'Treat the youthsright'

'Treat the youthsright'

Friday, January 22, 2021

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Treat the youths right

Instead of putting up a fight

Treat the youths right

Or you'll be playin' with dynamite...

— Jimmy Cliff

The two-headed monster of crime and violence in Jamaica is an aggressive cancer that is scuttling the good ship, Jamaica. If this disease is to be effectively cured, then while one fixes the symptoms through various prescriptions, one has to seriously deal decisively and clinically with the cause or causes.

This writer is convinced that this country's main ailment has nothing to do with inflation, depleting net international reserves (NIR), a wobbling Jamaican dollar, an import bill that far exceeds our export earnings, waste and corruption, a savaging energy bill, or the many other social ills that have caused us to descend into crass indiscipline and disorder.

That which hurts this fledgling nation most is that collectively we have failed to develop our greatest potential which is our people. The starkest example of this is the continuing success of the tourism industry despite an anaemic economy. In the final analysis, it is not the sun, sea, and sand that make hundreds of thousands of visitors want to make it Jamaica again and again. Repeatedly, surveys have shown that it is the warm hospitality of the Jamaican people. “Come to Jamaica and feel all right. Irie!”

Yes, the novel coronavirus pandemic has put a spoke in the wheel of that vital industry, but there is every reason to believe that it will rebound.

Yet, isn't it ironic that, while we are so warm and hospitable to the tourist, we remain one of the most violent nations on Earth? Isn't this some form of schizophrenia? We kill each other daily but we smile for the tourist.

Intriguingly, if we were able to solve the crime problem, tourist arrivals have the potential to move up to five million or more per annum, not to mention a dramatic increase in foreign direct investments. Why therefore do we continue to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

By the way, merely re-engaging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is, in essence, surrendering our sovereignty to a foreign entity, and we will only be able to get it back when we truly put our people first.

And, in that context, my focus turns to the youth of this country. It is perhaps tragic that even as we bask in the seeming glory of having attained political independence going on 60 years, not only are we yet to achieve economic independence, but have created “a generation of vipers”. This may sound silly, but I am convinced that unless we deal with the youth crisis in this country then we will never, ever become truly independent, economically or otherwise. Indeed, our political independence hinges on the way we treat our youth, because they are the future of this country. They are the ones who must be the producers, the innovators, the creators, the game-changers, and/or the nation-builders.

Unfortunately, most of the crimes committed in sweet, sweet Jamaica are by young men, many of whom are uneducated and unskilled. Many of our young men, like a mutinous crew, are rebelling against this nation. In a most callous and heartless manner, they have been killing their own cronies, in addition to men, women (old and young), and even very young children.

Sadly, there is a disconnect between them and us. “Di yout pon di corner”, who continue to lament the fact that “nutten nah gwaan”, are angry and oftentimes hungry young men who are totally disenchanted with the system.

Let's face it, this country has a great number of young people out there who have the potential to become useful and happy citizens. Jamaicans are a very talented people. Any country our size that can produce a Bob Marley and a Usain Bolt should not be taken for granted. The tragedy is that, because of the failure of our politics, there are thousands of Jamaican youngsters in our midst who are young, gifted and blank. They cannot read and write, they have no marketable skill, they are plagued by a sense of hopelessness, and have very little faith or confidence in the future. Practically every day, a young man dies in this country, and any nation that keeps killing off its young men will never be able to create the environment in which Vision 2030 can become a reality. Incidentally, how many of our young people are aware of this national objective and have bought into it?

We have failed to exploit Brand Jamaica in the positive ways we should because we continue to be a nation of samples, talk, and little action. Is it that youth heeds nothing? Too much lip service is being paid to our young people. Yes, it may well be argued that there are many success stories with respect to our youth, but isn't this more the exception than the norm?

Sometimes when I watch TVJ's School Challenge Quiz I am struck by the ease with which students can answer questions relating to foreign topics, including identifying outstanding individuals, as against relating to local figures and institutions. Our young people, for the most part, have foreign minds and foreign tastes. Most of our most qualified youngsters migrate. The average youth in the ghetto has no clue about what is going on around him or her. During a job interview I asked this young man the following questions and got honest answers:

“Do you read?”

“No.”

“Do you watch or listen to the news?”

“No, Sah. Mi lissen to Beenie Man and Bounty Killer.”

Enough said.

Their mode of dress, the way they speak, their body language, and just about everything about them reflects an alien culture.

For many decades now, successive administrations have stressed the vital importance of education and that it will take top priority with respect to budgetary allocations. It's a pity we did not take such a stance from 1962. Today, we would have been the better for it. After all, education is about youth.

Even as the crime situation overwhelms the Andrew Holness-led Administration, the emphasis seems to be on allocating more resources to the police and the army to fight this monster, but this approach in the long run will turn out to be an exercise in futility unless we “treat the youths right”!

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.


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