Jamaica — proud, independent State
Today Jamaica marks its 61st anniversary of Independence.
We have genuine reasons to be cheerful. Sadly, some among us continue to spout the risible argument that Jamaica is not independent. Some embrace this falsehood because they work to belittle our progress. Others ‘hug up’ the absurdity that Jamaica is not independent because their deep-seated and residual resentments for the lowering of the Union Jack in 1962 is outmatched, perhaps, only by their deliberate ignorance of Jamaica’s positive strides in just 62 short years.
No matter how many times some bite their tongues in anger, regret, and consternation, the fact, the reality, and vibrancy of our Independence cannot be doused, dwarfed, and/or diminished by pseudo-reasoning that we are not independent because we have not yet achieved economic independence.
This farcical dodge withers when measured against the accepted international definition of independence agreed to by experts in global affairs.
Setting the record straight
A bit of history is important here to enlighten readers of a younger vintage and Independence deniers, who sow seeds of self-deception.
In February 1962 a new constitution was approved by the local legislature. Norman Manley, a fervent adherent to national democratic decision-making, was then the premier. Manley called a general election. Alexander Bustamante was elected on April 10, 1962 and became the first prime minister of Jamaica. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won 26 seats and the People’s National Party (PNP) grabbed 19 in the then 45-seat House of Representatives.
Incidentally, I see some on social media who should know better telling the unsuspecting that Norman Manley was the first prime minister of Jamaica. Some years ago a senator told a caller to a radio programme the same falsehood. Some persons are so steeped in divisive politics; they consciously refuse to accept objective reality. Well-thinking folks must not give refuge to ignorance peddlers and merchants of falsehoods.
It is an objective fact that on August 6, 1962 Jamaica became an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth. Prior to national Independence, Jamaica had a Legislative Council, and then a Council of Ministers, but in either case a governor — an appointee of England — was atop the local political totem pole with ultimate decision-making power.
“Sir Kenneth William Blackburne, was the last colonial administrator for Jamaica. He was appointed on December 18, 1957 as captain-general and governor-in-chief of Jamaica and its dependencies. On Jamaica’s Independence, as a transitional measure, he was sworn in as the new state’s first governor general, a position in which he served [until] November 30, 1962, when he departed for retirement in England.” (King’s House, Jamaica). The administrative umbilical cord to England was totally severed.
Independence is not a guess or spell business, as we say in local parlance. For those who hold the opposite view, I recommend an insightful article titled ‘How do you start a country?’ This authoritative piece, among other things, compiled opinions of several renowned legal and global affairs experts. It noted the following four specific international benchmarks which a country needs to satisfy in order to be classified as independent: “There must be a people, Government, a territory, and the ability to conduct relations with other states on a sovereign basis.” (British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC], August 5, 2017)
A people and territory
The mentioned article noted the following: “The definition of a people is much disputed, but some might argue that it means a permanent population with a concept of and belief in their own nationality.
As James Irving, who teaches international law at the London School of Economics (LSE), puts it: “Are there… ties, effective ties, ties of belonging, of identity, of feeling…
“And also, ties relating to those of practical shared interest. Another essential is that states should have a defined territory, an area within borders, in which it is sovereign.”
I doubt it can be successfully proved that Jamaicans do not meet the international definition for a people or that we do not have territorial boundaries which are recognised by international law. With those requirements met, I suspect some will argue that Jamaica is not self-governing. They are wrong!
Self-government is a critical benchmark of an independent State. Simply, self-government means a Government has control of its own affairs. Prior to Independence Jamaica’s affairs were controlled by an external power. Jamaica becoming an independent nation in 1962 meant that Britain no longer controlled the affairs of the country. These were now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante and his Cabinet.
Independence in 1962 also meant that Jamaica had to start and/or quickly complete the development of many crucial institutions. For example, we fashioned a constitution, an army, Jamaican passports, and currency. We got our own money in 1969, following the switch to a decimal system a year before.
As an independent nation Jamaica assigns ambassadors overseas. They can sign treaties on behalf of Jamaica and become members of various international organisations. This is important as it gives Jamaica equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies, and treaties.
Jamaica’s black, green and gold — not yellow — flag was unfurled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 21, 1962. File photos show Sir Alexander Bustamante, the then prime minister, bubbling with joy at the event.
Why is recognition by the UN important? Here is a summary of answers provided by international legal experts who spoke with the BBC in the mentioned article:
“Individual countries can recognise each other, but the big prize is recognition as a State by the United Nations.
