Young, gifted and blank
Many of Jamaica's youth are in need of positive influences.

From all indications, empirical as well as anecdotal, Jamaicans between the ages 18 and 24 have increasingly been playing a pivotal as well as decisive role in election outcomes.

In the last two general elections of 2016 and 2020, there was the pervasive view, especially among People's National Party (PNP) supporters and analysts, that it was the youth vote that turned the tables in favour of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which, allegedly, has been the more heavily financed of the two rival political giants.

Concomitant with that outlook is the argument that many of the youth votes were not based on issues or preference of either party but more so on who could fork out more cash. In other words, our young people, especially those in poverty-stricken areas of the country, have been unashamedly selling their votes to the highest bidder. So what this boils down to is that the party that is more awash in cash is likely to come out the winner.

This scenario has been unfolding against the backdrop of the debilitating spectre of crime and violence, waste and corruption, the high cost of living among many other social ills that have caused this nation to descend into crass indiscipline and disorder, bordering on anarchy. In this context, it becomes even more worrying that elections outcomes may no longer be issues based but determined by who can buy out the bar. And, of course, on the other side of the coin, well over 50 per cent of Jamaicans have been increasingly saying to the JLP and PNP, a plague on your houses, no better herring and no better barrel.

In all of this, it should become patently clear that, that which hurts this fledgling nation most is that collectively we have failed to develop our greatest potential, which is our people. The starkest example of this is the continuing success of the tourism industry despite many challenges, locally, regionally, and globally. In the final analysis, it is not the sun, sea, and sand that make hundreds of thousands of visitors want to make it Jamaica again and again. Repeatedly surveys have shown that it is the warm hospitality of the Jamaican people. Come to Jamaica and feel all right. Irie!

Yet isn't it ironic that, while we are so warm and hospitable to the tourist, we remain one of the most murderous nations on Earth? Isn't this some form of schizophrenia? We kill each other daily, but we smile for the tourist. Intriguingly, if we were able to solve the crime problem, tourism arrivals have the potential to easily surpass five million per annum, not to mention a dramatic increase in foreign direct investments.

And, in this context, the focus must turn on the youth of this country. It is perhaps tragic that even as we bask in the seeming glory of having attained 60 years of political Independence, not only are we yet to achieve economic independence but have created a generation of vipers. This may sound trite but this writer is convinced that unless we deal with the youth crisis in this country, we will never ever become truly independent, economically or otherwise.

Indeed, our Independence hinges on the way we treat our youth because they are the future of this country. They are the ones who must be the producers, the innovators, the creators, the game-changers, the nation-builders. But how can this be achieved when they can be so easily bought or sold?

Unfortunately, most of the crimes committed in sweet, sweet Jamaica are by young men, many of whom are uneducated and unskilled. Sadly, there is a disconnection between them and us. "Di yout pon di corner" who continue to lament the fact that "nutten nah gwan" are angry and oftentimes hungry young men who are totally disenchanted with the system.

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 as well as a Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and an Elaine Thompson-Herah should not be taken for granted. 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 a Vision 2030 can become a reality.

Incidentally, how many of our young people are aware of this national objective and have even 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 no action. Is it that youth heeds nothing? Too much lip service is being paid to our young people. Yes, it may well be argued that there are many success stories with respect to our youth, but aren't these stories more the exception than the norm?

Sometimes when I watch Televeision Jamaica's (TVJ) School Challenge Quiz I am 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 youngsters migrate; the average youth in the ghetto has no clue about what is going on around him or her. During a job interview I asked a young man a few questions, his answers were telling.

Question:Do you read?

Answer: No

Question: Do you watch or listen to the news?

Answer: No, Sah. Mi listen to Beenie Man and Bounti Killer.

Enough said.

Their mode of dress, the way they speak, and their body language and just about everything about them reflects an alien culture.

Unfortunately, education did not take top priority in 1962 when we achieved independence status and still does not even to this day based on what is transpiring. After all, education, when all is said and done, is about youth, people empowerment, and self-actualisation. What the late Professor Rex Nettleford referred to as the "smadditisation" of our people.

In the meantime, it is a major tragedy that so many of our young people see their vote, which is one of their most sacred rights, one that their forefathers fought and died, for as a mere commodity that can be sold for a one day bellyful, which, incidentally, as Jamaican proverb opines, "cannot fatten mawga cow".

Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 46 years. He halso 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.

Lloyd B Smith
Lloyd B Smith

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