JAMAICANS, dispersed across the vast expanse of the globe, will today celebrate with pride and joy the Independence of their country. And, whatever their differences, the one thing they will have in common is their undepleted love for the land of their birth.
No one must begrudge us this moment of celebration, but it might not come to much, if we lose the opportunity to pause and reflect on the prevailing circumstances in Jamaica and to contemplate the future. Looking ahead, Jamaica is at a tipping point in which there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good: There is much that augurs well for the future. Indeed, our current predicament must not blind us to the wonders about our land and our people. We are blessed with one of the most beautiful lands on the Earth, from the Negril beaches to the Blue Mountains; a great people enriched by their creativity, talent, resilience, capacity to work hard, and a willingness to resist injustice. An inspirational history of overcoming slavery, colonialism and natural disasters tells us that there is nothing we cannot do.
The Jamaican people are special: Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and a pantheon of other heroes. The world knows that if you are in trouble the best person to find is a Jamaican. At one time we were the largest producer in the world of sugar, bananas and bauxite. We still have the best rum, coffee and sprinters. We gave the world reggae, jerk, beef patties, Rastafarianism, and so much more.
The bad: We are schizoid – renowned as care-givers but also for our volatile capacity for violence. Our murder rate is astonishing and terrifying. Our economy is paralysed by crime – from praedial larceny to scamming to white-collar crime. Private property means little, from the mango tree to a plot of land. Our society is dispirited by untameable disorderliness.
The ugly: Jamaica has suffered from a tribal two-party politics which has divided communities into two warring tribes of Labourities and Comrades. The word politician in the pre-Independence era stood for nation-building with National Hero Norman Manley as emblematic of this type of patriot. Today the moniker “politician” is a curse word, almost the worst description to append to an honest person. Corruption is rampant in our main institutions, and standards – from infrastructure to education – have been allowed to decline.
Our major political parties have taken Jamaica from one of the most advanced developing countries in the 1960s to one of the most indebted countries in the world in 2014. There has been no economic growth that the average Jamaican can swear by in their standard of living. We are surviving by the charity of other countries and Jamaica is haemorrhaging our talented educated young professionals.
Countries do not declare bankruptcy and close down. So let us resolve to rise majestically from our current predicament. We are convinced that the future can be better because while Jamaica is an unsuccessful country, Jamaicans at home and abroad are a successful people. We have no doubt that it is within the capacity of our people to ensure that the good triumphs over the bad and the ugly. We have to stop being a nation which has great individuals and become a nation that collectively achieves the greatness which can be our destiny.
Happy Independence Day!