Brain Drain — The Diagnosis. Youth Empowerment and Cultural Appreciation — The Cure.
Picture the Bahamian economy as a person. In my mind, I see a life support patient with an IV oozing enormous doses of treatment, but not a cure. My diagnosis for the Bahamian economy is a critical case of brain drain. The IV is full of the tourism industry. You may think that these two topics are unrelated; however, we have, for years, been depending on the tourism industry, to cure the deficiencies caused by brain drain. The Bahamas has lost many university graduates, especially those in STEM fields. Brain drain is crippling the Bahamian economy, but we can prevent it by instilling pride in our youth through art and providing a platform for them to generate new ideas, establish businesses, and fill needed positions.
We need artists to retain and reclaim the faith of Bahamians in the Bahamas. Young Bahamians gain inspiration from the music and film, however, there are far more foreign media than relatable Bahamian media for youths. This has resulted in many youths gravitating towards foreign models. Young Bahamians have grown up with television networks like Nickelodeon and music stars like Beyonce. Through art, the Bahamian youths have been primed to prefer the American aesthetic. This priming develops a bias for America when deciding whether they should study and live in the Bahamas or relocate abroad. I’m not against showing multicultural appreciation, but nothing instills confidence and pride like seeing someone of a similar background achieve something great. This is evident in other former British Colonies like Kenya where musical artists are empowering the youth to believe in themselves and their country. Similarly, we need to utilize art to inculcate and perpetuate the idea that the Bahamas is a place where all Bahamians can successfully live, work and thrive.
During their TED presentation at TED Global, “The Role of Afrobeat,” a member of Sauti Sol, a Kenyan band, declared, “The role of Afrobeats in emancipating and getting over the colonial mindset of the youth cannot be ignored. Afrobeats has played the strongest role so far, if you ask me, as far as emancipating the youth is concerned” (Sauti Sol, 2017). They also commented on the way African models have replaced American models in the minds of African youth. In the Bahamas, we are still in the process of breaking free of the colonial mindset, being more accommodative of other nations in the form of mass tourism and in other ways. However, retaining and reclaiming educated and skilled Bahamians and their faith in the country will be better accomplished through encouraging, supporting, and introducing young Bahamians to young, local artists.
If the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture worked with creative entrepreneurs, we could facilitate school visits, festivals, and other national events where these creators can present their craft with more topics than the one-sided Bahamian aesthetic of parties and rushing on Bay Street. These creators can sing, act, and discuss literature about inspiring stories that tell the wisdom, faith, and strength of the Bahamian people, which will strengthen many people’s attachment to the Bahamas.
Additionally, if we wish to retain and reclaim our youth through national pride, we have to give them more than a single story of the Bahamas. I borrow the term “single story” from a delightful TED talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called, “The Danger of a Single Story” (ADICHIE, 2009). A single story is a single perception of something. In the Bahamas, we have trudged along with the single-story birthed from select aspects of our colonial history, which we still sell to legions of tourists: quaint communities of laughing children, deferential adults, and a never-ending celebration. There’s nothing wrong with this story, but it’s not our only one. We have stories of Bahamians of overcoming struggles, family, and love. Our youth need to experience this so that they are empowered to believe that they can attain success and happiness in the Bahamas. Young Bahamians need art that captures their stories — their victories, their struggles, and their emotions. We need authors to write modern fiction with young Bahamian protagonists. We need songs that focus on the human condition instead of glorifying the party scene (which is mostly done to attract more tourists). Let’s show them that we are more than a tourism economy. If you don’t yet believe that this single story has driven away some of our young professionals, read Jordan Darville’s article, “Alien Nation, Growing up in a tourism economy made me feel like a person from nowhere”. Darville, a Bahamian who emigrated to Canada, wrote “I’m not expecting the tourism debate to begin in the Bahamas anytime soon, but if someone had told me years ago that the land I inhabited was more than just a place for carving into resorts, I might still be living there” (Darville, 2017).
An online platform will allow young educated Bahamians in the Bahamas and abroad to stay updated on local developments, share ideas, and connect with possible employees, employers, or investors. As a future software engineer, I see this as a strong possibility. With technical expertise and research, and cooperation with the public and private sector, we can ensure a technologically driven and open source platform for our young professionals to connect and create new services and products. If an agricultural food scientist, industrial engineer, and accountant became partners on the same platform and connected with investors, would it be the eve a booming food industry? A platform like this would show talented Bahamians the possibilities of development in the Bahamas and would encourage them to stay and work.
As we Bahamians continue on the path towards true independence, we will need the knowledge and skills of the young and educated to build a sustainable economy. I long for the day when my and future generation works together to create new industries and make the Bahamas the global standard of a thriving country.