Columns

Too many political circuses and sideshows

Mark WIGNALL

Thursday, March 13, 2014    

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FROM the man at street level with five years of all-age schooling and barely literate to the advanced academic with many letters behind his name, we Jamaicans share one common sin.

Much too often we cannot separate what is morally right from what is practically attainable at the national and geopolitical levels.

Let me give you an example. In 2011 I was asked by a professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, to give a presentation on 'Jamaican political culture and contemporary Jamaican politics' to a visiting group of American graduate students.

At a point in the presentation, I posited the view that Michael Manley, in cold war days, should have employed a better political strategy. He could have been cosy with Fidel Castro without engaging in too much anti-American rhetoric, and should have expected the destabilising US backlash. The learned professor, who was seated close to where I stood, said to me, sotto voce, "But he was right. He was right. It had to be done."

To the university professor (now deceased) all that mattered was that the late prime minister did the 'right thing', no matter how it affected the socio-political and economic situation in Jamaica — a small nation seated in the backyard of a giant which had the power to roll over and crush us.

A significant percentage of the economic ills of this nation in 2014 are here as a result of Michael Manley, a good man at heart, taking his eyes off the economic landscape in the 1970s and focusing too much on the political. In that period, we lost much of the hard capital that understandably was locked up among many of the people we were taught to dislike and even hate via socialist rhetoric. They simply left us, took their hefty bank balances with them, and found safe haven in the USA and Canada, actions that anyone with a significant pool of funds would have embarked on.

In present day Jamaica the major difference between the little man at street level and the pure academic is that the little man's belly is growling and his future is dim, while the academic — gorged on wine, women, song, and the need to produce impossible objectives — exists to impress his peers, maintain his tenure at his capsule of learning, and produce material that his drinking buddies in party politics can use to bamboozle the people and keep them from storming the houses

of parliament.

Nowhere is this more open and geopolitically foolish than in the countries in the Caribbean pondering suing a few western European counties who had, hundreds of years before, captured our African forebears, taken them here, worked them to the bone, made mad money off their sweat and blood, and then left them to find their own economic fortunes from behind the eight ball.

I say this is foolish because we, as a region, are as weak as a small tick on just one teat of a huge global cow. Plus, we are forced to be feeding off that tit while wanting to tell the cow that we are demanding some of the grass and grain that it is feeding on to produce the very fluid that is sustaining us.

I have no problems with the moral arguments, but when our regional leaders, including Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, tell us that dialogue is the preferred way while employing a heavy-duty European law firm which will need more than spiced bun and bag juice money to engineer a lawsuit if the dialogue fails. All I can see is a circus designed to make the people believe that their political leaders care.

As if to signal to us that we are a collective bunch of nincompoops, significant sectors in the European leadership have been telling us that they are willing to talk, even to the point of encouraging us to involve ourselves in the dialogue but, they say, not much will happen beyond that.

Are we idiots? That is tantamount to a potential lover saying that he or she will encourage any amount of what may be considered foreplay but absolutely nothing else will happen. Why bother?

I am certain that our political leaders, like those in the academic community, know that they are on a fool's errand, but they have measured the pulse of their constituents and the reading is the people believe that what is morally right is practically attainable. In other words, they are giving the people what they want knowing that what they want will never be delivered.

Another big sideshow is the upcoming Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli incursion. Have we no sense of history to know where this will end up? Do we really believe that this country is prepared to give up our security forces to the wolves? Have we ever done that and, seriously, can we afford to do it?

I ask this because I see it as a near impossibility that that the Bruce Golding-led JLP Government of 2010 could be found culpable or, at the very least, cited for many errors of judgement without involving the army and police force.

As one who never believes that any government acts in a matter without first knowing what the outcome will be down the road, I have little faith that the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry will uncover more than a nation, long in a hate relationship with Tivoli Gardens, having already formed an opinion in its collective mind.

Reparations for the horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry are basically circuses and sideshows designed to take our eyes off the ball, to ease us into that state that makes us forget that our political leaders have no big ideas, no great policy solutions for our economic betterment, and what they have been selling us are Christmas squibs, good only for a brief flash and pop.

On the basis that politicians never act without knowing the final outcome of an action or a process, it is my belief that when then Prime Minister Bruce Golding authorised the Commission of Enquiry into the Dudus/Manatt matter in 2010, he did it because he wanted an exit, he wanted to go home and tell sorry politics goodbye. He knew he would be sunk by it. He was tired of the sideshows.

But, in the case of reparations, the academics need another line on their résumés, and when nothing happens, a legacy that said they tried but failed at a noble cause. The politicians of the day, years from now, will have the academics to blame for the failure.

By the time the upcoming Commission of Enquiry into the security forces' operation into Tivoli Gardens happens and is completed and assimilated by a public fully into enjoying sideshows and circuses, another election will be in the making and one political party will, again, find itself behind the eight ball.

observemark@gmail.com

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