Jamaica’s 49th Year Of Independence : “We Haven’t Entirely Failed.”
This weekend marks the 49th year of Jamaica’s independence; the country having received it’s political freedom from the United Kingdom in 1962. As usual, the outpouring of national pride is immense and perhaps will be sustained throughout the weekend. Still, I’m not convinced that there is a lot to take pride in; and yes, maybe I’m cynical, and I most certainly will be accused of lacking national pride, (nothing could be further from the truth by the way), I’m just looking at where our country is after 49 years of charting our own path, and I’m disheartened. As one political party put it in the 2007 general elections, we… “not changing no course!”
You see, I’m disheartened because we need to change course, we need to have such a drastic change of lanes, that the driver will have to apologise to the passengers for his (or her) hasty retreat into another lane. Some passengers may fall down as the bus swerves, others may ask for a stop and get off and board a much fancier bus up north. Some may even call for a new driver to be assigned behind the steering wheel; whatever the consequence of that change, one thing is certain : Jamaica cannot continue along this path. After 49 years, the time is right to call for that change.
Extremists will tell you Jamaica is a failed state. I’ve always dismissed that argument, but more out of shame than anything else. After all, I consider states like Haiti a failure. My sense of shame wouldn’t allow me to consider my own country a failure. This morning, I decided to assess the issue. Is Jamaica a failed state? My friend says no, or not totally anyway, “we haven’t entirely failed.”
According to Foreign Policy Alert, a failed state is a nation characterised by social, political and or economic failure. The question we must ask ourselves is, is Jamaica a nation characterised by social, political and economic failure? And more importantly, what do we consider failure? It perhaps is a stretch to say that Jamaica is characterised by failure; however, the truth is that many of our social institutions do not work as they ought to, it’s arguable if our political system works for the benefit of the citizenry and I think the economy speaks for it self as far as failure is concerned. So that is the way I’d like to define failure, not doing what it ought to be doing, a dereliction of duty. That, for me, is failure.
I don’t even know where to begin in assessing Jamaica’s social failures. The two most basic social services are significantly flawed, health and education. I remember being perturbed when former Education Minister, Maxine Henry Wilson admitted that there were schools in Jamaica that had never recorded a single CSEC pass. I was stunned. Such an admission, by no less than the Minister herself, betrays the chronic failures which exist in the most fundamental sector; a sector that ought to be thriving in any country that hopes to be productive. There are schools where one class of five is prepared to sit external examinations, the others just leave the system the way they entered, empty handed. Needless to say, Jamaica has a broken education system. What does that mean for a country celebrating 49 years and still struggling to get a grip on running an effective education sector?
– We have a health sector that by most account is in shambles, I’ll never forget that story I read which suggested that some of our public hospitals had a policy that saw more than one patient to a hospital bed. The most recent story I read suggested that most of our public health facilities are not up to par.
– We have become a murderous and cruel people, we have consistently ranked among the most murderous countries in the world. The vast majority of our citizens do not feel safe and feel even less reassured by the arm of the state charged with maintaining law and order, the police.
– We have rampant poverty, improper housing, a national infrastructure that repeatedly fails, communities without portable water or electricity, just to name a few of our many social problems.
We have even lost all sense of society. I’m not sure we understand what it means to be a citizen of a country and the responsibilities that come with same.
This is where we ought to lay the blame, at the doors of Jamaica House and Gordon House. For the better part of four decades, Jamaica has been subject to incompetent and dishonest politicians; politicians who have created and fostered a vicious garrison culture. The citizens of Jamaica have been fed a steady diet of deception, white washed policies and poor governance. Our politics is terribly divided and partisan, generally devoid of any real results that serve the country. Perhaps that’s our fault as citizens though, we have consistently re elected these people. A US diplomat stationed here is quoted in Wikileaks cables stating that Jamaicans applaud announcements and not results. I agree. We do get excited about announcements, we rally around them and cheer on the politicians who make the proclamations, but we rarely hold them to their promises. We rarely see through the orange and green, we rarely put Jamaica before our political affiliation. That is failure. Our politics and our politicians have failed. I have little hope for the future of politics too, the group of young people set to inherit the political mantle seem wholly unable to rise above the current temptations and traps. Where does that leave Jamaica 50 years from now? The outlook is bleak. That, for me, is failure.
I won’t say anything about the economy. Again, it speaks for itself.
There are some that say 49 years is not enough time to begin the assessment, and don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying the country should be perfect. I’m simply suggesting the foundations should have been laid by now. The next 50 years should be spent building the top levels. Instead, we are still struggling to lay the foundation.
Finally, the other evening I was watching All Angles and a group of young people were being interviewed about their perceptions of Jamaica after 49 years. When asked which of independent Jamaica’s achievement they were most proud of, all of them replied “we’ve produced the fastest man in the world.” I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because it was true, at least as far as many of us in this generation are concerned. What else can we claim as an achievement? The last 20 years of Jamaica history has been characterised by hardships and ever mounting struggles. Failures. We have achieved so very little, it frightens me. That’s just the truth.
So maybe we haven’t failed, but we are failing; if you get what I mean. I’m calling on this generation, our generation, to lend our voices to a constant and sustained call for change. Let us start charting a path of real independence, let us set goals as a people and achieve them. So that when we have reached 100 years of independence, we won’t need to question whether we are a failed state, we’ll know we’re not. Even more important than political, economic and social independence is mental and personal independence. I hope for the day when each citizen of Jamaica will enjoy the beauty of independent thought. I long for the day when politicians will no longer divide, conquer and blind us with colours and politics, I pray for the day when each and every one of us truly understands the value of independence. Then, and only then, will Jamaica rise to play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.