Jamaica at 60: Our people deserve better
Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante

On a peaceful and electrifying August morning — sixth of the same — Jamaica, in a spectacular and momentous celebration, finally obtained its Independence from Great Britain.

For our people, this symbolised a seismic shift away from colonisation and political domination by our ruthless colonial masters, who extracted and exploited viciously the great human potential inherent in the Jamaican people. Alas, the Jamaican people attained the enviable opportunity to forge an independent nation, firmly anchored on the values of self-determination and a formidable national identity, at least, so the majority of the populace thought.

Unfortunately, that noble dream seems to have been deferred as a result of a multitude of factors — political corruption and chicanery, unwise economic policies, the rapid deterioration of sound values and attitudes, the rapid annihilation of the Judeo-Christian religion on which all Western nations were built — from which emerged and flowed the abundant blessings (financially, socially, scientifically, politically and spiritually) that have set the Western world apart from the ancient world. Thus, it is imperative that, as a nation, we begin to reflect objectively on this turbulent and bumpy ride to political freedom.

Having endured 307 years of British slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, the Jamaican State unchained the shackles of colonialism and embarked on the long-awaited road to Independence. Led by two of the country's former political stalwarts and subsequent national heroes — Norman Michael Manely and Alexander Bustamante — the people of Jamaica unanimously decided to sever the colonial ties with the British Crown. Indeed, that surreal event would be cemented in the annals of Jamaica's history as one of the most jubilant moments.

Why did Jamaica ultimately decide to take this path as a tiny, insignificant, and impoverished nation? Were our leaders prepared for the mammoth task of forging a respectable country? Did they possess the political vision and tenacious resolve to shepherd Jamaica into occupying a more exalted position in the wider world?

The 1960s represented an epoch of political, social, and economic revolution. Just years after World War II, the world had witnessed tremendous transformation of global proportion. Western Europe, having experienced two cataclysmic wars waged in the 20th century, finally lost its imperial grip on the world. Great Britain, a country whose empire had spread its wings around the world, was coerced to acknowledge that the sun was finally setting on its centuries-old empire — the denial of this inevitable fate notwithstanding.

Like the other nations of Western Europe, England had reached the full cup of its imperial overreach. As it began to weaken, this once colossal empire transferred its imperial aspirations to the fledgling United States of America as the latter had emerged, subsequent to World War II, as the economic creditor of the world.

Michael Hudson, an American economist and professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, in his illuminating academic work titled Super Imperialism: The Origins and Fundamentals of US World Dominance asseverates: "In the years following World War II, the US Government took a much more active role in directing the world economy. Espousing laissez faire rhetoric, it moved deftly to shape the environment in which world market forces operated so as to promote international dependency on the United States." Thus, distinguishing itself as the de facto creditor of the world, the United States metamorphosed as the new colonial masters of the world. With a booming economy — emerging from the benevolent economic proceeds of the World War II. The US, therefore, deftly positioned itself as the pre-eminent global leader of the world.

The pivotal question is: Why do Jamaican political commentators and historians continue to ignore this important part of history? Why do our elites continue to indoctrinate Jamaicans with the idea that Britain is still our colonial lords, when Britain represents our colonial lords symbolically and not in substance? The British imperial dominance is not a threat to Jamaica's sovereignty. It is the US, through economic tyranny, vis-à-vis the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and other transnational organisations, that represents a grave threat to our national sovereignty. After all, the United States is the de facto imperialist of the world.

Had former Prime Minister Bruce Golding been more transparent with the Jamaican people in his critique of our performance after 60 years of Independence, he would have explicitly spoken about the devastating Tivoli Gardens' incursion of 2010 and the overarching power of the US in creating that catastrophe. The gruesome slaughter of over 70 Jamaicans could have been averted had both countries used the channels of diplomacy in a more amicable manner. That political stalemate, coupled with Jamaica's subsequent IMF agreement (the most austere in the history of IMF) in 2013, has set Jamaica backwards, despite the rosy, economic postulations of our political leaders.

Marcus Garvey, pan-Africanists, political activist, and philosopher, posits elegantly: "A race that is solely dependent upon another for its economic existence sooner or later dies."

