An apology, regrettably, did not come from The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Catherine, on their recent visit to Trench Town, the iconic birthplace of reggae.
The obscene display of hordes of people pressed up against barricades salivating to touch royalty, from which I absented myself, amounted to mere photo opportunities for their royal highnesses. I chose instead to attend the State dinner at King's House, where there was less pandering and a modicum of respect shown to those invited to the 'great house'.
But an apology did come on August 4, 2012 when a group operating under the name Lifeline Expedition, comprising white Europeans and a few Africans, chained and yoked in a manner reminiscent of chattel slavery, marched through the community of Trench Town. They apologised on behalf of their ancestors for the enslavement and death of millions of Africans, who were uprooted from their homeland and forcibly transported to work on plantations in faraway lands, including Jamaica.
The leader of the group, Joseph Zintseme, issued a sincere apology for slavery. Should British royalty and Government ever be so minded, they could hardly find words more befitting the act than those spoken by Zintseme: “Jamaica is a small nation with global influence and a key place as far as the legacy of slavery is concerned. Unspeakable horrors were inflicted upon those who were forcibly transported from Africa to enrich Europeans through forced labour. We believe that many social ills affecting Jamaica today are evidence of that legacy. We want to come alongside Jamaicans at this significant time and, through our apology, help to repair the damage and help heal the wounds of history.”
The Duke and Duchess have come and gone, expressing deep sorrow for the horrors of slavery, but without an apology.
After the hype and the protests, we are left with these perennial questions from the average Jamaican: When will the killing stop so we can live without fear? How are we going to send our children to school? How will we clothe, feed, and shelter our families?
Approach the average man in the street with any grandiose scheme having to do with sovereignty or crimes committed hundreds of years ago and he is likely to ask you: How dat a guh help me?
Reparation for slavery is one of those topics that does not warm the heart of the man on the “ends” trying to figure out how he is going to make it alive to the end of the day with nothing better to look forward to tomorrow, neither does the topic of whether Jamaica should follow the example of Barbados and ditch The Queen of England as ceremonial head of State.
Besides promoting nationalism and black pride, both of which are important to black nationalists and pan-Africanists like me, how is that going to help Jamaica achieve its immense potential so wonderfully expressed by this line from the national pledge, “So that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship, and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race?” Apart from symbolism, how will the long-suffering Jamaican benefit?
Jamaicans are not into symbolism the way we once were. An August 2017 Bill Johnson poll found that 49 per cent of Jamaicans believe the country would be better off today if it had remained a colony of Great Britain, with only 27 per cent of respondents disagreeing.
Although most Jamaicans, 62 per cent in a June 2020 Don Anderson poll, support having a home-grown head of State, they are not drinking the proverbial poisoned Kool-Aid that makes one believe things will automatically get better with The Queen gone.
In a column published in The Gleaner on December 5, 2021, Gordon Robinson said the following about change to republic status by a sister Caribbean island: “...all Barbados has done is substitute a black symbolic-only queen for a white symbolic-only Queen. The black queen can't govern despite her grandiose title. Nothing else has changed after much pomp, ceremony, hoopla, and a popular new national hero”.
It's time to have a brutally honest conversation about these matters and how they will improve Jamaica's prospects of being “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business”, enunciated by our Vision 2030.
Nothing in Jamaica's abysmal system of governance will materially change until we throw out the antiquated Westminster model bequeathed to us by our former coloniser Great Britain.
We have a system of government in which the de facto or titular head of State Queen Elizabeth II and her representative the governor general are not accountable to the Jamaican people; a head of Government (or head of the executive), the prime minister, who has unbridled power, no fixed tenure, and is not directly and independently elected to the post by the electorate; three branches of government — the executive, legislature, and judiciary — but with poor or inadequate separation of powers; a Cabinet largely made up of elected people who are unqualified for the ministerial and other portfolio positions they hold — proverbial square pegs in round holes; a Parliament where sleepy representatives vulgarly and reflexively bang the desks in support of party positions, are out of sync with the expectations of their constituents, and are taking us nowhere.
The presidential system of government, characteristic of federal constitutional republics such as the United States, although not devoid of the contentiousness of politics, is preferable. It comes closest to the ideal of government of the people, by the people, and for the people espoused by US President Abraham Lincoln in the memorable Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.
With the appropriate constitutional amendments and procedural tweaks, it can make a world of difference in improving the poor quality of governance, which is the bane of the country's social and economic efforts at development.
We have been this way before.
In his last public address to an annual conference of the People's National Party (PNP), outgoing party President Norman Manley recounted the success of his generation in winning self-government for Jamaica: “Mission accomplished for my generation,” he proudly declared. He then enunciated a mission for the generation of political leaders that would follow his: “It is reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica.” That mission is yet to be fully realised.
I am all for casting off the vestiges of slavery and colonialism, but with that comes greater responsibility for nation-building and securing our place in the global community, lest we end up like the prodigal son who returned to his father's house in shame, or the dog who returned to his vomit as told in scripture.
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