Recently, a leading politician enthused: “Sir Lynden Pindling will have his place in our history. But to my mind, Hubert Alexander Ingraham is the greatest prime minister in the history of an independent Bahamas. History will be more than kind to him. History will celebrate him as the Great Reformer and Modernizer.”
This encomium to the former prime minister was delivered at an FNM function a few weeks ago by the party’s Deputy Leader Loretta Butler Turner. What makes such high praise even more noteworthy is that its author is the granddaughter of Sir Milo Butler, a Father of the Nation and a colleague of Sir Lynden and others in the struggle for majority rule and independence.
As Hubert Ingraham retires from frontline politics, the assessment of his premiership will begin in earnest. Many are already of the view that, thus far, he has served as the nation’s most illustrious prime minister in an independent Bahamas.
Sir Lynden, also a Father of the Nation, is a pivotal figure in an independent Bahamas, and will be accorded his due in the nation’s history. In the pantheon of heroes, Sir Lynden is a sort of mythic figure, his portrait adorning the one dollar bill and his name the nation’s leading international airport.
Yet, leaving aside the Pindling mythology and the inevitable hagiography surrounding such a figure, Hubert Ingraham may prove, in the objective light of historical analysis, to have been a more transformational figure in significant ways. There is precedent for this.
By example, though Winston Churchill ranks high for leading Britain through World War II, it is Clement Atlee whom many British historians rank higher for his social welfare reforms and domestic policies including the inauguration of the National Health Service.
Sir Lynden and the early Progressive Liberal Party deserve credit for building many national institutions and empowering black Bahamians including helping to build a strong black middle class.
But as Sir Lynden’s legacy is examined more dispassionately by historians and new generations of Bahamians, he will be compared on his own merit and compared also with subsequent prime ministers, including Hubert Ingraham.
Stripped away from that analysis will be the cult of personality mentality that the country “owes” Sir Lynden or indeed any prime minister for what they did for the Bahamas. We live in a democracy where the very people who afford leaders the privilege of service may dismiss them at their will.
Though gratitude is due to those who serve the country, what is owed political leaders is a fair and honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, and accomplishments and failures.
It is an odd notion forwarded by some, that because he is a great man, that we should ignore Sir Lynden’s failures. This bizarre notion was even advanced by some men of the cloth during a Commission of Inquiry investigating various matters relating to Sir Lynden’s tenure as prime minister. Great men or women don’t need their biographies whitewashed in order to maintain their greatness.
It is remarkable that those who seek to ignore Sir Lynden’s failures are loath to afford Hubert Ingraham the same pass. Like his mentor, Hubert Ingraham will have to be judged in his full measure, by what he did and by what he failed to do.
Even as Sir Lynden is afforded his historic due, weighing down his legacy is what he failed to do and, more importantly, the terrible mistakes he made at great cost to the country. This is especially so given the giant of a leader that he was as the independence prime minister and as the iconic Moses figure having led Bahamians towards a promised land of majority rule and greater economic prospects.
Yet, having helped to secure these democratic rights and economic opportunities, Sir Lynden squandered what could have been an even more profound legacy for him and for the country. It would fall to Sir Lynden’s self-professed, “most illustrious protégé …” to advance many of the promises Moses failed to keep.
To assess the successes and failures of our post independence prime ministers is to measure their tenures by the promises of majority rule and independence. Such an assessment will be more fact-driven and less reliant on one’s emotional response to a given individual.
While some are driven to distraction and silly commentary by Ingraham’s often brusque personality, it will be more his accomplishments and considerably less his personality that will be judged by history.
The Ingraham whom some delight in labeling a dictator, freed the broadcast media, which subsequently helped to play a role in the FNM’s electoral defeats in 2002 and in 2012. One of the greatest weapons dictators have long enjoyed is control or intimidation of the media. Mr. Ingraham also instituted sweeping measures to make elections freer, fairer and more transparent.
Sir Lynden presided over an erosion of democracy keeping rigid state control of the broadcast media engendering and deepening a climate of fear where many were afraid to express their views. Under Sir Lynden’s PLP, elections were much less free, fair and transparent, possibly causing the FNM’s 1987 election defeat.
So, who will historians judge as the more democratic prime minister when comparing Sir Lynden and Hubert Ingraham? Ushered into office by the flowering of Bahamian democracy, Sir Lynden followed the route of other strongmen, thwarting and sometimes strangling the very democratic ethos he promised to uphold. Hubert Ingraham followed another path, deepening our democracy and enhancing freedom of expression.
Yet, this is but one of many areas where history and generations to come will accord Hubert Ingraham a higher grade or status than his immediate predecessor.
There will be many other areas of accomplishment where the mentee will outstrip his mentor ranging from environmental protection, to creating a greater shareholding society, to local government to more progressive labour laws and social protections.
The range of Ingraham’s and the FNM’s accomplishments are extraordinary. We would be living in a more backward, less free, less modern country were it not for the soon to be former Member of Parliament for North Abaco.
When Sir Lynden gave his farewell address in the House of Assembly in July 1997 he praised the still young Hubert Ingraham as, “the most illustrious protégé of mine thus far”. A relatively short decade and a half later that protégé is set to give his farewell address to the House.
With his leave-taking, that protégé will be remembered mostly not as the Delivery Boy or Papa. He will be remembered, in the words of Mrs. Butler Turner as “the Great Reformer and Modernizer”, and in the minds of many, and quite possibly in the broader view of history, as the most illustrious prime minister, thus far, in an independent Bahamas.