As a nation, I would sadly argue that Jamaica is on the verge of inevitable death. Our visionless and feckless leaders who, over the years, have depended on handouts from foreign institutions have endangered our national sovereignty. If one calculates carefully the large sums of money paid to the IMF, one cannot but ask, why didn't our governments — People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) — use the billions given to the IMF to build a state-of-the-art hospital in Jamaica? Yet, again, how many school campuses could that money have constructed? Instead, we were led by our political leaders to follow sheepishly the economic prescription skillfully crafted as "bitter medicine". Jamaicans had no choice in this so-called faux democracy.

CLR James, the inimitable Caribbean intellectual, illuminates: "…Within a West Indian Island the old colonial system and democracy are incompatible." Any intelligent and broad-minded Jamaican would conclude, unmistakably, that, given our dependence on colonial multilateral institutions, we are a slave-holding nation — at least socially, politically, and economically. Essentially, our political leaders are gatekeepers of the Western geopolitical, systemic structure in which black people should remain at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Our condition, therefore, begs the question, are we really free? No, we are not, as one of the most intractable battles has been waged from our internal enemies, those black men and women who collude with their white overlords to place stumbling blocks in our path to prosperity. It is often risible to listen to our political leaders pronounce grandiose utterances regarding "our democracy", as democracy, to them, signifies the process of brainwashing by which Jamaicans elect one of the two dominant political parties, after which each succeeding Government imposes draconian economic policies — mandated by international institutions — whose interests are diametrically opposed to that of the Jamaican proletariat. These austerity economic policies that the IMF espouses, for example, have never brought economic growth and prosperity to any developing country,instead, it is the IMF's and World Bank's objective to depress Third World economies.

For countries to grow successfully and achieve economic prosperity, they require government protection and regulation. Sane economists do not adhere uncritically to the unsound neoliberal orthodoxy in which one leaves domestic businesses to the free-market fundamentalist theory. Jamaica, since the period of the early 1990s, accepted — without question — said theoretical framework of the IMF and the World Bank. Thus, we are currently reaping the disastrous, economic seeds of that decade. To my astonishment, our intellectuals and the custodians of our economic policies still continue to be befuddled by our mediocre economic performance post-Independence. Frederick List, the eminent German political economist, presciently asserts, alluding to the control of the economic oligarchy, in his masterpiece The National System of Political Economy: "It is a very common, clever device that when anyone attained the summit of greatness he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him." In verity, much of the history of the IMF and World Bank espouses the theory of globalisation, which, essentially, is a disguise for kicking away the economic ladder of success and prosperity of weaker nations.

As a nation, our political leaders and citizens are living in denial. Decade after decade, year after year, the country continues to record anaemic economic growth, yet our elected officials continue to echo the oft-repeated robotic statement, "Our macroeconomic fundamentals are impressive," which indicates that the economy is about to take off, leading us to the land of milk and honey. Haven't we been hearing these very same words since the 1970s, with the "betta mus' come" mantra? Why do we continue to be deceived by our local leaders, who are but minions of the international banking oligarchs?

The Jamaican economy will never prosper if our elected Government does not have control over the laissez faire, free-market ideology. Simply put, in any independent country, government intervention is necessary in order to protect its citizens against the vicious rapacity of so-called foreign investors. In one of his seminal, scholarly works, Chalmers Johnson, a world-class American political scientist, brilliantly articulates: "Leaving aside the former Soviet Union, the main developed countries — Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, and the East Asian NICs [Newly Industrialised Countries] (South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) — all got rich in the same way. Regardless of how they justified their policies, in actual practice they protected their domestic markets using high tariff walls and myriad non-tariff barriers to trade…"

Since the Financial Sector Adjustment Company (Finsac) debacle in the mid-1990s to early 2000s, which represented, arguably, the economic collapse of Jamaica's domestic economy — an unprecedented event in the history of modern Jamaica, our political masters, from both political parties, have gone on a major spree to sell out our prime assets to foreign investors. In essence, Jamaica's political leaders can only envision economic growth if we invite multinational corporations to invest in our economy. However, are these companies prepared to pay our highly skilled and educated class at market value? And will the profits, proceeding from such companies, remain in Jamaica for long-term development? We cannot submit ourselves to accept the economic crumbs that fall from the table of these predatory financial masters.

