Brand Jamaica: An elusive dream?
Jamaican youth from humble beginnings have typically achieved success and fame through music and sports. (Photo: Observer file)

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.

Even though we lose some 60 per cent of tertiary-level graduates to foreign shores, many of the unskilled youngsters as well as those who have a few “subjects” at the secondary/high school level who remain here are trainable and can turn out to be worthwhile and productive citizens. However, while many of them may end up in the tourism and business processing sectors, there tends to be a rapid turnover due to issues of low wages and not-too-satisfactory working conditions.

In the meantime, the lure of the good life beckons our youth and they are determined to get it by any means necessary, hence the large number of young men and women who have opted to indulge in scamming, wholescale gambling, prostitution, “friends with benefits” liaisons, and drug pushing, among other nefarious activities.

Meanwhile, sports and the entertainment industries have remained as a light at the end of the tunnel for many aspiring youngsters, especially from the ghetto, who dream of becoming another Marley or Bolt.

In this vein, there have been scores of athletes and dancehall/reggae artistes who have become millionaires and are living in fine style. As a result, every other ‘yout man’ or ‘dawta’ dreams of becoming a star athlete or entertainer. Needless to say, it is very difficult to make it in a sport which usually demands a great deal of discipline and a willingness to prepare for the long haul.

On the other hand, overnight sensations as well as one-hit wonders do emerge in the entertainment arena. In this regard, deejays in particular have been dominating the dancehall scene with a great deal of gun and sex lyrics “not fit for airplay”. This descent into mediocrity and ‘slackness’ has permeated the music scene to the extent that reggae, Jamaica’s most authentic music form, may well end up on life support pretty soon.

Incidentally, the recent fiasco surrounding the aborted Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Festival Song Competition proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jamaican music scene is wallowing in a state of flux, notwithstanding the fact that it may well be mirroring the sad state of affairs in Jamaica at 60.

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 way we should because we continue to be a nation of samples — talk and little action. Too much lip service is being paid to our young people and their problems. Yes, it may well be argued that there are many success stories with respect to our youth, but isn’t that more the exception than the norm?

We are often 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 young people are migrating (now seeking to reach the United States of America via the treacherous Mexico or Bahamas route). The average youth in the ghetto has no clue about what is going on around him or her or in the wilder world. Their take on current affairs and national issues is culled from what they “learn” from listening to Skillibeng, Vybz Kartelet al. Their mode of dress, the way they speak, and their body language as well as just about everything about them reflects an alien culture.

Every so often, our respective political leaders have mouthed promises relating to education, which they insist they will make top priority with respect to budgetary allocations. But the focus should not only be on the quantity of money expended but also the quality of what is being offered to our young minds.

It is a pity that we did not pursue such a course of action, in a sustained way, from as far back as 1962 when we gained political independence, which explains why we are yet to attain economic independence. Today, we would have been the better off for it. After all, education is about youth empowerment and nation-building, not just passing exams and gaining certification.

When all is said and done, we need to tap into the raw talent and assertiveness which is oftentimes perceived as aggressiveness out there.

Let’s face it, the ingenuity, savviness, self-assuredness, and pizzazz embodied in so many of our young people is a veritable gold mine waiting to be excavated. Against this background, every parish capital should have a theatre or performing arts centre, there should be more playing fields that are well maintained with gyms, and especially the rural schools should have well-funded sports and arts programmes.

Finally, ways and means must be found to make agriculture attractive and more lucrative so that young farmers will stay in the field and not be tempted into the criminal underworld.

The current Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr comes across as a talker and visionary, but time is running out on this nation as already there is talk of a food shortage because of the war in Ukraine. And what about the cannabis industry that is waiting to be truly liberated but so far seems structured to exclude the ordinary Jamaican? Must the commanding heights of the Jamaican economy be perpetually structured in favour of the privileged few?

In the final analysis, it should be all about Brand Jamaica, the only truly authentic and sure ‘product’ that can bring about real and sustained prosperity, which continues to be more of an elusive dream rather than a glowing reality.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 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.

Bob Marley
Usain Bolt(Photo: Anke Waelischmiller)
Lloyd B Smith

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