By Jabari Fraser
The Bahamas experience, from climate damage to financial uncertainty, is typical of the Caribbean reality.
The 700-island nation has been forced to deal with everything from Hurricane Dorian in 2019 to the continuing slow-motion financial crash of the Bahamas-based FTX.
So how does a small nation build back, move forward and get an increasingly inward-looking global North to listen?
“We have to continue to talk and continue talking and advocating until they listen,” the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“For the world to listen, I think that narrative must be perhaps pointing out that it is in their own enlightened self-interest that they need to respond and listen to what is being said by our Caribbean nations,” he added.
The Bahamian leader said that if nothing were done about climate change, this could lead to climate refugees. Asking “where would we go”, he said such movements would have an impact on the political landscape of richer countries.
“I’ve been advocating that sitting down and doing nothing could result in the loss of their GDP ... because the cost of repairing, rebuilding, the loss and damage ... would have a devastating impact on countries’ GDP and some economists predict that up to 30% of the world GDP could be lost if nothing is done in the next 10-15 years.
“So those self-interested items ought to concern them to listen and respond to our challenges .... they’ll know when their pocketbook is hurt, they’ll know when desperate people are knocking at their borders.”
“The Bahamas is open for business.” With these words, the Bahamian leader wrapped up a keynote address at a House of Lords reception, organised by the Caribbean Council for Europe (CCE) on 3 May.
This was the mantra of a government and business delegation from the Bahamas, headed by Prime Minister Davis and including the opposition leader. The delegation worked through an investment seminar, business meetings and receptions in the days counting down to the coronation of King Charles III. In between the central London frenzy of preparations at Westminster Abbey, the Bahamian business and government delegation energetically presented their messages on investment, sustainable energy, climate financing, reparations and changes to the world’s financial system.
Their energy reflected the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM) activity on the world stage as leaders throw their weight behind Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley's Bridgetown Initiative which challenges the world's Bretton Woods-based financial structure, calling for a revamping of the world's financial systems.
‘Repair and rebuild’
Like Ms Mottley, Bahamas’ Prime Minister Davies, who is the current CARICOM Chair, is unfazed by the challenges of a global North turning in on itself towards its own post-pandemic needs.
At the House of Lords reception, organised by the Caribbean Council for Europe, he said during his keynote address that the aim was “to join the rule-makers and not just remain a rule-taker”.
He suggested that rich countries bring an open mind to their view of the Bahamas. He repeated the Caribbean-wide calls for a “move towards fairness and climate justice” on the issue of climate reparations and slavery. On the failed Bahamas-based digital currency company FTX, he said that what he described as his country’s robust “regulatory strength” had allowed it to deal with FTX on its territory before other countries had moved to tackle the situation. As other regulators seek to sort out the mess left by FTX, the financial press has followed how the Bahamas has learnt from the experience and is tightening its digital regulation even further.
Caribbean Intelligence© asked the Bahamas’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fred Mitchell, whether he felt that the global financial system needed a tweak or a complete overhaul.
“The better answer would be time for a complete overhaul. However, I’m more sanguine than that with regard to these things. I don’t expect a complete overhaul,” he said.
“It’s hard enough getting the system tweaked. What I suspect is going to happen is that the moral suasion of those of us who are small countries will be a chorus which drowns out those who want the status quo to continue and there’ll be a shift in the way that business is done ... more incremental than revolutionary.”
He even put the announcement of a new World Bank head, the first Indian-American, Ajay Banga, through the perspective of the Bahamas’ and CARICOM’s softly-softly diplomatic approach to world affairs.
“It’s [the World Bank] an institution,” Mr Mitchell told Caribbean Intelligence©. “It may make some difference on a marginal level and I think it sends out a better signal because the past president was a climate denier so that problem you don’t have. The new president lines up with where most of the public policymakers are in the West so it should make it easier to apply the solutions which we want from smaller countries.”
He added: “Again, I don’t think it’s going to be revolutionary but I think there’s a recognition with the change in leadership that it can’t be business as usual with regards to this, because what is happening is existential for so many countries.”
