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We still need to build our nation

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dear Editor,

The Olympics are over and Jamaica has again shown the world how great we can be when our energies are directed positively. As we sent our athletes to participate in the London games on this our 50th anniversary, we became a nation filled with pride.

But on reflection I was left to ponder this question: How can we be so great in sports, music and culture and so poor in nation building?

The answers I found gave me a bleak vision of the future. Even though we are a nation of great people we are not great as a people. By and large, the vast majority of Jamaica's accomplishments have been individual achievements. We as a people and a nation have largely been failures or underachievers.

Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert, Donald Quarrie, Bertland Cameron all achieved success in spite of being Jamaicans, not because of it. They excelled without much support or guidance from the JAAA and other institutions set up for that very purpose. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, the Mighty Diamonds and others were flying the Jamaican flag in all four corners of the world, while Rastafarians were being ridiculed and segregated in their homeland. Miss Lou's trials are well documented to the point that her works have a permanent home in Canada, not in her homeland Jamaica.

While individuals progressed, the nation regressed. We have failed to harness effectively our most important natural resource – our people. We have largely squandered our natural resources, making less money of them than people who have added value to theirs and resold them at higher margins. There has been a continued acceptance of mediocre leadership which has led to anaemic growth, improper distribution of wealth and high levels of crime and corruption. We are very vocal in chastising our athletes when they do not live up to our expectations. However, we do not demand high levels of service from our public servants whom we pay.

Until we begin to treat our leaders – religious, political and social – in the same way we treat our athletes, we will continue to live in squalor and envision a Promised Land which we will never reach. The main engines of change in a society are the media, the church and civil society. These engines have been dead for the most part in Jamaica, or too biased to offer an honest opinion on anything.

For a country that has produced great leaders like Marcus Garvey, NW Manley, Bustamante and Sangster, it befuddles me how we could find ourselves in such a state. Did the great minds leave on the five flights a day to North America? Have the high levels of corruption and garrisonisation of our politics scared the decent people among us? Is there any hope to save us from ourselves?

With a catastrophe looming, if we cannot get an IMF deal by January and a government that is yet to outline what their five to 10 and 15-year plan is for our country, Jamaica is at a major crossroads – and the wrong road will take us downhill fast.

The media need to return to their role as watchdog, the church needs to find its way back to being the conscience of the nation, and we need to rise and demand greater vision, foresight and accountability from our leaders.

Richard Smith


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