The 'new Jamaica'

The 'new Jamaica'

Election talk cannot build the future

Louis Moyston

Thursday, August 27, 2020

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There is nothing new about the “new normal”; the term is used to help people to shape and reinforce their understanding of and how they plan to face the post-pandemic world. The new normal must not be the framework through which we explore the changing world, though politicians, the media and the man in the street have perpetuated this rhetoric as they imagine settling into life in the post-pandemic era.

The new normal is an oxymoron, and an oxymoron is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction, for example is “deafening silence”. Oxymoron is more appropriately used for everyday conversations grounded in literature, poetry, and song lyrics, but not to make sense of real-life experiences. The conditions of living for the majority of the people will not be changed; it will be the same as in the pre-pandemic world.

One event does not change the world; it changes the people's perception of the world. I am curious about the “new Jamaica” concept. It appears to be a slogan drafted in the pandemic language of the new normal. What are the qualities associated with this new Jamaica concept?

Concepts of a new Jamaica

There is a view that if the old setting did not help the majority of people in Jamaica, why is there the thinking that this new Jamaica will offer anything different from the old period?

What is this new Jamaica concept grounded in? Is it just election sloganeering? Any attempt to change society must begin with history and philosophy. What is the nature of the old and how will the new be grounded and constructed?

It is therefore important to illustrate the thinking of the new paradigm. The following themes from Stanley and the Turbines festival song, Norman Manley, and the new Jamaica will be used to introduce the analysis of a statement made by the prime minister about the building of a new Jamaica.

Firstly, let me applaud the prime minister for his political enthusiasm, his high public rating in office, and his comfortable location in the popular culture scene. His fine style and fresh campaign strategies must be commended. It is amazing how the prime minister's office is overloaded with several ministries and flesh pots of the governmental agencies such as the National Housing Trust and HEART Trust. The prime minister a “duh road” and there is the appearance of work being done, but there must be a difference between with short term for pork barrel-type policy implementation and long-term policy for development. What we have is an imperial prime minister with the aim to develop a wide coattail to sweep an election.

The artistes and the politician

Why do I select Stanley and the Turbines' Come sing with me, the festival song, as a theme for this discussion? Well, the artistes and performers from the inception of the history of modern music in Jamaica used the stage to make statements of peace, love, and unity. The writer of the song has experienced the violence, disorder, and disunity as by-products of the politics that defined the Jamaican society of the late 1970s to the late1980s. Stanley sings: “I am singing of a new Jamaica, a land of peace and love….All who believes in love, come sing with me.”

Then there are song lyrics, “It light like feather and heavy like lead.” The acts of destabilisation of the Manley regimes in the 1970s saw the institutionalisation of gun violence, especially at the community level. It was against this background that the call was made by the artistes for a new dispensation with a clear message that the old and the new are not the same — war and peace.

In a compilation of speeches and writings Rex Nettleford aptly titled Manley & The New Jamaica, it examines the ideas of Manley from Jamaica Welfare to that of political party formation, his role in development of the banana cooperatives in the 1930s, and also for the development of the Agricultural Development Corporation and Industrial Development Corporation; the Olympic and boxing associations, profound changes in education and the building of the National Stadium and the National Arena, among other policies that were anti-colonial in nature. Leading change requires the development of transformative ideas and the ability of the leader to get people to align their thinking from his vision. The point here is that the new thinking from Norman Manley of a new Jamaica was, by and large, different from the colonial authority. Now, I am not saying that his vision was perfect, but it was evident that the news ideas were useful and useable in the building of a real new Jamaica. So far, I have not read any document that offers to explain the prime minister's charge for the building of this new Jamaica. The use of government projects and programmes with short-term benefits cannot be used as justification for the building of this new Jamaica.

The prime minister and the new Jamaica

No one can deny the dominance of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the Jamaican political landscape — a regime that is grounded in liberal democracy and the rule of the market. The basic principles of democracy are elections, free press, freedom of speech, and private property govern our space. In the 1940s and 1950s Jamaica politics began to take root. It was characterised by wanton corruption, nepotism, and budding party tribalism. The political discourse was coloured by personality politics, mainly the trade union leader, popular among the masses, and the studious barrister and socialist politician. While the PNP had a defined political thinking, the same could not be said about the JLP in those decades. In all fairness, at his last speech to the JLP conference a few years ago, Edward Seaga said that his political idea, and that of the JLP, was grounded in liberal capitalism. All that meant was a more sophisticated position than 'anywhere the West goes Jamaica follows'. It was simply the ideology of the United States of America.

In a world characterised by globalisation, international regimes, local and foreign investors, and bankers run the society, this idea of voting is really an exercise of democracy that existed only for a moment. The marketisation of society and the deepening of the value of individualism, grounded in American individualism, combined with mass culture, have transformed the Jamaican society in a negative manner. It has deepened inequality; arrested development; increased youth delinquency, family crises, crime, drug abuse, homicide, and poor educational achievements.

In a practical way this regime resembles the politics of the 1940s and 1950s. Similar to the early history of politics after 1944, the present political scene in Jamaica has witnessed an unprecedented level of corruption in society with the raiding of the public purse and land resources. The level of nepotism is disgraceful, tribalism is rampant, and all aspects of government operate within a pork barrel framework, with the only aim being winning the next election.

The continued use of the national flag and national colours in this election campaign can only contribute to the deepening of tribalism and disunity. There is no interest shown in building the country in real terms. If there is going to be a new Jamaica, Mr Prime Minister, what body of ideas will define this objective?

Change requires more than making statements during campaign periods, and, please, remember, any change in society require change in philosophy. A new Jamaica cannot be built on the operationalisation of the JLP in Government, in terms of massive projects in the past few years; change is about ideas, and it is ideas that build any nation.

The idea of a new Jamaica is good, but “wheel and come again”, as election talk cannot build the future.

Louis E A Moyston, PhD, is a university lecturer. Send comments to the Observer or

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