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Overcoming pessimism at 50

Rickey Singh
Sunday, August 05, 2012

AS it is in Barbados, so it continues to be in Jamaica — a flaunting vexation of spirit by citizens over prevailing national, social and economic woes and a passion to engage in verbal bashing.

For Jamaica, it is all the more troubling as this is the season of nationwide celebratory activities to mark its Golden Jubilee of political Independence that will be ceremonially observed tomorrow with expected prominent guests from across the Caribbean and beyond.

Later this month, on August 31, it will be the occasion for Trinidad and Tobago to officially mark its 50th anniversary of political Independence.

In that twin-island state which, like Jamaica, is a founding member of our Caribbean Community, and which is blessed with an energy-based economy, the bitter complaints are more focused on an ongoing chilling criminal rampage with recurring embarrassing fallouts that often involve the police high command; Police Service Commission, minister of national security, and the media.

But in Jamaica — this country that has been quite outstanding over the years in the quality of intellectual, academic, political, cultural, entrepreneurial, religious, and journalistic leadership — the sharp public criticisms seem to have reached a most perplexing and disturbing level.

For example, as recently as last week, when the Jamaica Observer was editorially urging Jamaicans to "start believing in ourselves" — itself a surprising call in this second decade of the 21st century — a religious leader (Baptist pastor Jonathan Hemmings) was lamenting at an Independence Thanksgiving Service in Kingston that the country was now "pervaded by hustlers" — at all levels (including Government, business sector, religious, and education institutions).

Learning from others

Perhaps Jamaicans, disillusioned and distressed by the prevailing social and economic climate at home, would not wish to take any comfort in knowing that Barbadians are now also caught up in openly revealing hurt and even despair over economic decline and widening social problems in that country.

Basking for years in the glory of a Caricom state with recurring admirable economic performance ratings, and often at the high end of human development indices, it is understandably disturbing for Barbadians, as well as other Community nationals who live there, that Barbados has now been downgraded by the credit rating agency, Standard and Poor's, to a shocking "junk bond" status.

Yet, in their reflections of the good years, Barbadians could also try to appreciate the yearnings of Jamaicans for years past; when successive governments in Kingston struggled against the odds to survive internal and external political pressures to maintain the sovereignty and dignity of a proud, though poor nation.

They would also reflect on the brave spirit of successive administrations in Kingston to cope with quite burdensome restraints imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the continuing success of Jamaicans in fostering the richness of their performing arts and general cultural contributions that continue to provide positive vibrations for the rest of this region.

For all its own past and lingering socio-political challenges, Guyana also stands as a shining example of the indomitable spirit of a people of this region to overcome severe problems — not to mention the consequences of many years of institutionalised electoral fraud that had made a mockery of "parliamentary democracy" for over two decades. It is now the Caricom state with the enviable record of a successive five per cent economic growth rate over the past four years.

My intention is not to generate a false 'feel-good' mood among Jamaicans and Barbadians at this tough, unflattering period of social and economic woes. Rather, to encourage wider perspectives on how others of our regional family, spread across Caricom, are coping with their respective socio-economic and political challenges.

Barbados is likely to have a general election this year — though I am inclined to think it could be within the first three months of 2013. However, even a renowned Barbadian cultural icon like the calypsonian 'Mighty Gabby' could have allowed himself to mistakenly warn that this nation may be "ripe for riots", reminiscent of the dread historic 1937 colonial period.

True, the comparative upsurge in serious crime; the continuing craze to adapt or, worse, uncritically embrace foreign, and quite costly lifestyles; as well as the bullying of children at schools and the more degrading social sickness of child sex abuse at home and school are problems from which Barbados, Jamaica and so many of our Caricom countries must speedily free ourselves.

The reality

In its editorial last Wednesday, the Jamaica Observer thought it necessary to remind Jamaicans that as they marked another Emancipation Day anniversary, they "must endeavour to look deeply at the areas of national life in which we cannot claim full emancipation and in which we have not fulfilled the hopes and aspirations of the descendants of the newly freed slaves...."

Truth is, while Jamaica, Barbados and other Caricom states have burdensome problems, of varying degrees, none can honestly claim success in fulfilling "the hopes and aspirations" of the descendants of the emancipated slaves.

This remains a challenging work in progress which would largely depend on the fostering of a new political culture of inclusiveness, rather than the old confrontational politics of "them" and "us" — whether in terms of race, class, or ideology.

A difficult challenge? Of course it is. But perhaps Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the first two independent nations of Caricom and the most populous, are reasonably well placed — despite their own prevailing negative features — to begin charting patterns in inclusive politics that could result in a new and desirable governance culture.

Congratulations and very good wishes to all Jamaicans on their Golden Jubilee of political Independence.

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