Reclaiming our independence by becoming independent (Observer Column)

Christopher Burns

Jamaica’s political independence was never meant to become a conduit, lubricated or not, to socio-cultural stagnation, political apathy, economic injustice or marginalisation. Essentially, it was intended to be the path through which our country would achieve broad-based social advancement, cultural liberation, political enfranchisement and economic justice and prosperity for all its citizens. Furthermore, independence should be the locomotive by which the country transports optimism and opportunities to its citizens so they can take charge of their own lives, enjoy their individual liberties, realise their dreams and live prosperously and safely.

Some 48 years later, while some progress has been made in areas of education, health, infrastructural development, sports and human development, it is obvious that we have squandered much of what political independence presented us in 1962. And sadly, we have fallen from the once vaunted position of a proud and assertive nation to the lowly place of perpetual humilitation and timidity, a place where there are two sets of laws: one for the rich and the other for the poor. Many are caught up in a spiralling and vicious vortex where the struggle to make ends meet comes with enormous suffering because of the lack of opportunity.

NORMAN MANLEY… And what is the mission of this generation? It is reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica

For thousands of Jamaicans, life is a constant reminder that “Rain a fall but dutty tuff. Pot a boil but food nuh nuff”. The underacheivement and underperformance are not restricted to economics. They affect virtually every area of national life, none more prominent than the issue of crime and violence. Hence, the frequent talk about reducing crime and violence. But getting our country on a path to economic development is as fundamental to achieving a sustainable reduction in crime and violence as it is to securing economic justice and prosperity. In fact, as one of the chief architects of independent Jamaica, Norman Manley placed this objective squarely at the centre of his farewell address to the People’s National Party Conference in 1968. He summoned the “next generation”: “And what is the mission of this generation? It is reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica.”

However, realisation of NW Manley’s dream for the reconstruction and preservation of an economically sound, socially stable and prosperous society remains discouragingly embryonic. For, according to the 2009 Annual Statistical Yearbook, published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Carribean, Jamaica recorded the second highest inflation rate at 10.20 per cent, but the sixth lowest estimated economic growth rate among 33 regional countries. Real Gross Domestic Product declined by 2.8 per cent, while its external debt grew twice as the rest of the Caribbean and nearly 16 times faster than Latin America between 2001 and 2009.

Jamaica’s external debt grew from US$4.1 billion in 2001 to US$6.30 billion in 2008 and heaven knows where it is today, with that 27-month facility for US$1.27 billion with the International Monetary Fund. The country ranked 100 on the UN Human Development Index – eight places below its 2006 ranking – and was graded by the World Bank in its 2010 “Doing Business” report as one of the 10 most difficult countries in the world to pay taxes. Worse yet, the ECLAC report also contends that Jamaica will continue to be one of the worst performing economies in the region and will hold that place for quite some time. And it seems the scope of our economic plight is completely beyond the reach of the Opposition People’s National Pary, as we have not heard of any alternatives.

We have not managed our political independence well, and the mismanagement has manifested itself in the quality of post-Independence governance. Today, we have a country in which, according to the recently published RJR-TVJ poll, 54 per cent of the people believe the prime minister has a credibility problem and is untrustworthy, while another 52 per cent believe he does not have the moral authority to lead. Even so, the same prime minister callously dismissed critics telling them, “I will not be distracted”, while implying that they can continue to write columns and editorials requesting his resignation, but he is not going anywhere.

Things have gone so bad over the years that in this 21st century, when other nations are moving to expand civil rights for their citizens, Jamaica still grapples with passing a very limiting Charter of Rights Bill and can only achieve a lull in murders through the imposition of a State of Emergency that deliberately targets the urban poor. The disgraceful thing about the latter is that a certain segment of the population continues to ignore some fundamental truths about gang operations and the effects of a prolonged State of Emergency. If it takes the imposition of a State of Emergency, during which about 4,200 inner-city residents were detained, but only 16 or 0.380 per cent of them charged; with 73 civilians killed by the security forces and hundreds displaced to send gangsters running to other parts of the country only to re-emerge, then our security forces are either incompetent, myopic or under-equipped.

Clearly, what is required, in addition to several other things, is not an imposition of a State of Emergency, but a revamping of law enforcement to include merging the Jamaica Constabulary Force with the Jamaica Defence Force to achieve critical mass. We are only fooling ourselves into believing that the recovery of about 110 guns is significant enough to dismantle the enormous stockpile of weapons that these mercenaries have at their disposal. Are we not just kidding ourselves into believing that having the criminals on the run represents sucess, in and of itself, when the “factories” that produce them are in full swing? Still, it is not too late to reclaim our independence and we can do so by becoming truly independent. We can do so by positioning ourselves to accept that Jamaica belongs to all of us, and as part of the “collective” we must play our part in demanding better from the political directorate, but even more so of ourselves.

It starts with education, with an understanding of how the three branches of government ought to operate. It includes having a greater appreciation for the rights and responsiblities that come with citizenship. We must eschew political frivolity and tribalism and embrace political maturity, the kind that instils a culture of accountability, aids the development and implementation of credible socio-economic policies and restores that 1962 atmosphere of civic and national pride. As we reclaim our independence, we must be prepared to extricate ourselves from the two-party syndrome as we look to independent thinkers to represent our interest both inside and outside of Parliament. We can do it and we should.


Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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