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Author blasts the two-party; challenges a people and nation

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 3:00 AM

Title: Sufferers' Manifesto: A Challenge to the best in us and Among us.

Author: Owen Everard James

In political terms, a manifesto is a document that details policy decisions aimed at bettering the lot of a people. An interesting title for a thesis that struggles to find solutions to a people mired in time. There is a prophetic, revolutionary element to the author's choice of words. Maybe at the end of this compelling book, sufferers in Jamaica would finally have the last say.

In this incisive, judicious, yet combative offering, Owen James has thrown down the proverbial mantle to embark on the Herculean mission of identifying the social, political, and economic malaise that has beleaguered Jamaica. But this detailed work reads more like a treatise in psychology and between the lines is a haunting psycho-cultural archetype that poses an existential threat to a people.

key moments in time

James explores key moments in time that reconfigured Jamaica. Controversial as they were, the Maroons are still celebrated. And the Morant Bay Rebellion remains historically indelible. And the nation's global achievements are unquestionably stupendous. But still, there is a national vacuum, a gaping hole that has made sufferers of babes and sucklings. In a recent trip, James recalls the anaemia that has beset Jamaica:

"Among the most memorable of these were school-age children scurrying about near nightfall ... to find transportation home after school; the alarming number of idle post-secondary school-age young people ... ; the indescribable, nearly all-day traffic jams; the clear indication that that an unusually large and growing number of people had decided to become informal traders was not the best way to earn a living, but the only way ... . They were identical to these symptoms of endless decline I witnessed in many cities and towns in Africa...."

Hardly a withering naysayer, James is troubled. Madness, they say, is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. If there is truth to that dictum, Jamaica has long gone mad.

James chronicles, if only briefly, the colonial and post-colonial eras. He lauds Marcus Garvey and the decades that followed up until 1940 where leaders emerged to homogenise a people and effect change on multiple levels. And who can dismiss the phenomenon of trade unionism that swept through the Caribbean and empowered the disenfranchised? But paradoxically, it gave rise to a corrupt political structure and an enabling polity.

James' argument is twofold. He identifies the two-party system as an albatross that has stunted vision and growth. It has fostered political tribalism and corruption. He also faults those who control the levers of power and the accompanying electoral sophistry that abets a putrid and decadent system. Regrettably, culpability has mushroomed into a complex web of duplicity, complacency and indecency.

It is an oozing sore that requires an exigent response. To his credit, James is not all unforgiving. There is something refreshingly nostalgic about the integrity and sincerity of Norman Manley. And for all his purported complicity in a Jamaica once decimated by violence, he acknowledges the contribution of Edward Seaga, especially in the financial sectors. But he adds:

"The trouble with the outcomes of most architectural endeavours, however, is that they tend to cement things in place. Seaga's legacy is not immune from this dilemma that must be seen as directly contributory to his bewildering refusal to accept the obvious fait accompli that his impressive political career had come to an end at least two elections cycles sooner than he could or would accept."

political post-mortem

James' political post-mortem of Percival J. Patterson and Bruce Golding tells troubling tales of political and diplomatic faux pas that sullied potentially promising careers.

The author's words are unequivocal. "The available evidence seems to indicate that we have been making adjustments in one direction only - the direction of accommodation. Instead, we need to move decisively in the direction of confrontation and rejection ... . It is worthwhile to validate the extent of the impact of the trifecta of choice, consequence and responsibility."

In some ways, James' admonitions invoke those found in Matthew 5:20, "And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

Jamaicans must sever a system and ideology that have pauperised them. And there is the undercurrent of Franz Fanon ever present in this seminal work. The islands had not forcibly earned their independence. Citing Louis Lindsay, James is provocative.

"The truth is that at no point in our history did our leaders reject, let alone destroy the subjugating linkage between our colonial masters and ourselves. In fact, our leaders appear to have seen this continued linkage as essential for meritous and sustainable independence."

Vision 2030 Jamaica

James later reviews Vision 2030 Jamaica. He can live with its ideals, but its implementation requires a new cultural paradigm. Crime and corruption must be extirpated and left for waste. He shuns the idea of a retributive society and advocates for a Truth-and-Reconciliation model. Jamaica's rebirth, he argues, demands the involvement of every institution, big and small. Also, a fair, consistent and binding tax system must be readied. And a constitutional overhaul, he posits, is necessary to dismantle the failed two-party system to make way for a Unitary system.

It's a radical approach with in-built provisions to better vet parliamentary representatives and do away with the Cabinet that he calls irrelevant and an instrument to reward failed politicians and "stalwart party loyalists". And of the most important executive position - that of prime minister, James pens:

"Under the Unitarian system, the position will be subject to a national vote. The Prime Minister will now be required to be more of a chief executive, a manager and leader, rather than a politician-in-chief," and "beholden to the national electorate not a political party of faction."

Jamaica may have been thrown a lifeline. Sufferers' Manifesto offers innovative solutions to Jamaica's woes. James has presented his case in a lucid, congruous and crystallised format that is worth exploring. It is instructive; a pedagogical tool, and a reminder, no less, that as a people, we deserve more. Much more.

Sufferers' Manifesto: A Challenge to the Best in Us and Among Us.

Ratings: Highly recommended

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