Gloomy bits

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Gloomy bits

Warning, choice, problems, and farewell

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, January 10, 2021

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Good millet is known at the harvest. — Kpelle proverb, Liberia

Jamaica has the potential to be the leader in many areas of growth and development in the Caribbean and Latin America. Potential alone, though, is never enough. Jamaica constantly requires both smart economic and astute foreign policies, among other things.

This headline, 'Battle lines drawn — Tapia says Jamaica should consider where it would stand in US-China war', in The Gleaner, December 31, 2020, was for me a reminder that we are of very significant strategic importance to the US and China.

We are premium grade in the region. The news item read, among other things: “Said the ambassador: 'It doesn't mean it is a warning. It's just saying, 'Look, here is where the world is moving. Here's where the Government of the US is moving, where Europe is moving, and one of the things you have to look at is if the US goes to war with China, what umbrella would [Jamaica] be under? What might we do?' ' “

la carte or prix fixe?

Outgoing United States Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia's tour of duty ends on January 12. In his quiet moments, or not so quiet, he will, doubtless, actively reflect on his 17-month tour of duty here. I listened keenly to many of his public pronouncements and I liked his straight-shooting style. He did not hide behind unintelligible jargon, hypocritical smiles, antiquated ceremonial claptrap, and useless self-salutes. I got the impression that Tapia was from the old school, where one gave as good as one got and did not allow a pique to fester. Sadly, these admirable characteristics are not aplenty in the public square anymore.

Notwithstanding my admiration for aspects of Tapia's public persona, I do not agree with him that the foreign policy choice we have is an alternative between an la carte or prix fixe menu/restaurant. Like the USA, Jamaica must look out for her individual interests first.

Henry Kissinger, who served as national security advisor and later concurrently as US secretary of state in the administrations of presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once remarked that: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

I believe Tapia is familiar with Dr Kissinger's foreign policy dictum.

Jamaica's interests are best served by its demonstrated neutrality.

While we draw from our own reservoir in this respect, we can also learn a few valuable lessons from Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore.

Singapore, from the get-go, has been greatly valued by the US and China. She is a critical strategic feather in either's cap. Singapore is located in south-eastern Asia. The island city-State (725.1 square kilometres) is a little smaller than our parish of St Thomas, which is 742.8 square kilometres. Singapore has a polyglot population of mostly Chinese, Indians, and Malaysians.

Recall that Singapore was much poorer than Jamaica in the 60s. After Singapore became independent in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew took this small spit of land with very little natural resources and transformed it into a developed nation in less than 40 years. He smartly allied with America, but also kept good relations with China.

In a recent interview on CNN, Singapore's incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong made it clear that the foreign policy position on relations with the US and China remained unchanged since his father Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister. We best note this important lesson. It is not la carte of prix fixe, Ambassador Tapia!

Vulnerable or the problem?

Invariably, nowadays, when we hear about “the vulnerable”, particularly in public fora, women and girls are referenced. It is blindingly obvious to me that men and boys, for reasons of political correctness, have been largely eliminated from the designation of vulnerable. This is a colossal mistake.

Has it occurred to some among us that most of the perpetrators of domestic abuse are male? Has it dawned on some among us that the vast majority of inmates in our penal institutions are men? The majority of their victims are males.

On January 1, 2021 Dr Horace Chang, the minister of national security, described the crime problem in Jamaica as “endemic and chronic”. Chang also noted saying, among other things: “There are many gunmen out there. You apprehend several dozens, but the others come behind.” ( RJR News, January 1, 2021 )

I have been saying in this space for a very, very long time that we have in this country a veritable assembly line of social conditions which feed the development of criminal behaviours. The vast majority of those who become members of criminal gangs, those who make the country's most wanted list, those who swallow the suicidal credo of “Today we kill, tomorrow we die,” are male. This reality, though, seems oblivious to some in high and low places. Vulnerable evidently denotes and connotes anything but males to some people.

Consider this: 'J'can men outnumber women 11 to 1 in suicides' ( The Gleaner, September 10, 2019). The news item noted, among other things: “According to police data, 61 people committed suicide in Jamaica last year. Of that number, 56 were males and five females. Forty of those males committed suicide by hanging. Ingesting poison was the second-highest method used.”

Check this: Data from the National Road Safety Council's (NRSC) report, 'Road fatalities from 1992-2015', show that “8,476 persons lost their lives on Jamaica's roads in the mentioned period. The NRSC's data for the 23-year period show that, “Men are the more frequent victims of fatal road crashes. In fact, road fatalities among men are four times more likely than among women.” I am told by a source that the sex ratio for road deaths, in 2020, is very similar to the 1992-2015 averages.

The wide achievement gaps between males and females in our education system is an open secret. The chasm continues to grow wider, faster. Recently, I saw some employment data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) which pinpointed that vastly more females, compared to males, find work in our economy. We all know why.

Our male population is in deep, deep, trouble. Is it that all these crises afflicting and affecting males are insufficient for the categorisation 'vulnerable'? If that is the reality then we need to have our collective heads examined.

