ONE of my business partners, Kirk Anthony Hamilton, forwarded me a link to an amazing documentary about Africa titled Africa Straight Up that was made by Africans as an effort to get past stereotypes and show what is happening in the various countries.
"The problem with stereotypes is not that they aren't true, but that they are incomplete" is the first line of the film and it is spoken by Chimamanda Adichie, acclaimed author of Half of a Yellow Sun. She goes on to speak about how negative perceptions are created by only telling one story over and over, as well as the fact that these stories can break down the dignity of a people but can also be used to build up a people.
Jamaicans are no strangers to consistently negative press in the international news media. We also are no strangers to overwhelmingly negative press at home. Our own homegrown cinema has not done enough to tell other stories outside of crime and violence either. The ones that get the publicity abroad all fall into the same story lines. I recently spent four weeks in Jamaica and it is the first time I could sense depression amongst so many people. The overall mood was more negative than I have ever seen, and it worries me.
Thankfully, we have the new One People documentary to cheer us up and tell our story, the West Indies win, and the Reggae Boyz moving on to the next round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2014. I will never forget the unity and celebration that overtook Jamaica when the Reggae Boyz qualified for World Cup 1998. The song Rise Up, to this day, makes me remember a better time in Jamaica.
Rise up, stand and take your place,
Shine like the sun,
The journey has just begun.
That chorus is not just about the Reggae Boyz rising up and taking their place, but about every Jamaican and the country of Jamaica rising up and taking its rightful place on the world stage, a place we used to hold decades ago. African countries have taken similar words more seriously than Jamaica and the documentary shows how.
Seven out of the 10 fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa, according to the film. What have these countries done and are doing that Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean are not?
According to the Nigerian minister of finance, Honourable Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former managing director of the World Bank, "People in Africa are no longer willing to tolerate corruption from their leaders and therefore when you hear about the corrupt Africa, corruption all the time, I want you to know that the people and the governments are trying hard to fight this in some of the countries". Okonjo-Iweala went on to point out that there are successes and most importantly, a will.
Can Jamaica truly say the same? Has the public shown that it will no longer tolerate corruption from leaders? What about corruption within the society? Professor George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist, points out that the ruling elites are "stuck in their intellectual patch", not willing to reform their economies because they benefit from the status quo. Familiar again?
Herman Chinery-Hesse, chairman of SoftTribe, makes the very sensible point that he has never heard of a country that developed as a consequence of foreign aid programmes. A commitment to self-reliance is what was needed and that has been helping those countries that stopped depending on outsiders.
Jamaica has major problems that need to be solved, major reforms that must be implemented. We should not be depending on the IMF, World Bank, USAID or any other outside force to make the changes that we know we need to make. Chinery-Hesse points out again in the film that no foreigners ever came and developed another country. "We must sink or swim ourselves" is how he puts it.
Some Jamaicans look back at the growth rates the country had during the 1980s, but usually fail to mention that Jamaica was the second highest recipient of US aid -- only Israel received more. Those days will never return. The Cold War is over and Cuba is opening up. Jamaica is of little strategic importance to warrant such free money again, so it really is up to us this time to build our own economy.
I found Africa Straight Up enlightening and positive. As a Jamaican I kept nodding in agreement when they spoke about stereotypes, corruption and what has to be done to improve.
I only hope that Jamaica will finally rise up and take its place, and recognise that the journey has actually begun. Watch the film at http://bit.ly/africastraightupfilm
David Mullings is Chairman and CEO of Keystone Augusta and was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/davidmullings and Facebook at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue