Nick Bower, an economics major at Bowdoin College, U.S, reflects on what the Bahamian government gets wrong when tackling the brain drain.
My friend Brandon and I were stopped at a traffic light in his Nissan Note. We are usually chattering non-stop; now though, we rested in an easy silence. I peered out onto the bright, warm Bahamian summer day.
Brandon broke the silence with a phrase that I’ll never forget: “Man… I’m so fed up with seeing these no-bottom-having people.” No-bottom-having people…? The phrase echoed in my mind for a few seconds as I stared blankly at my friend. What was he on about? He gestured to the opposite side of the intersection: not to the stationary cars but to the people inside of them whose bottom halves were not visible, just faint characters behind tinted windscreens. I began to notice the nuances of the panorama in front of me. Under a bank of white clouds, I took in cars, asphalt, traffic lights and walls, but I didn’t see a single human being, only these strange top halves.
Bahamians are removed physically and mentally from our surroundings. An unreliable bus system and lack of cycling lanes has us cooped up in cars. Crime has confined us into our homes, suspicious of our fellow Bahamians. Our failure to innovatively meet our energy needs has guzzled away our incomes into foreign petroleum companies. For a place as beautiful as The Bahamas, it is ironic to admit there is a crisis of liveability. It is no surprise, then, that many young Bahamians stay away after attending university abroad, creating a brain drain.
The solution to the brain drain is an ongoing national debate. Members of Parliament and newspaper editorials have put forth solutions for decades. After years of hearing the discourse, I’ve noticed that many thinkers attribute the problem to career-related factors. The focus on career-related factors invites solutions such as “Diversify the economy” and “Create a better business environment”. Indeed, many young Bahamians base their decision to stay away on the abundance of highly specialised and better paid jobs in other countries. The decision to stay away is only easier because of the Bahamian work culture, described by op-ed writer Philip Galanis as “lackadaisical” and “nepotistic”.
If we feel like we cannot do anything to change our own country, what’s the point of returning?
Although the focus on career-related factors certainly captures part of the brain drain, it is only one angle of the issue. The brain drain is also an issue of lost hope in citizens’ power. Many of my classmates from Bahamian upper school look back home with a sense of patriotism and hopelessness. Despite the love that many Bahamians feel for our country, we are disillusioned by looming issues such as educational failure, unemployment, and crime. After growing up with these problems, we inherit a sense of their permanence. If we feel like we cannot do anything to change our own country, what’s the point of returning?
This narrative of helplessness contributes to the brain drain in nefarious ways. Our reliance on the government to tackle every issue has galvanised a sense of stagnation. The narrow focus on precarious development plans and economic diversification has encouraged us to overlook the potential of investing in small changes. Cycling lanes would give Bahamians more freedom and save more money. A highly dependable bus system could have a positive impact on our convenience, our wallets, and our communities. The promise of beautifying our living spaces with character and identity would make our cities more appealing places to live in. These are the achievable goals that will create a happier Bahamas. These are the improvements that will make Bahamians abroad yearn to return.
To live in a functioning democracy is arguably the rarest, most extraordinary amenity of our globe.
A culture of citizenship is the brain drain panacea. It is the cornerstone for achieving any positive, well-informed change. Addressing issues through citizen advocacy rather than a self-defeating reliance on the government recognises the power within group decision making. Our democracy needs for us Bahamians to devote our skills and energy to lobbying for the wants and needs of our communities. The archipelago is home to 400,000 people who, by and large, share both a common history and Christian values of stewardship and love. Democracy should come easily to us, but we are largely overlooking our own power. We must reconnect with our inner citizens, demonstrating the power of Bahamians to mould the archipelago into the better Bahamas they envision. To live in a functioning democracy is arguably the rarest, most extraordinary amenity of our globe. Make concrete, achievable changes to the benefit of all Bahamians, and many of the rest will come flocking back, bottom-halves included.