Jamaica is losing her beauty and majesty to dirt, grime, and garbage on our streets, sidewalks, our beaches and in our gullies. This does not have to be the way we choose to live. This is not the Jamaica of my grandparents when we easily said the words, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Along with the increased crude behaviours, which are far from godly, there is the increase in the ease with which some of us throw garbage from our moving or stationary vehicles, as well as throw trash into gullies and on sidewalks.
There is value in the argument that our national entity with responsibility for solid waste management may need to do better. This is not a point which can be argued away. However, my concern now is with personal responsibility. That irksome thing which sometimes evade even the best among us is what will help to make a huge difference in the litter problem we currently face in our homeland.
According to Ron Haskins, writing for the Brookings Institute in 2009, personal responsibility “is the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behaviour and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards. But personal responsibility also means that when individuals fail to meet expected standards, they do not look around for some factor outside themselves to blame”.
We must begin to take personal responsibility for not only ending the ease with which we litter and dump garbage, but also for finding solutions within our homes and communities. For a few years I lived in Rwanda. That relatively small African State with its history of genocide and its progressive approach to not allowing its history to define its success or that of its people. I could and probably should write a book on all that I learned in my years in Rwanda, but for now I will focus on the concept of personal responsibility in a country with limited resources but not one that ever wants to be pitied or stared at for being less. There are many examples of personal responsibility that can be drawn from the Paul Kagame-led country, but the one that jumps at any visitor within an hour of arrival is cleanliness. It is as though Rwanda is yelling for all to hear that a lack of wealth does not equate to an unclean environment.
My wish is for us to model the concept behind Rwanda's clean streets and sideways right here in Jamaica. From what I have seen and read the magic is with three things:
1) coordinated and managed street sweeping across the country;
2) a buy-in from citizenry of the need to keep the place clean;
In 2019, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the Lengthman Programme, which would take care of number one, which is having street sweepers. COVID-19 has slowed the roll-out of that programme, but as the rebuilding of the nation continues we all expect to have number one in place.
Number two may be the hardest of the three components to implement and maintain. A concerted, impactful, and well-managed campaign — similar to the likes of the one by the Ministry of Health, Jamaica Moves — would be needed. This component would not only need messaging and awareness, but also penalties that remain enforced even after we think new habits have been formed. Let the next generation grow up knowing that littering and unsightly garbage dumping are not only unacceptable, but punishable.
The third component, Umuganda, is where we would borrow the spirit of our African brothers and sisters and implement what is nothing short of a twice-monthly, four- or five-hour, national coordinated working together to keep the country clean holiday. As practised, Umuganda happens every last Saturday of every month in Rwanda. Businesses close as the citizenry gather in their communities, or for national projects, to work together to keep the country clean. Everyone, politicians, professionals, idlers, the young and the old are required by law to participate. This is where the concept of personal responsibility comes into play. It is not at Christmastime, it is not for Labour Day, it is once every month and everyone plays their part.
Natalie Campbell-Rodriques is a senator and development consultant with a focus on political inclusion, governance, gender, and Diaspora affairs. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.