We can point fingers at toxic masculinity, patriarchy, or any number of societal foible until the cows come home; that, by itself, will not stop the rapid multiplication of social powder kegs all over the country.

We need to do more than just call out males. We should all be deeply concerned at the stereotypical portrayal of males as failures, deadbeat dads, womanisers, abusers, louts, and the worst kind of human beings who exist.

It did not escape my notice that International Men's Day, observed on November 19, 2020, was hijacked and turned into 'Cuss Man Day' by some who ply their trade in our traditional media and scores on social media platforms, who are evidently convinced that Harvey Weinstein — American former film producer and convicted sex offender — is typical of the majority of males.

Many years ago I read a story in the local The Star newspaper about a man. I think his name was Charlie “Mattress” Henry, who was alleged to have sired 34 children. The alarming discovery was made some time after Henry's death. Some, who said they knew Henry, claimed he did not even give the children sugar; that is, any kind of financial support. Henry's alleged misbehaviour is the rule and not the exception, some say. I have not seen any empirical evidence to support that conclusion.

Before some start to throw tons of molten lava on my head, let me state that I have no issue with the ramping up of efforts, legislatively and otherwise, to protect women and girls. I accept wholeheartedly, too, the importance of protecting and educating the fairer sex.

Credible research has shown that when a woman/girl is protected and educated the ripple and transformational impact, on especially a developing society, is phenomenal.

I am simply, humbly suggesting that, in 2021, we need to place equal focus on the protection/education of males and females.

Our public discourse, policy crafting, and implementation should reflect a meritocracy. It is very unwise to attempt to cancel centuries of male domination of females by the systematic diminishing of males — as some are attempting. More people of influence also need to learn and use the term “some men”; all men are not 'wutliss'.

Senegal's COVID-19 story

On the matter of ruinous stereotypes: Some weeks ago I noted that many commentators in the United States and Europe had made dire forecasts about the spread of the novel coronavirus on the African continent. Some went as far as to predict that Africa would have been devastated because of, reportedly, “a weak health system”. I think many of these experts do not yet understand that Africa is a continent made up of 54 countries.

Foreign Policy magazine last year ranked New Zealand number 1 in the world for the effectiveness of her response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Foreign Policy magazine examined a mix of wealthy, middle-income, and developing nations. New Zealand has since received global recognition. This is quite in order.

Only a few have highlighted the small West African nation, Senegal, which placed second in Foreign Policy's list of 36 countries. Maybe because certain expert predictions did not materialise, some folks neglected this important bit of information as a means of covering the splatter of egg on their faces.

Does the parsimonious media treatment of Senegal have anything to do with the fact that the United States placed 31st? I wonder.

Credit, though, to USA Today, on September 6, 2020 it bravely went where only a few have ventured with an insightful piece titled 'Senegal's quiet COVID success: Test results in 24 hours, temperature checks at every store, no fights over masks'.

Up until last Thursday, Senegal had 19,364 cases, 17,375 recoveries, and 410 deaths related to COVID-19.

The World Bank 2018 figures indicate Senegal has a population of 15.85 million.

No St Anns!

Lee Kuan Yew famously said: “No society can succeed without social order, and no successful society has ever existed without the rule of law.”

Last Sunday the country learned that Jamaica had confirmed four cases of the new variant of the novel coronavirus. The four are among the 20 travellers from the United Kingdom who tested positive for the novel coronavirus after their arrival in Kingston on December 21, 2020.

Recall, the videos making the rounds on social media of the rowdy Jamaican bunch who shouted, among other things, “No St Anns!... Send wi a wi @###@#@ yard.”

I doubt they would have behaved in like manner had they been landing at Heathrow, John F Kennedy International, or any major airport outside of Jamaica.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to own up to the fact that their crass, unenlightened conduct typifies that of many here, at home and abroad, who see “yard” (Jamaica) as a lawless outpost at which they can do as they please.

We can choose to be Pollyannas about this and related issues, or we can expedite the adoption and tailoring of templates from especially successful democracies that have faced similar problems and have implemented transformational changes to overcome them.

Seismic shifts are needed in how we see ourselves and our country. Without such changes the future may very well be facsimiles of certain gloomy bits of our past. Superman is not coming to save us. Jamaica has to save herself.

“Butch” Stewart passes

No one can credibly deny Gordon “Butch” Stewart's indelible mark on the growth and development of this country. Stewart's greatest contribution is, perhaps, the road map he provided us on how to be successful in business and in life.

He was a true Jamaican in word and deed. He was innovative and colourful, even while a bit controversial.

A fitting memorial will, doubtless, be erected to remind us of this towering figure in Jamaican and Caribbean business. Perhaps we can best honour his memory by diligently improving upon his numerous entrepreneurial creations.

Gordon “Butch” Stewart served his country well and showed immense courage in doing so. He inspired many with his strong leadership and a deep sense of conviction.

We have lost an outstanding businessman and an outstanding Jamaican.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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