Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Igniting real change

Published:Sunday | December 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Police arrest several pro-democracy activists from the 20th February Movement, the Moroccan Arab spring movement during a workers' protest against the Moroccan government in Casablanca, Morocco, earlier this year. - File

Donovan Dowie, Guest Columnist

Having been through the tumultuous 1960s, the 1,000 days of democratic socialism in the 1970s and the evaporation of eastern-bloc communism in the 1980s and 1990s, I am now certain about one thing: there is nothing that is immutable.

Being a student of history, it never fails to fascinate me how the principal actors and protagonists operate in a cerebral space. A space in which they attempt to control and manage information and events, and manipulate persons and circumstances in a never-ending quest to have certainty of outcome. In the end, the course of fate (or destiny whatever you want to call it) in most cases delivers a totally different outcome from the one which had the benefit of months and even years of planning.

It almost seems that mankind is slowly marching to a given destination in spite of the many curves and turns, intrigues, coups and isms, holy and unholy wars, martyrs and villains. If you ask me what is at the end of the journey (assuming there is a final destination), I frankly don't have a clue. However, it must only be the grossly unaware or persons from another world that do not sense a kind of foreboding of things to come.

I was spurred to pen this piece after a friend sent me an email which reminded me of the events of December 17, 2010 that led to the Arab uprisings. For those who may not remember and those who don't know, a college graduate Mohamed Bouazizi had to resort to selling vegetable and fruits to support his mother and five siblings. However, after the Tunisian officials beat him and then refused to return his wares, he burnt himself in front of the government officials in protest. The immediate result was anti-government protests. Within 30 days, the 23 years of tyranny and an authoritarian regime came to an end.

More significantly, the Tunisian revolt ignited a wave of protest and within months, Middle East regimes and leaders were either being toppled or were forced to make radical changes in decades old status quo. Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and other countries experienced unrest on a scale never seen before. The unchangeable, in the blink of an eye, just vanished like tales of the Arabian Nights. Jamaicans and the rest of the world watched in amazement as Gaddafi, Mubarak and others fell from their lofty heights. We all felt then that foreboding I spoke about. Yet, we still do not really know what it is.

Erie similarity

Ironically, two weeks ago, the Tivoli Enquiry took a break. While, every Jamaican who experienced May 2010 don't need much reminding, there seems to be an eerie similarity with the Arab Spring. I often tell the story of a lady and her daughter from Denham Town that I met in 2002. They were adamant that the control and donmanship that they lived in was "never" going to change because too many persons benefitted and reinforced it. From the politicians to the many citizens that didn't pay rent or utilities. As the younger lady put it, "yu caant beat free(ness)". Not in their wildest dreams would they have thought that they would see the 'Don' deposed and by the JLP to boot. I never met them after that but I recall that conversation ever so often. The simple truth is that probably 90 per cent of the country felt the same as those two ladies but never expressed it with the same certainty and conviction.

The moral of all this is that we should not settle for the status quo because it will change as night follows day. We may never live to see the final change or even the genesis of it. However, change is inevitable even if it comes slowly or violently as the Arab Spring or the Tivoli incursion.

The corollary of course is that we should not give up or give in to systems which, for example, have the few suppressing the many or evil seemly triumphing over good.

Similarly, we should not accept institutions that perpetuate inequality and undermine meritocracy.

More important, we should not ever believe that we as individuals cannot influence the changes that will make the country better. We don't have to light ourselves with fire to bring about change; just confronting the immovable, like the student standing in Tiananmen Square in front of a column of tankers may inspire others to join our cause.

Being a product of the 1950's, I hold dearly to the conviction that the social and economic structures will eventually be reformed to give the vast majority of the citizens a reasonable chance to achieve their full potential. Also, an education system that gives the wealthy a huge advantage using the state's resources cannot be sustained. Neither can an electoral system in which certain persons' votes are corralled and guaranteed for one party or the other, survive this century.

This all makes you think whether giving up your freedom and (in the case of Mohamed Bouazizi) your life, if you knew that tremendous good would come from it, would make more people take a stand. I suppose the irony is kind of biblical: a little carpenter in Nazareth changed the course of history and a little "nobody" change the Middle East when wars and trillions of dollars could not do it. Chances are "little" you and I can bring the changes that Jamaica really needs.

Donovan Dowie is an economist.