“The benefits are legion: The protection of international law; access to loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); control over borders and greater access to economic networks; and mechanisms. Plus the protection afforded by trade laws, making it easier to create trade agreements.” (BBC, August 5, 2017)
Jamaica is known for punching above her weight. Her contribution at the UN has reinforced that trait. Consider this: “Since then, despite limitations of size and resources, Jamaica has played an outstanding role in the United Nations’ system, helping to focus international attention on such significant matters as human rights, decolonisation, economic cooperation and indebtedness, and women’s issues. Jamaica has served on the United Nations Security Council (1979-1980) and on the Economic and Social Council on a number of occasions. Its representatives have frequently been elected to the governing council of several specialised agencies and other bodies in the United Nations organisation. Jamaican nationals have also served with distinction in various capacities within the secretariat of the United Nations.” (Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations)
But it would be remiss of me not to single out this important historical fact. The Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations notes that Jamaica was the first country to declare a trade embargo against South Africa — as early as 1957, even while the island was still a colony of Britain and thus without responsibility for its external relations. Jamaica consistently and unequivocally opposed apartheid and supported all United Nations’ decisions aimed at its elimination.
Jamaica continues to be a leader in international affairs. She is proudly carrying on the baton of internationally respected trailblazers at the UN, like then Senator Hugh Shearer, who proposed that 1968 be designated the International Year for Human Rights to mark the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr Kenneth Rattray, now deceased, then solicitor general, gave yeoman service specifically in relation to legal expertise which facilitated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was signed by 119 countries in Montego Bay in December of 1982.
An independent State must meet the benchmark of a stable government, according to many international legal experts. This cannot be successfully disputed.
We came close to State instability in 1976 and in the run-up to the October 30, 1980 General Election. Thankfully, the leaders of the two main political parties, Edward Seaga of the JLP and Michael Manley of the PNP came to their senses and we did not dismantle the guard rails of democratic stability. Our election mechanisms were in shambles just 47 short years ago.
Believe it: Not so long ago the announcement of a general election was the start of a terrifying and deadly season for Jamaicans. Today our electoral system is greatly admired and copied by countries around the world. We must resist with all our might recent utterances which seem to signal a wish to return to electoral fraud.
Our current electoral system is the result of great maturity and the implementation of diligent reforms designed to protect our democracy. Hundreds of well-thinking Jamaicans sacrificed to ensure that we have today free and fair elections in which ‘one man- one vote’ is the rule not the exception. Jamaica is today respected internationally for her very strong democratic practices.
There can be no reasonable objection to the conclusion that Jamaica has satisfied all the international benchmarks in order to be classified as independent.
Real reasons to cheer
We have genuine reasons to be cheerful on this the start of our 62nd year of Independence. The positive global impact of our culture, in particular our music from ska to reggae, cannot be disputed. The superb creative work of musical geniuses like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Shaggy, Toots Hibbert, and many other artistes have cemented our place in the global cultural arena. Closely connected to our musical prowess are our unrivalled achievements in track athletics.
Jamaica is an international powerhouse in the sprints. Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Merlene Ottey, Asafa Powell, Elaine Thompson-Herah, and Yohan Blake are global brands.
Celebrated thinkers like Dr Louise Bennett-Coverley, Claude McKay, Una Marson, Barbara Blake-Hannah, Professor Mervyn Morris, Dr Lorna Goodison, Dr Olive Senior, Kei Miller, Roger Mais, and dozens of others have help to make Jamaica a household name.
Renowned scientists, like Dr Thomas P. Lecky, Dr Henry Lowe, Dr Henry Vernon Wong, Dr Paula Tennant, and scores of others have helped to solidify Jamaica’s name in the global scientific arena.
Internationally celebrated painters and sculptors, like Christopher González, Mallica Reynolds, (Kapo), Basil Watson, Edna Manley, Laura Facey, Carl Abrahams, Cecil Baugh, David Boxer, and many others have helped to situate Jamaica at the centre of the global art world.
Jamaica has produced dozens of academicians whose work is ranked as gold standard internationally. Two of those academic giants are the late Dr Olive Lewin and Professor Carl Stone. I single out these two because I believe the immense national relevance of their work is yet to be fully appreciated. Dr Lewin was a musicologist and social anthropologist and founder of the Jamaican Folk Singers. “Over a storied career, Lewin was involved in researching, arranging and directing Jamaican traditional music for schools, church and theatre performances by the Jamaican Folk Singers and other groups. From 1966 to 1980 Lewin was responsible for music in correctional institutions and music therapy at the Bellevue Hospital. Books published: Messengers – Timeless truths from humblest hearts; Rock It Come Over – The Folk Music of Jamaica; Come Mek Me Hol Yu Han – The Impact of Tourism on Traditional Music (collection of papers presented); Dandy Shandy; Beeny Bud; Alle, alle, alle, Forty Folk Songs of Jamaica, Some Jamaican Folk Songs. (The Gleaner, April 10, 2013)
Professor Carl Stone was the Caribbean’s forecast psephologist (quantitative analyst of elections and balloting). His publications are too numerous to mention here. We need revisit his seminal work on Jamaica’s political culture.
“What of the economy, Higgins?” some will bellow.
The Jamaica economy is in the best state since Independence. I presented copious and incontrovertible evidence previously.
Yes, we have real reasons to cheer. Happy Independence, everyone.
Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education and youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.