Are we in a state of paralysis?

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Are we in a state of paralysis?

Friday, February 19, 2021

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I was 15 years old when Jamaica gained political independence. Some 58 years later, my island home is yet to attain economic independence. And, against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it will take a great deal of political will and bold initiatives from the private sector to rescue us from this quandary.

This is most depressing and uninspiring, because I am beginning to wonder if such an elusive dream will become a reality in my lifetime.

It is said that Jamaicans have a solution for every problem, and a problem for every solution. Divided by political partisanship, religious bigotry, social and economic discrimination, Jamaica continues to befuddle all logical thinking in terms of why there has been so much persistent poverty, mendicancy and criminal violence.

Back in 1961, then Premier Norman Washington Manley felt that the best way forward was to become part of the West Indies Federation. The legal luminary-turned-politician and Renaissance man put his fortunes on the line by calling a referendum — which he lost. His arch-rival, then Labour leader extraordinaire-turned-politician Alexander Bustamante, turned the tide against him stating inter alia that Jamaica ought not to accommodate “paupers” (referring to the Caribbean islands that would form part of the Federation). Ironically, today, most of these “pauperised” nations are doing far better than Jamaica, which remains, for the most part, an impoverished country. In the meantime, its hybrid, the Caribbean Community (Caricom), has become a glorified talk shop.

Remarkably, we are not short of solutions or answers. So many studies have been done and are being done which oftentimes point us in the right direction. But most of these end up in “File 13” or are watered down to a state of ineffectiveness.

Take, for example, two critical issues that could have helped transform positively the Jamaican socio-economic landscape — the proposed logistics hub and the legalisation of ganja for export, personal use and medicinal applications. Despite many attempts, studies, talk shops, etc, these golden opportunities may well have passed us by. To put it bluntly, “Wi love chat to' much and no do nothin' aftawuds.”

Against this background, it must be stressed that the time has come for us to move from crisis, analysis, thesis and antithesis, to synthesis. Unfortunately, we seem to be in a “state of chronic” (paralysis).

Sections of the media may well have helped to fuel this exercise into futility by focusing too much on newsbites and so-called scandals. There is persistent intellectual masturbation by some opinion makers who constantly try to outdo each other as to who can come up with the best turn of phrase or headline-grabbing commentary, which when put to the test comes up short in terms of balance with regard to rationality and common sense.

Most talk show hosts, it would appear, feel that as far as is possible they must rip the politicians and the political parties to shreds with sadistic glee while their eyes are glued to the ratings — more listenership leads to more revenue. After all, it is so easy to beat up on the Government of the day, analysing the problems to death, but coming up most times with very few solutions. In this regard, we are our worst enemies, and so we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Quoting from distinguished Jamaican journalist Ewart Walters' book We Come From Jamaica, unsung hero O T Fairclough, who not only founded the Public Opinion newspaper but the People's National Party, said in his first editorial: “Jamaica is not without a large body of men and women who are sincerely anxious to understand the state of this country and the duties laid upon them by its problems. They are not blind to evils which threaten the island from within, nor are they deaf to the noise and commotion of the outer world. They frequently look towards the future with grave misgivings.”

“But where is one to begin?” he asked. His response, “The first necessity is that those who have at heart projects of social, economic, and political reform, should pool their ideas — and still more important — understand their own strength. This does not mean that mere discussion is enough — there is an abundance of ineffective discussion at present. Discussion must be directed into practical channels; it must be regulated, not be casual individual opinions, but by the sum of individual thought. In other words, there must be an effective public opinion on topics of importance.”

Those views were expressed in 1937, long before the attainment of self-government and ultimately political independence. Today, over half-century into self-(determination?) Jamaica still pays homage to Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, uses the British Privy Council as its final court of appeal, and is being overrun by foreign interests who, no doubt, have agendas that may not necessarily, in the long run, be in the best interest of the country and its people.

Here, for example, is a provocative thought: Have we ever stopped and wondered why the Chinese have so much love for us? During the Cold War, Jamaica was seen as a strategic location; hence, United States paid us a great deal of attention. China is predicted to become the world's next leading superpower by virtue of its economic prowess and sheer numbers in terms of population growth as US influence wanes. Can it be that Jamaica, in the future, will be a pawn in a world chess game? Food for thought for the next generation.

When I was a boy, poverty came with dignity and a sense of purpose. Many Jamaicans then believed that by the sweat of their brows they could eat bread. Today, there is a frenzy of dependency with the politician being the main target. In this regard, our educational system has failed to produce useful and happy citizens.

Many of us today who can be regarded as successful came out of that era when our parents did not depend on politicians or demeaning charity. They empowered us through education, thrift, values and attitudes that they helped to teach us along with teachers who were mentors and not just purveyors of knowledge. Yes, back then, we were out to build a new Jamaica. Remember that song which Ewart Walters describes as “the expression of that spirit of community optimism and solidarity” which fed the national consensus? Above all, it was a spirit of goodwill and volunteerism, for most of the people involved were cheerful volunteers, engaging in community development that was central to the national movement.

That was why Norman Manley established Jamaica Welfare, which was to eventually morph into the Social Development Commission (SDC). Our national hero must be turning in his grave when he sees what has become of the mission that he had charged succeeding generations to pursue.

Today, as I reminisce on what has been, and ponder what should have been, it behoves all of us to develop a fixity of purpose that will transcend narrow partisan preoccupations and make us a nation of consensus rather than contention.

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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