all a function of where we were born-- that very random occurrence. So beyond these superficial expressions of national identity, what is our deeper connection to this place?

For the greater part of two decades Bahamians of all sectors of society have been desperately calling for some kind of national development plan. As we approached the fortieth anniversary of the lowering of the Union Jack, many became vocally aware that government policy was victim to petty political winds, that political parties had no discernable ideology, and that national progress lacked any certain direction. Finally, this administration, as promised in its 2012 Charter For Governance, has taken on the task of laying out a plan for the economic future of the Bahamas: Vision 2040.

This process, initiated by the signing of a cooperation agreement with Inter-American Development Bank, has the essential goal of strengthening the institutional capacity of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). As the agreement details, the OPM lacks the capacity and expertise for long-term development planning. The Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA), while tasked with the evaluation of all investment projects in the country does not engage in cost-benefit analyses or calculating social or financial rates of return. There is also “no legal framework that provides for and regulates the strategic planning of government activity.”

Acknowledging these problems is a good first step, and the government and IDB have set out some aspirational, albeit broad goals for this national development plan. “The objective of this initiative,” said OPM's State Minister for Investments, Khaalis Rolle, “is the development of an economic planning mechanism for the overall management of the Bahamian economy." The plan will “provide a comprehensive overview of the economy, set policy direction for economic growth, and identify strategies, programmes, and projects, to improve the overall health and sustainability of the Bahamian economy.”

Taken as a whole, the proposed national development plan is a novel attempt at fortifying the Bahamian state. Of course, it is necessary that the state should be able to plan for its survival and execute its investment and operational priorities, but we should be careful not to conflate this kind of economic national development, with nation building.

There is, in fact, a difference between the task of national development and nation building. This is clearly illustrated in how the IDB measures national development progress-- with development effectiveness matrices, monitoring and evaluation systems and tools, and the economic rate of return. These things are not to be dismissed; in fact, these mechanisms are useful for ensuring that funds granted and borrowed aren’t being wasted. They, however, do nothing to help to answer a very pertinent question-- why should I feel any connection, any commitment, any obligation to the future of the Bahamian nation or to other Bahamians.

Chef Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria described his home country of Nigeria as a mere “geographical expression.” It can be found on a map, and sometimes the sovereignty of those cartographical boarders are respected. But, as Nobel Prize Laureate, Wole Soyinka asks in his speech “Between Nation Space and Nationhood,” “When they do find us however, that is, when they explore the contents of that space, probe its interstices and enter both negatives and positives in the ledger sheets of national existence, what do they find? A nation? Or a mere inhabited slab of real estate with no cohering philosophy of reproducing our existence, of harmonizing co-existence, or integrating the constituent parts into a discernable, functioning whole – all of which transform a mere nation space into true nationhood?”

Are we, to use Soyinka’s terminology, a “nation space”? We hear it all the time-- that Bahamian culture isn’t strong enough, that it is under siege and that it has become diluted. What if it is not national culture that we lack but national consciousness?

Is there a sense of collective history, of a useful past that speaks to our direction as a people and on top of which a prosperous future can be built? Do we have a sense of national continuity, that gives us purpose, direction and stability as a people? What are the deep and defining Bahamian values that represent our collective spirit? And, what is economic national development without this collective history, without defining values and without a national consciousness?

Maybe when we, in our historical trajectory, were cast as the Hebrew people, being led from Egypt by our black Moses, maybe in those moments national purpose and national consciousness was evident. However, the narrative of the hero-leader is dead and it has only taken us so far. Its usefulness has withered and it has perhaps done as many years of damage as it may have done good. This narrow conception of Bahamian ability, that only a shining few have the skills and charisma to lead the whole, is no longer our reality. And it is this narrative that is partially to blame for placing the shared work of nation building in the hands of a few.

The new narrative must be of a people capable of building themselves, and the task is the creation of the right conditions for the Bahamianpeople to flourish.The politics of patronage must end because everything depends on all of us. Our new condition calls for less reliance on the government -- it requires risk, innovation, and a universal critique of the status quo.

I am not suggesting that the NDP is a futile exercise, what I am arguing is that we look at NDP as a prime opportunity to do more than economic planning. Development planning should not only be conceived of in material terms, it can open up an intellectual space to define the ethos of a people, to reinvigorate the collective memory, and to articulate our common goals.

One way those working on the NDP can achieve this is through a strong participatory communications strategy. Let’s be honest, communications has not been the strong suit of this administration. This is evident in the conflict around both referendums, the handling of crime and even the public relations management of the new immigration policy.

The importance of everyday political communications to the NDP should be obvious-- it is necessary to have a strategy that properly positions the NDP in the national discourse. However, a participatory communications strategy goes beyond the single-lane messaging function of political communication, and instead focuses on a dialogic approach. It is the use of communications for empowerment, involving communities in decision-making, becoming the mechanism through which communities can define their collective aspirations.

With this participatory focus, communication becomes liberating, combining its political functions with nation building efforts. As the World Bank document on participatory communication details, the NDP will need a communication strategy, “through which people themselves define who they are, what they need and how to get what they need in order to improve their own lives. It utilizes dialogue that leads to collective problem identification, decision making, and community-based implementation of solutions to development issues.”

There is also an educational component to this work. Not only do we know very little about Bahamian society, the historical narrative that we’re given throughout primary and secondary education is simplified, perhaps even sanitized. The Prime Minister has already acknowledged that the College of the Bahamas must play an important part in this work, but this should go beyond the fact finding in the first phase of the NDP. As Prof. J. F. A. Ajayi remarked, “The nation suffers which has no sense of history. Its values remain superficial and ephemeral unless imbued with a deep sense of continuity and perception of success and achievement that transcends acquisition of temporary power or transient wealth.”

The NDP should be a living document, one that not only secures the buy in of the collective, but that also makes the collective possible. It should not just be a documentprescribing how the country should be managed. There is a real chance here for socio-cultural and intellectual growth and can be cultivated through aholistic approach to development.The involvement of social scientist, communications specialists, information technology specialists and young people is essential not only inform the NDP but to facilitate its progress through the fostering of an inclusive process.

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born in Grand Bahama Island, studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology.  Joey  lives in Nassau and is a former part-time lecturer at College of the Bahamas, restaurant owner and a principal at the communications and policy consulting firm, The Consortium Group (www.tcgbahamas.com).  You can reach him at  joseph@tcgbahamas.com

Bookmark and Share

© Copyright 2014 by thebahamasweekly.com

Top of Page

Receive our Top Stories

Preview | Powered by CommandBlast

The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins
Latest Headlines
At All Costs: Stopping The "Global Gay Agenda"
Opportunity in the Challenge: Leading on the Referendum Could Mean Winning the Election
The Hair and Now: What #SupportThePuff Should’ve Taught Us
The Politics of Natural Disasters (And the Unnatural Disaster of Politics)
The Way Forward: The Political Value of a Bankrupt Tourism Policy