Paradoxically, Jamaica has dominated the international space with rich cultural capital. There is hardly a place around the globe where people haven't appreciated our music, with its contagious, pulsating, and rhythmic lyrics. In fact, our ancestors utilised music as a tool in order to soothe the excruciating pangs of pain they were forced to endure during slavery. Furthermore, our colonial masters were mystified by the enslaved's natural affinity for and dexterity at producing rich, harmonious music. Nevertheless, the enslaved musical talents did not earn them the respect and freedom for which they desperately yearned. Simply put, Jamaica's musical prowess will not elevate our socio-economic status and prestige among the nations of the world. People like our music because it is entertaining, just like any other musical genre that emerges from another country.

Moreover, we have vindicated — on numerous occasions — our distinctive culinary ingenuity on the international scene. In the Western world, particularly countries in which our Diaspora is domiciled, our sumptuous patties, jerk chicken and pork, oxtail, rice and red peas, curry chicken, among other culinary delicacies, have been deeply entrenched in the daily, dietary lexicon of said countries. These impressive achievements — in sports, music, and gastronomy — have earned respectability on the world stage. Yet, which country has grown economically and attained political power through entertainment, sports, and music? Our athletes and musicians have, commendably, made individual achievements that won't be replicated in economic growth, though our politicians like to use their achievements as the gold standard for what we should have attained collectively as a nation.

Undoubtedly, as a nation, at 60, we have carved out a niche among the nations of the world, and we have pulled our weight in some areas, for example, our principled stance against apartheid in South Africa and Michael Manley's inspirational and revolutionary leadership geared towards a new international economic order for which the underlying philosophy was built on the social inclusion of weaker nations in the economic decisions of the world. Similarly, successes or failures aside, Jamaica is recognised as the land of Bob Marley and Usain Bolt — two Jamaican stalwarts who have shun brilliantly in their respective fields of professional endeavour.

But we cannot only build our national identity, Independence, and prosperity on the backs of our entertainers or socio-political activists. We need to construct an honourable society, firmly built on the dint of hard labour, sound morals, and well-grounded ethics. Our current economic model, however, is not sustainable and will not reap the wealth and prosperity that we have been promised by the current political Administration. Jamaica is, therefore, in urgent need of building an industrialised economy as opposed to the catastrophic, financialised economic model that we are slavishly following.

Why do we continue to repeat the same errors of the past? Is it because we have forgotten our bitter history? Have our universities shirked their social and scholastic responsibilities to document — in an objective, non-partisan, and accurate manner — our social, political, and economic history?

In addition, we have a profound aversion to any Western values or tools that may be used to elevate our socio-economic standard of living. For instance, we cling to our local dialect, with all its plantation idiosyncrasies, intimating that we are Africans and African languages must be respected. Yet, when we travel throughout the world, a large number of our African brothers and sisters are competent in many of their native tongues, including Western ones, for example, French, Portuguese, and English. That said, Jamaica needs to reclaim its linguistic identity as an English-speaking nation. If we do not begin to value the importance of formal language acquisition — English in particular — to national development, we will continue to go down the slippery slope of poverty and social destitution. No serious foreign investor wants to communicate with someone in the Jamaican dialect. Correspondingly, our tourism industry will yield greater profits if foreigners can communicate successfully with Jamaicans in English as they can walk the streets and interact freely and intelligently with locals without any communication barrier. True, our local vernacular can be used as a tool of entertainment, which it is. However, the victimisation card concerning slavery and colonialism will not magically make us English speakers. We must exert some effort.

Most Jamaicans have not mastered English, if the truth be told, because we prefer our plantation language, which, to a large extent, has crippled our social, intellectual, and economic development. It is full time for us to confront our home-grown problems, not to perennially dance around them.

In sum, after 60 years of political Independence, we have not achieved much, primarily due to political brinkmanship and corruption. Our politicians have deftly employed the divide-and-conquer tactic to fracture our society. Moreover, our academics seem to lack the will and testicular fortitude to present a viable development plan to suit the needs of modern Jamaica.

Unfortunately, our academics have not yet found a way to merge scholarship and praxis in order to effectuate pragmatic solutions geared toward solving the complex and nuanced problems of modern Jamaica. Indeed, our university scholars prefer to hide behind the walls of the ivory tower, pontificating ad nauseam grandiose postulations — much of which is rooted in vacuous theories unrelated to Jamaica's current, challenging socio-economic realities.

If we are desirous of moving ahead, it is time for action, not an unending barrage of meaningless interviews and platitudinous speeches given by our political leaders and economic oligarchs. Jamaica and its citizens deserve much, much more.



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