Jamaica’s government and private sector must seek to adopt policies that not only coordinate economic and trade policies but other domestic policies that encourage wider participation in the economy. The more people that participate in the economy are the more that will become prosperous. Market based reforms should not be abandoned. A program of gentrification should be undertaken for our major cities to make them accessible and fully incorporated in the society. Technological improvements must be diffused throughout government and business in order to positively impact on the development.
Those who are able to contribute to the country’s future are not enthusiastic about making more sacrifices. Unfortunately the country’s security is also becoming more vulnerable internally and externally. A flourishing drug for guns trade with neighboring countries has long been documented. In addition an international scam headquartered in the tourism capital of Montego Bay continues to cause embarrassment for the island. Both the guns for drugs trade and the lottery scam have implicated members of the police force. The population is as fearful of the injustice, extortion and brutality of members of the force as other criminals. Members of the police force are underpaid and work under harsh conditions themselves with little support or resources. Investments have not been made to keep pace with rapid growth of policing strategies and technological capabilities. Millions of dollars would be needed to improve the security architecture to improve interdiction, surveillance, investigation and prosecution of criminal activities.
It is not difficult for us to dream of a renewal in Jamaica much like others did before us. There was a time when slavery was all some could see. It was endless work and brutality for most people. There was no hope that things would improve. It does not stretch the imagination that there are some people living in Jamaica today who feel no different than back then when the brutality was at the behest of plantation owners. Their experiences and life is one of minimal subsistence and fear imposed by the brutality exacted on others. Rather than cat-o-nines as in olden days, today it is the guns and politics that are used to exert and enforce control.
Our forefathers realized that the only way to achieve victory over slavery was to confront its agents. Many lives were lost in the process but in the end slavery was abolished. Although some will argue it was economic reasons why slavery and colonialism were abandoned it is hard to imagine that the British could have sustained the system with continued rebellions and economic losses caused by those who fought against those systems.
There are lessons to be drawn from our previous struggles for today. Today’s cry for help is not against slavery or colonialism, but for some it is even more deadly. It is clear that steps must be taken to make life for Jamaicans an enjoyable journey.
There are numerous examples of others in our history who have dreamt like many of us do now. They challenged the prevailing institutions and thoughts of the times in which they lived and in some cases gave their lives for what they believed. Paul Bogle is credited for being involved in charity, education and training and most noted for leading the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865. George William Gordon, like Paul Bogle, was an agitator whose action fanned the rebellion. Nanny of the Maroons is the only acknowledged female Jamaican national hero. She is described as fierce warrior who was involved in the fight for freedom of her people.
We also had Sam Sharpe, who led a slavery revolt in western Jamaica. Later in our history we had men such as Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante credited with achieving political independence and for fighting for workers’ rights. Marcus Garvey is another of the recognized Jamaican heroes who propagated intellectual arguments towards black emancipation, self governance and unification. Of course there are other heroes that contributed to the fight for freedom from slavery and even more who made contributions to gaining political independence, the rights of workers through the trade union movement and of women and other social groups are important tenets of our political, social and economic development.
William Knibb, Michael Manley, Edward Seaga along with others such as journalist and environmentalist John Maxwell are just a few examples of people who have in their own way made a difference. It is important to distinguish the contribution one might have made to the country from political or ideological differences.
Michael Manley and his political rival Edward Seaga both enjoy high levels of admirers as they do detractors. Michael Manley is widely credited for making affordable housing available, land reforms and improved educational opportunities. Edward Seaga on the other hand is respected for contributions to culture, finance and most notably, his model community development in his constituency.
What is interesting though is that many of our crowning achievements have remained a distant memory dating back to our political independence from Great Britain and some reforms under Michael Manley in the early ’70s. As a people we seemed to have become accustomed to our surroundings, circumstances and conditions. Why is the country languishing in the same political, economic and social conditions identified in numerous studies undertaken by many reputable bodies for decades? We have been advised of the overall economic cost of crime and its associated drain on our national resources but yet we make little effort to alter the results. By far crime is the most urgent problem the nation faces yet it appears to receive mere lip service by citizens, civic and political leaders alike. There is the usual cry of outrage when a particularly gruesome crime is carried out, but when the shock and awe dissipates it is as if there is a numbness to the factors contributing to crime.
It is difficult to imagine that people in Jamaica today have lost the ability to dream of a better Jamaica that improves on the works and struggles of our national heroes and other civic leaders. Our dreams today must start with individual responsibilities to our families and communities. In order to achieve any meaningful change we must start at home. It is where most of us will first witness and learn how to become leaders in society and to dream visions of how to take the needed leaps toward a better life.
All Jamaicans have an important role, and especially those who are society’s leaders, to work in uplifting the country from its present state to one where more people are able to achieve their dreams of prosperity through determination and opportunity.
Vinton Grant writes out of the Washington, DC area.