Celebrate or commemorate? Why bother?

Franklin Johnston

Friday, July 20, 2012    

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Our 50th Jubilee is here. How will we mark it? I am truly conflicted, and it's not about flags with no green and boisterous Parliaments. Why not mark the Jubilee with quiet ceremonies and commitment? We have failed miserably. We fought no foreign wars; we are our worst enemies. I think I'll go to my old school, raise the flag, pledge, feel the nostalgia and thank God. After, a good dance with a bottle to clear my head for the task ahead. My dad worked hard and died; my turn to cover the same turf because of inept leaders. No self-pity for me. In 50 years we moved from top of the regional leader board to next to last.

Here is the test. In 1962 we celebrated Independence. What do we celebrate in 2012? What are our achievements in the last 50 years? Jerk pork? What did we do which we could not, before Independence? What iconic, lofty goal have we met? What cost us blood, sweat and tears as a people, but we did it? Waste and vanity...all vanity! Personally, I have a lot to celebrate; nationally very little. Some politicians think we should celebrate because if we don't, it reflects on them. Damn right. They won, they always win, we lost and continue to suffer.

My dad told me kerosene was once sold by the tin, ethanol from Caymanas sugar cane fuelled wartime vehicles. People were caring; the postman brought mail every day and you signed for the one with money in it - Wow! Third Jamaica Local Exam was like a Bachelor's Degree; school exams were hard to separate sheep from goats - no fuss. I think people will celebrate, come hell or high water - they bought the clothes and braids already. Be that as it may, why not have a thoughtful conversation around what we celebrate and why?

What are our achievements? What large, national ones? What major things did we do or make in the 50 years?

First, which ones resulted from Cabinets' actions? For example, we had advances in education, but sadly none met world class, Barbados' or even our own standards. What a statistics lesson we got from the "iron lady" of education last week. The civil servant spoke, the silence is deafening as not one of those who presided over it in the past even said "Sorry" to students and parents. May the civil service wax in strength, have faith in the taxpayer and speak truth plainly. They know the facts, we need to hear them.

Second, which ones resulted from private actions? Private people have a good track record. Our brand rests on the work of artistes and sportsmen who were not funded by the state. In fact, many Rasta artistes were hounded by the state, some even jailed for smoking ganja.

Third, those resulting from changes in the West. We can't credit our leaders with inventing a Central Bank or minimum wages. If so the man who got us Kentucky fried, or the first TV, should get national honours too. They are of the West, not our invention. So let us honestly answer two questions:

What is worse since 1962? Many things changed, but are they better? We know our infrastructure improved, but not in line with our population growth, the state of the art in the field or nations which started as we did in 1962. You may cite some poor African state as comparator but we are a western nation and must be judged with the West. Every utility (except telecoms) is under-capacity. JOS and JRC were more adequate to the demand than JUTC, etc. Back then, potable water, solid waste were never in crisis. Ego-driven politicians were rampant after Independence and squandered our legacy. Thank God they could not find Hermitage Dam. The rich to poor ratio is worse, and two Jamaicas are less polite and caring of each other - we are on a powder keg. Inept politicians impoverished us, set us against one another and "cuss 'n class" in Parliament to foment tribal wars (the decent one was my past student), yet they ride like African dictators in well-guarded 4x4 ease and live in lavish walled compounds. We cannot go on like this. Where did poor but honest go? We decline in production and productivity, an increasingly feral society with a penchant for murder, assault on women, children and old folk. Crime is implacable as the criminals choose when to wind us up and when to back off. So, my friend, what is worse today?

What's got better since 1962? Many things are better, but few can be attributed to Cabinet action. Better personal hygiene but one deodorant costs three loaves of bread. Polio, malaria, smallpox, head lice, bedbug, chigger are gone, but this is of the West not our own work. What about the things a government should provide for its people - food, health, education, welfare, security; how do we score? At school I got USAID food, we still get it 40 years on. Ouch! What will you celebrate on the 6th as "job well done"? Today no one can "fresh with" us, but this was empowerment by a few leaders, not state action per se. Yes, we can go to any hotel, but who can afford it? The people who went there are the ones who still go there. Our people dress better. You can no longer tell who is from country as lip gloss, nail extensions, braids abound, thanks to tax-free, uptown, car-trunk traders. Highways are better, but this is PJ's recent legacy. We fought for Mandela, but our own human rights were rushed through in the 49th year of Independence - oh, wonderful leaders! We raised no iconic buildings and Ward Theatre, King's House, Up Park Camp, UWI, ramshackle Hope Gardens are all British icons. We added no merit to the built environment and the natural one screams in pain from our abuse. Our national gallery is in a nondescript office building and our Parliament is the Queen's retainer's old house - what irony! The stadium scene has no architectural merit - low-cost seats for the disrespected masses to park their butts. We are conditioned to poverty so we think Emancipation Park is great. Kingsley rescued it for us!

What should we do? Don't use this Jubilee to cavort like mindless minstrels. Let's have a reasoning. No looking back. What must we do to make our own future? What to build a good and prosperous land? Meet on your verandah, under a tree, in churches and schools. What do we want to achieve in the next five or 10 years? How will we do it? Finally, "what must I do?" Let this Jubilee be a time of reflection and commitment to get out of this flippin' rut by 2022. Be restrained in your revels; why not go to your old school and relive 1962 with the youth? Let the kids play and enjoy their childhood - building prosperity is big people's business. Do it so they can go to the next level by 2062. Go to church, temple, mosque; meditate, confess, repent - sackcloth and ashes, if so moved. Then arise and build. God will bless our work, our country will prosper and our kids call us blessed! Stay conscious, friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.





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