Another plank of the Bahamas and CARCOM’s diplomatic thrust is clearly based on the power of the Caribbean Diaspora.
“We don’t have military, we’re not economic superpowers, but we have a right to exist. We have to use that voice to bring moral suasion to all international public policy. And it’s been effective in part because our people have migrated to the developed centres and they’ve not forgotten where they came from and they’ve brought their voices to the central powers of the world and therefore influence what happens,” Mr Mitchell told Caribbean Intelligence©.
Mr Mitchell pointed to the previous advocacy roles of Harry Belafonte and Colin Powell (Jamaican heritage) and Sidney Poitier (Bahamian roots) as well as “a whole generation” of people with Caribbean roots serving in powerful positions in the US and the UK. “They bring their voices to the public policy, remembering where they came from as well.”
A rush for republicanism?
The 6 May Coronation of King Charles III clearly pushed the issue of republicanism into the headlines of the UK and international press. King Charles currently serves as head of state for 15 countries, eight of these in the Caribbean, while he is also head of the 56-nation Commonwealth, many of which are already republics.
Asked by Caribbean Intelligence© about the media coverage of the alleged rush for republicanism following the death of the Queen, the Bahamian Foreign Affairs Minister was pragmatic about the discussion back home.
“Ultimately I think so, but the Bahamas is not there yet. Those of us who are for a republic in the Bahamas are in the minority. I suspect most of the population is disengaged on the subject, it doesn’t really affect their daily lives. It doesn’t really affect their daily lives. And the issue will be, in our country, it requires going to a referendum. All governments who have tried referenda have failed to pass the measures because they have become a political flashpoint for opposition parties to take advantage of the governments supposed popularity or lack thereof.
“So I don’t think any government’s going to try it, that I see, in the short term or the medium term. But ultimately the Bahamas has to become a republic and I wouldn’t say it’s a rush for the door but it’s a nascent issue, particularly since a neighbour of ours, Jamaica, is now talking about it in an active way.”
'Date us first'
The delegation carried an air of inclusivity with the country’s opposition leader on board and also the Premier of the Turks & Caicos. A number of business people told Caribbean Intelligence that this gave a sense of business continuity – an important factor in today’s uncertain economic climate.
The chairman of Bahamian digital payment company Kanoo, Nicholas Rees, announced plans to establish a presence in the UK.
The Caribbean Council will be leading a trade mission to the Bahamas in October as a follow-up to the May events in London.
The House of Lords reception was followed on 4 May by an upbeat Caribbean Council-organised Bahamas Investment seminar, which included the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister and business people taking part in Q&A sessions with a diaspora and business audience.
“Approach the Bahamas with an open mind,” Bahamas Chamber of Commerce Chairman Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson told a panel session at the seminar. She told investors that the small size of the Bahamas “makes us nimble, makes us agile”.
“We’re different because of the approach that we take to doing business. Yes we are small, we’re agile, we’re nimble but we’re also focused on results,” Ms Rutherford-Ferguson told Caribbean Intelligence© afterwards.
“It is important that, at every occasion when you’re engaging with either policymakers or private sector, that there is a defined plan, an outcome that is envisioned and that also benefits the whole of the Bahamas,” she said, outlining proposals to develop medical and sports tourism.
“I think you have to approach it [investment] like a marriage - before you walk down the aisle, you should date first. I mean the world is so open now with virtual modalities, there’s no reason why you can’t contact an organisation like the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce to say, ‘Point us in the direction of some companies that would form a great synergy for us and let’s discuss these business opportunities,’ so when I talk about open-mindedness, that’s what I mean.
“Date first, have some calls, have some virtual sessions ... I think you’ll find that ... the marriage will be steady and exciting and invigorating.”
By Jabari Fraser
[Top left: COP27 outcomes webinar (l-r clockwise): Moderator Dionne Jackson-Miller, Rueanna Haynes, Keston Perry, Harjeet Singh, (bottom): COSIS legal