Manley debate and national securitySunday, July 26, 2020
Michael Manley, like Nelson Mandela, is an iconic figure in the world of the oppressed. Many never knew them and cannot even identify with what they represented. It is the image and the legend that they love, because people need heroes.
This is not to say they were not great men who did great things. They were incredible, but as time passes facts become blurred and the real story becomes distorted with confused emotions.
This debate regarding Manley's legacy versus his history is again making waves in the media.
So, let us talk Manley frankly, because I'm old enough to remember the 70s and I became an adult in the 80s.
Michael Manley introduced sweeping social reform that changed the face of Jamaica. He introduced the National Insurance Scheme, the National Housing Trust and the concepts of free education and free health care. All these programmes ended the oligarchy that had existed throughout the country's colonial history.
However, they were changes the country simply couldn't afford. And if he had waited 20 years we still wouldn't have been able to afford them. But the truth is, these services were a debt long owed to Jamaica's poor.
This country was built on the labour of kidnapped and illegally imprisoned people — people we know as slaves. The lion's share of the population of Jamaica are descendants of these victims and have never been compensated for the crime that effected generational poverty.
This is unique to African slavery. Jewish holocaust survivors and their descendants receive compensation for the crime perpetrated against them. So do American Indians and others. Why not Africans?
However, Manley was not perfect, and his folly was his rhetoric. He embarked on a public relations campaign that gave the distinct impression that he was embracing communism. Maybe it was youthful exuberance, or maybe it was his intention. But, without a doubt, it was reckless and caused capital flight and a stand-off with our closest and largest neighbour.
Did this destroy the economy? You're damn right it did. Does this impact our balance of payments today? No way.
The country has long recovered from that silly time in our history. The legacy of the 70s that has ruined and is ruining our country is gang culture.
The responsibility for the creation of this beast lies with both our political parties. They both armed thugs and birthed a culture of 'gangsterism'. That is the fire that we cannot put out, that we cannot control and that we keep pretending can be extinguished with the same method used to put out a match.
I do not think we realise the impact that this small subset of our population has on the whole nation. Let me break it down.
When gangsters wound someone, the nation pays the hospital bill. When they kill, the nation pays for the post-mortem examination. The states of public emergency they cause are expensive we all pay that bill.
When a site is built, the gangs' cut to prevent mayhem is factored into the final cost. The tourist who is fearful of travelling to Jamaica and chooses Barbados over us, there is a cost to that too. Then let us throw in the cost to expand our army and the cost to mobilise them to manage the zones of special operations. Gangsters have stolen our money, our peace of mind, and our faith.
All of the above are not the fault of Manley. They are the fault of all the irresponsible, young politicians in the 70s who chose to use violence over reason.
We as a people know that one man's actions are not the reason we are where we are. We know it is the irrational activities of many irresponsible men. That is why we embrace the responsible, unemotional leadership of Andrew Holness, Percival Patterson, and Peter Phillips.
We know that their decisions were and will be made based on what is good for the country, not just on a principle they believe in. This may not make good heroes, but it will keep us out of bankruptcy.
I, too, miss the aura of Manley, who stood up to the world and fought for the planet's oppressed. But I don't know if I want my children to grow old in a country that is broke. And that seems to be my generation's legacy.
Let us continue to respect the great men of our past. But let us not be so dogmatic as to attack anyone who chooses to express his or her opinions.
Michael Manley's social reform paid a debt long owed to a patient people tired of waiting. His eight years in Government will impact Jamaican citizens 100 years from now, as much as it is doing today. But every leader and legend blundered in one respect or another.
Manley was necessary to bring about change. Seaga was necessary to find ways to pay for it. Patterson was necessary to tear down the restricted economy and bring about free enterprise; and since he left we have not had a leader determined enough, who has served long enough to bring about stability.
I want a leader who will be a beacon to follow in the war against the gangs — an extremist, like Trinidad and Tobago's Gary Griffith. But the country needs leaders like Mr Holness and Dr Phillips to provide responsible governance. This is the time for this type of leader. And one day, when we are not broke and dependent on the international community to pitch their pennies, a leader like Manley will emerge — when we can afford it, and at that time real change will come.
This will involve the end of squatter settlements through social housing and a frontal assault against the gangsters who have wrecked us. But until then, allow the moderates to rule and to speak freely without being attacked. They have earned it!
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login